What do women of color, business, and beauty pageants have in common? To some, the answer may be very little. However, you may get a very different answer from the co-founders of Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina, touted as Columbia, S.C.’s first natural hair beauty pageant.
Best friends of almost 15 years and business partners for two, Jessica Boyd and Maureen Ochola were just 26 when they brought the natural hair pageant concept to the capital city last year. In April 2014, after just 4 months of planning, the inaugural Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina pageant sold out a 220 seat venue –particularly rare for natural hair events in Columbia—and raised more than $5,000 to award scholarships, startup funding, natural hair products, and other prizes to peer naturalistas ages 19-26. With a whopping $0 advertising budget and an intense grassroots and social media marketing campaign, the duo also caught the eye of major sponsors and natural hair media, including Columbia’s Paul Mitchell the School, Techturized Inc., Coco Curls, Koils by Nature, and NaturallyCurly.com.
Boyd says, “Not only did we aim to promote positive dialogue and images of naturally afro-ethnic textured hair, but we felt a responsibility to last year’s contestants to help them develop personally. From the beginning of the pageant process to the end, these women completely transformed. No matter how many seats we sold out or the amount of money we raised, that accomplishment was the silver lining.”
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After the stage lights dimmed, Boyd and Ochola witnessed something even greater happen among the twelve courageous ladies who competed for the crown: half of the inaugural contestants went on to pursue their own businesses. Among them, grand prize winner, Chanelle Johnson of Manning, S.C., used the first place $1,000 award to launch her own endeavor, C.Heart Photography. Second runner-up India Hill is pursuing a freelance blogging career at TheReddBlogger.com, and former contestant Jasmine Moore has officially launched a booming at-home baking business.
The Center for American Progress reports that African American women are starting businesses at six times the national average. A 2013 report by American Express OPEN also finds that African American women fully own 49% of all African American-owned firms, employ 28% of the workers employed by African American-owned firms, and contribute 28% of all revenue generated by African American-owned businesses
Against this backdrop, Boyd and Ochola capitalized on the trend with this year’s pageant theme, “Beauties in Business,” making Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina the only event of its kind to wed support for natural hair acceptance with black women in enterprise. Boyd, a 2009 graduate of Spelman College, received her MBA in 2012 from North Carolina Central University. She is also the owner of littleblandbrands creative studio, a transformative branding and guerrilla marketing firm based in Columbia. Ochola, a 2010 graduate of Georgia Tech, earned her MBA from Georgia State in 2012. She is currently a full-time industrial engineer for a private engineering firm in Atlanta. Together, they also plan to open Quench Natural Beauty Boutique, a natural hair beauty supply store in Columbia.
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The contestants selected for this year’s competition are more than the sum of their curls and coils; They are budding business owners with the opportunity to positively impact their local economy. On Saturday, April 11, in Columbia, six savvy naturalistas will pitch their new or existing business ideas for a $1,000 grand prize start-up investment. These future business leaders include a dessert bar connoisseur, wellness-inspired natural hair app developer, fashion forward t-shirt designer, exotic smoothie savant, media production maven, and a dog lover with a soft spot for bully breeds.
“This year, I’m most excited to bring to the South Carolina community an opportunity for naturalistas to showcase the brains behind the kinks, coils, and locs,” Ochola says.
The Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina Pageant is a non-profit corporation recognized by the state of South Carolina. For more information, please visit www.naturallycrowned.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.