By Sheyla Baez, NBC News
Ease and joy are two things that Carolina Contreras, founder and CEO of Miss Rizos, hopes to bring to people through her upcoming products designed for curly and Afro-textured hair.
“I knew, I knew, that what we had was special. And I knew there was an empty sort of shelf both online and in stores kind of waiting for this product to happen,” she said.
Contreras, who is Dominican American, will see her products sold at the beauty retailer Sephora. It’s part of Sephora’s 2022 Accelerate brand incubator program, focused on mentoring and supporting upcoming beauty entrepreneurs. Beyond hair care, Contreras sees her Miss Rizos products as activism. She first became known through her blog, Miss Rizos, celebrating natural hair, as well as through her social media presence and a couple of hair salons she opened.
Embracing blackness, but what about hair?
The concept of Miss Rizos — rizos means curls in Spanish — originated in 2011. After college, Contreras decided to spend time in the Dominican Republic, where she was born.
She wanted to learn what Blackness within the Dominican diaspora meant; it wasn’t a topic openly discussed in the community, she said. A two-month trip turned into a 10-year adventure.
In the Dominican Republic, the routine blowouts to straighten her hair did not last, and choosing between enjoying a beach day and keeping her hair straight became a burden.
The entire premise of moving back to her home country was to learn about her Afro Latino roots, but she was holding back on the one thing that would bring her closer to it — her hair.
Contreras said that one day, two college professors approached her while she was at the beach. They suggested she should stop sunbathing before her skin got too dark. Contreras was not oblivious to the prevalent issue of colorism in her home country. She let them know she was not worried about getting darker, among many other things, but what they later told her felt like a slap in the face.
“You talk about embracing blackness, but you relax your hair,” she said they told her.
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