Rareview: Going natural in corporate America

By Claudia Morales

(CNN) -- Her black, female, co-workers pressured her to re-consider, but Ivy Grant, an associate partner in a marketing consulting firm decided to make the transition from her processed straight hair, to her naturally textured hair twelve years ago, and has no regrets.

"Everyone has this fear that you're not going to be accepted in the work place with this kind of hair," Grant said referring to her curly afro.

On the other hand, financial executive Michele Chowtai is only eight months into the transition process, and says she is still not sure if she will go "fully natural." She fears there is a negative stigma she can't avoid and wonders, "How am I going to be perceived in the work place after I go completely natural?"

More and more black women are grappling with these decisions. The percentage that say they do not use chemical products to straighten or relax their hair increased to 36% in 2011, up from 26% in 2010, according to a report by Mintel, a market intelligence firm.

The desire for healthy hair and an escape from damaging chemical products are two of the reasons why women are choosing to go natural. After years of torturous treatments, scalp burns and high costs, Grant walked into a salon, cut all her hair off and decided she would never go back to chemical relaxers.

Recent numbers in the sale of chemical relaxer kits also indicate other black women feel the same. Sales dropped by 17% between 2006 and 2011. Natural hair experts say this decline reflects a growing movement within the billion-dollar black hair care industry.

"Natural hair is not a trend, it's here to stay. You're going to see more women going natural than ever before," said professional stylist Tracy Robertson.

But, the reason why stylists, like Robertson, say most of their clients continue to chemically straighten their hair is because they don't understand their styling options and worry about maintaining what they perceive to be a corporate look.

The lack of knowledge black women had about their hair texture compelled hair care professionals to start natural hair product lines designed to help them make the transition and also show them that there are other styling choices suitable for corporate careers.

"When people say 'natural hair,' the first thing they think of is Afro texture, or braids, or locks, when natural hair can also be hair that is smoothed without the damaging heat or chemicals," explained Robertson, the co-owner of TAG Salon, a company dedicated to educating black women about their hair texture's versatility.

The author of "Textured Tresses: The Ultimate Guide to Maintaining and Styling Natural Hair," Diane Da Costa is known for her step-by-step hair guides, and has encouraged women to go natural in and out of the workplace for over twenty-five years.

"It is an exciting time for women to transition to a natural hair style, and it's also an exciting time to live through it with all the products that are out there. 15 years ago you had limited choices. Now you have options," said DaCosta.

Professional stylist and self proclaimed "texture guru" Anthony Dickey also launched "Hair Rules," a product line offering solutions for all types of hair textures.

"It's important to offer education to women on their hair texture because a lot of women are just under the impression that their natural hair is only going to have to be worn [kinky or curly]," said Dickey. Wearing a natural hair style can mean maintaining a natural curly pattern, but it can also include straightened hair styles.

When Michelle Chowtai noticed her hair was falling out in patches she knew that she had to find an alternative, but was nervous that if she wore a style with her natural hair pattern, she could be stereotyped as "unkempt" or "uneducated." After a consultation with Dickey she found a look she says she is comfortable with at work.

"I don't know if I will be willing to go completely natural, and I think that's because there are other avenues, other things I can do to get my hair to look the way that it does today and I'm satisfied with this look."

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