The Naturalista Expo train is headed to D.C. and plans on making a full impact. To welcome in its sixth year, founder Angela Walker spoke to 21Ninety about the company's name change, the expansion of its focal areas and all the amazing things attendees can look forward to at this year’s event.

PHOTO: Naturalista Expo 

21NINETY: Let’s set the scene: it’s 2012 and inspiration strikes! A voice whispers, "Naturalista Hair Show" and you’re sold! … Okay, maybe it didn’t happen like that, but what sparked the cultivation of the new Naturalista Expo?

ANGELA WALKER: Haha! It did go something like that, actually. Just kidding. I used to travel to Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York for hair shows, and during my travels to these cities and shows, I noticed they didn't have as many naturals as D.C.

When I opened my salon in 2012, I knew it would lead me to producing my own hair show at some point. However, I just didn't anticipate jumping into that boat the following year. What propelled me to move up my initial timeline were the conversations I was having with women in the Washington, D.C. area. — friends, associates, clients, and strangers — about hair.

Women would compliment me on my hair, and when I would respond asking why they didn't go natural themselves, they would have all these excuses. Answers ranging from "It won't look good on me!" to "I don't know what to do with it," or "I don't know what products to use!" and even "It would be too much to handle."

I realized it wasn't a lack of desire to explore their hair choices, but rather lack of knowledge, practical information and support. So with that, the Naturalista Expo was born as a solution and a space for women to come together in the name of hair. It’s "A Hair Heaven" where women are exposed to new products, and where a variety of classes and demos are provided to teach techniques. However, more importantly, it’s a celebrated space where women can be inspired and encouraged by those who are on their natural hair journeys.

PHOTO: CHICNaturalistas

21N: Almost six years later, there is still a need for spaces and events like the Naturalista Expo. What do you think this event means for the community, or what do you hope it means to them?

AW: I truly believe this event extends beyond hair and has become a space for black women to gather and celebrate our various narratives. This is always needed and wanted because for years it did not exist and it was actually shamed. Our attendee profile used to look very singular: a black woman with natural hair. However, six years later, our attendees have diversified; these women are entrepreneurs, musicians, socialites, moms, fitness fanatics, world travelers, and more! They all enter this space I've cultivated looking to be exposed to new brands, new businesses and, most importantly, the inspiration to keep with them on their everyday travels!

21N: This year, you’re bumping it up a notch to not only focus on hair but to also highlight health and beauty. Why the expansion?

AW: I believe what we do is an extension of ourselves. My interests are growing beyond hair, and the interest of my attendees are too, so it only seemed right. Transitioning our hair to its natural state was really symbolic of a change in our mindset. Many of us are looking for better ways to live in all aspects of our lives. This includes our relationships, spirituality, skin care, as well as things like make-up, our bodies and fashion. This expo encompasses all of these things.

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Smile. 📸 @ownbyfemme

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21N: Being a Naturalista spreads beyond the realm of our crowning glory. Describe in your own words what a Naturalista is to you. What do they look like? What kinds of things are they into?

AW: I think a Naturalista is a woman filled with confidence in who she is and who she is becoming, and the list of interests is so vast and wonderful. She's the woman who will hop in her Audi RS 5 in a suit headed to her law firm in D.C. while jamming to Migos. She's the stay at home mom who keeps the family together and takes girl trips with her best friends to beaches. She's the everyday woman working a 9 to 5, or the one running a business who's just focused on being a better her today than she was yesterday. There's no one story, which is what makes our gatherings so powerful and so memorable.

21N: Back to the expo — the schedule looks incredible! It looks like the different events and activities are broken up into sections including the main stage, the pink carpet, hair room, beauty room, health room and "hands on." Give us a little insight into the breakdown of these spaces.

AW: Great question. When curating spaces, I find it important to sectionalize things so people know exactly what's happening where, and with no questions. The Main Stage is where most of our panels will be happening. It’s in the vending area so that as people walk the aisles they can learn a thing or two. Our pink carpet is similar to a red carpet experience. For the first time ever we're having a live broadcast with hosts talking to attendees and interviewing a few influencers and panelists unscripted. I, for one, am excited about this addition.

The classrooms (beauty, health, hair) will have classes throughout the day surrounding the topic of that room. Our hands-on classes are something I started in year two to help women who had one of those excuses I told you I kept hearing: "I don't know what to do with my hair."

The hands-on classes happen in a room filled with curly hair mannequins, and attendees pay an additional $15 to learn how to do two strand twists, cornrows and flat twists. It's pretty cool to see someone enter not knowing how to do a style and leave able to flat twist their own hair. But yeah, that’s most of the sections broken down for you!

PHOTO: Naturalista Expo

21N: Another captivating detail is the array of vendors and the special guests, including Sarunas Jackson (Dro from Insecure). This may be a bit of a twofer, but how were the guests selected? We see a lot of Queens as special guests but you have some Kings in there too, why was it important to have men highlighted as well?                                                        

AW: I feel like I always have this personal responsibility to highlight black men. I'm a mom to a little black boy and in this powerful women's movement I think they sometimes get forgotten, and I'm not so much a fan of that. So I always like to shed light on my brothas because I think so highly of them and all of the ones in my life.

Also, honestly speaking, I want men to feel comfortable attending the expo. Over 50% of our attendee profile is single, fabulous black women. Around year three I noticed that every time black men accidentally attended the show they would find me before leaving and say thank you for putting on the event. They had never seen so many wonderful black women in one room! So basically, the Naturalista Expo is a secret place for men to find themselves a lady — but I can't blatantly put that in the advertising, haha! I feel having men as part of the lineup makes them a little more comfortable purchasing a ticket.

21N: So now we have the backstory, the schedule, and the guests deets! So tell us, why should people attend the Naturalista Expo?

