Welcome to The Hair Enquiry, our deep dive into the hair rituals, routines and habits behind some of the most enviable hair to ever grace Instagram. We see it as our public duty to ask the questions others are too shy to, so we’ve set ourselves on the mission to probe our exceptionally haired subjects and uncover exactly what they do that makes their great hair so great, right down to the very last product. Following on from makeup artist Harriet Hadfield and her midlength wavy bob, this week we spoke to Gina Knight, London-based blogger and founder of custom wig service The Wig Witch.
It doesn't take an industry expert to work out that these days wigs are big business, but it does take one to create a meaningful, successful and aspirational business. And that's exactly why Gina Knight's company, The Wig Witch, is making big waves. Demanding that the wig market not only better catered for women with afro hair (rather than giving them a spectrum of straight styles to choose from), she has lifted wigs from their fuddy-duddy, old-fashioned status and made them a cool, aspirational protective option. Quite frankly, Knight is one of the most pioneering beauty brand founders of our generation. Here, she talks us through how wigs have helped her better care for her natural hair, and her love for natural products.
On Her Hair Journey
"I've always loved my hair, but especially since about 10 years ago when I decided to stop relaxing it and go completely natural, letting it curl how it actually does. Then I had issues with alopecia—I suffered from it really badly. After I had my first baby, all my hair fell out, which can often be a part of the hormonal imbalances after you have a baby, but in my case, it actually ended up being trauma and stress-related. It fell out in big patches and didn't grow back. In terms of my relationship with my hair, that was the hardest time.
"We are our hair sometimes, so when it fell out, it was the first time my hair was out of my control—it wasn't my choice. It was happening to me. And that's when I started to experiment with wigs, which has really boosted my confidence. And it's actually really helped me to embrace my natural hair. Now I wear wigs about 85% of the time to protect my natural hair and to help it grow it back. It has grown back well, although it's not exactly the same as it used to be, but it's definitely stronger. I'm all about advocating healthy hair rather than simply trying to grow long hair."
On breaking down the wig barriers
"I've always worked in the hair industry—I've worked in Aveda and Headmasters, in salon management, front of house and things like that. But in the last four years, I've had my own wig and extensions business. All my wigs are afro-textured. Even the straight wigs look more like blow-dried afro hair, not super-smooth hair. We focus more on hair for black women because a lot of my clients are going through chemotherapy or have alopecia, and the wigs available on the NHS are more geared towards European woman—there's not a lot of choice. The standard wigs are always going to look like a wig when they wear them because the texture just doesn't add up.
"People get a bit funny about wigs because they think it's more of a grandma thing, or they think, Oh, what if it falls off? I guess there's a bit of a stigma around them. Since the Kardashians, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have shown they wear wigs to switch up their style fast, it's become a lot more fashionable. So for women like me who might want to wear a wig because of an illness, there's less stigma. Especially because the wigs you can get right now are so natural-looking—you can find afro-textured hair, synthetic, natural, coloured wigs… Wigs these days don't have that 'church auntie' aesthetic anymore."
On hair cuts
"I always wear my hair in a cropped style—short around the sides and the back, with more to play with on the top. That's what hides the hair loss I have in the middle. It boosts my confidence because it makes my hair look thicker. The way I experiment with my hair is through my wigs. As I make them for a living, I own about 45 wigs. I have to try out all the styles I produce. I do have my favourites, though, and they tend to be the ones that mimic my natural hair and curl pattern the best."
On hair care
"I use all natural products on my natural hair. Every week I cleanse it with African Black Soap, which I get from Shea Butter Cottage. It's handmade in Ghana. It can be quite astringent, but it really cleans the hair. I follow that up with a co-wash conditioner (£16) from Big Hair. It adds that moisture that's lost from the astringent soap. I seal it all in with castor oil. That's basically all I do with my natural hair on a day-to-day basis."
"When I'm not wearing a wig, I leave it to air-dry in its natural state. Because my hair is so porous, by the time I've left the shower and gone to my room, my hair is basically dry anyway because the water just runs right through it. I just pat it into the style. Afro hair is so mouldable, so it's so easy to bend and sculpt it into style with my hands rather than using combs and tools. Sometimes I twist it and leave it to dry and then undo the twists—it makes it a bit more defined.
"I try not to blow-dry my hair. I do sometimes, as I have a few wigs that require leave out, so I need to stretch my hair out a bit. But I try not to put too much heat on it, like straighteners or tongs or anything like that. It's not really my style either. I sleep with my hair wrapped in a silk scarf because the curls are so tight; they'll intertwine with each other and get really knotty if I don't. When I'm wearing wigs, I usually just flatten it down and sleep on a silk pillow. Cotton pillows can actually be really drying on afro hair."
"If I've gone more than a week without washing my hair, I'll use a clay mask. There's one by Big Hair called Deep Conditioning Clay Mask (£20) that's a pre-made clay mask. Or I'll just use clay—you just mix it with apple cider vinegar and water. You leave it on, and it draws out any impurities from the hair. You can add castor oil too. It's a super-natural way to deep-condition your hair."
On instilling hair pride in her daughter
"Because we live in a rural area, my daughter is probably the only one in her class with her type of hair, and in the school, she’s within probably 10% of black, Asian and mixed-race children. A lot of her friends have long blonde hair, so she always used to say she wanted long straight hair. But I try to teach her to be proud of her hair—that her hair is beautiful, and that people want big curly hair like hers.
"We try to buy her a lot of books with girls with curly hair. Representation matters, and it's so important that she sees women like herself on the television. That's why she was so excited when the film Moana came out. I always wear wigs that match her hair texture so she sees that I love this texture. Now she can do twists on her own hair, even though she's only 5. She's already told me not to worry because she'll do her little sister's hair when she's born.
"She's allowed to wear it straight sometimes. I wouldn't call it a 'treat,' but she knows it's not something that can happen all the time—otherwise her curls won't be beautiful anymore. Children and teenagers are always going to want what they don't have. We all go through that stage. But hopefully we will have instilled enough pride in her hair where it comes from and her culture."
On the one style she would love to try
"For a day or a week, I would like to have locs. It's the one style I've never had because it's such a commitment, you can't exactly just brush them out. It's more of a lifelong thing—you have to really take care of them. I would love to experience them for a week, but without all the consequences."