AW: It's bomb AF, haha! No, but seriously. There's a vibe to this event that can't really be explained – it has to be experienced. The attendees are wonderful and always enter with an open heart and an air of curiosity. They come ready to learn, ready to buy (all of our vendors are black-owned companies) and ready to meet new people. It's one of the most beautiful things to witness. You just hear people giving strangers compliments all day: "Love your hair!" "That outfit is cute!" "OMG where did you get those shoes?" and, "You're beautiful." It's like the safe space to say all those things. It’s what the head nod means when brothas pass each other on the street, or that smile women give when we see each other on the train.

21N: The expo is actually happening the same weekend as the Congressional Black Caucus Conference. Why that intentional or a delightful coincidence?

AW: Haha, it was a total accident the first year I switched the event to this weekend. I remember someone mentioning that to me after the date was released three years ago. However, our numbers keep getting larger every year so I figure maybe it's a good thing we're on the same weekend.

PHOTO: CurlsUnderstood

21N: And while we have you, let’s chat really quick about N Natural Hair Studio. The salon was founded to be a solution for naturals in D.C. struggling with maintaining their natural tresses independently. You went beyond just being another salon and offered customers the opportunity to be salon subscribers. Explain that concept to us.

AW: Yes, I was trying to think of a solution for women who were busy, on a budget and just didn't have all day for a salon visit, so I came up with the "N Club." The subscription allows for clients to pay $50 a month, and they get a full service. The thing is that they have to come during the week and they have to choose from styles we've curated for the club. We release new styles every month, and subscribers can choose from any style that was released. We're now up to over 60+ styles for them to choose from, so I'd say it's a pretty good deal.

21N: Years later you now have classes, another salon location, photoshoots and helpful blog posts. Why was it so important for you to marry all of these things together and have the salon be more than, well, a salon?

AWBecause a salon by itself can only reach so many people. I'm a strong believer in the power of images, how they transform our thoughts, and how we maneuver through this world. I wanted to hold photoshoots that didn't necessarily focus on natural hair, but that focus on the various narratives of black women that just so happen to have natural hair.

Natural hair really shouldn't be such a big deal, but for now, it is because we are relearning. The faster we learn the faster this natural hair thing will be the norm, which is ultimately my goal.

PHOTO: Adeola Fadumiye

21N: You are an absolute boss! There is no doubt about it. How do you stay on top and fulfill your dreams and desires?

AW: Solitude helps. It helps me stay focused, so I make sure to incorporate some time alone in my everyday. I'm also big on having a schedule, even though I typically get thrown off my typical schedule during show time (shout out to my therapist for forcing me to keep my schedule this go around!)

I think people grow from routines – it’s those everyday tasks that make us who we are and ultimately lead to our successes. I go to bootcamp at 5:30 in the morning, I take a nap at 2 PM every day, and in between that I get a lot of work done. I always feel like I get two days in one. My second day starts after my nap when my brain gets a second fresh start.

21N: For women out there sitting on a dream or an idea – like you did with the Naturalista Expo once upon a time – what would you tell them about turning that notion into a reality and continuing to nurture it?

AW: Stop sitting on it, sis. For a seed to grow it needs water, it needs to be seen by the sun, it needs nurturing. You don't just stare at seeds wondering "I wonder how this plant would look if I were to plant it?" Nah, you just plant it and see!

I think most people hold on to ideas because they think their idea is so amazing it has to be perfect, or that someone is going to steal it. The reality is none of us are THAT different, and if you don't launch your idea soon, someone else will. They'll do it better because they're giving themselves the opportunity to fail quicker and learn faster than you. And you’re gonna be the old person talking about "You know, I could've done this and that," but the whole time you didn't.

I think success is somewhat about the idea, but more about the person and the tenacity and conviction in what they're doing. Their ability to try, try and keep trying until they get it. Their persistence in not stopping until they see their dream in real life. The longer you wait is not bringing you any closer to being great, so stop waiting and launch.

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Growth: In high school I was homecoming and prom queen my senior year, I was also often called a bitch (yes, I was that girl.) In college my boyfriend always told me I was rude “you should be more careful the way you talk to others.” And earlier this week a stylist in my salon told me “you’re very direct.” I figure, I’m getting better, I mean from Bitch to rude to direct sounds like progress to me. I’ve always been big on communication I’ve just not always been good at saying things in a way people perceive to be nice. Probably because I think “nice” is overrated. Behind the scenes of @nnaturalhairstudio we OVER-communicate with each other. We have a very active group me where team members often go off topic and talk current news and personal news. We have a weekly team email sent out by our salon manager that talks about what we need to focus on for the week. I send out a bi-weekly videos for the team to see my face and be updated on things I’ve been working on behind the scenes. We hold monthly conference calls so as a group we can converse about things we’ve been doing well and things we need to improve on. And we hold quarterly meet ups so we can see each other outside of the salon setting. Where I am now I find my “being direct” to be effective and efficient. People never have to worry what I’m thinking and I get my point across correctly and very quickly. But again, I’m a constant work in progress. Someone may call me “a kind-worded Woman” in a few years 🤷🏾‍♀️ Just know I typically know exactly what I want to say, it’s how I say things that cause people to feel some kinda way. Maybe it’s the Jamaican in me😂🤣 👚@wpgg_rassy 📸 @vsdavisphotography

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21N: Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?

AW: If you've read this far you must really care about what I'm saying. Check me out on IG @angelagonesocial, though I must warn you my brands are much more exciting than me. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see some of y'all at my annual Expo!

The Naturalista Expo is scheduled to take place Saturday, September 15th (click here for more info). If you’re still not convinced (and we find that hard to believe), check out last year’s recap video below:

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