I was 10, maybe 11 when I got my first Vigorol Liquid Relaxer.
For most Black girls before Y2K this was a right of passage and a privilege. In hindsight I can’t fully wrap my head around why: It’s like we were all lining and signing up for the risk of chemical burns in exchange for a weak guarantee of straight hair. And at the age of 11, that cost-benefit analysis didn’t add up for me.
And don’t get me started on Easter Sunday hair—hot combs, ear burns, Blue Magic hair grease, curling irons and pin curls so tight they wouldn’t loosen even if you prayed on it. These are the painfully fond memories of being a little Black girl in the ‘90s that force you to look back and let loose a nostalgic chuckle with a side of “I’m happy those days are over.”
Jazmi Zanders is happy those days are over too.
I got to chat about those days, the natural hair revolution and being a hair care entrepreneur with Zanders, the founder, and owner of “My Roots” hair care products, on the latest edition of WNNH’s “Werk it Out” with Mercy Quaye.
Zanders has had only one job: Hairdresser. And she plans on keeping it that way.
“I’ve never had a real job,” Zanders said. “Back when you were a teen and you were working at McDonald’s, or anything else, I was always doing hair. Braiding was always my passion. And I knew I couldn’t work a regular 9-5.”
Her path to self-employment started back in 2007 when she connected with her biological sister after living with her adopted family for most of her life. That rekindled relationship led to her sister sponsoring her tuition for hair school in North Carolina. After hair school, Zanders moved back to New Haven and didn’t exactly know what would be next.
“There were times where I thought ‘Oh my god, I have to get a job, I can’t do this. How am I going to make any money, how am I going to support myself?’” she said.
The panic was only somewhat premature. Not too long after returning to New Haven, Zanders landed a chair at a salon in West Haven where she honed her craft and overcame some hiccups — some of which included a lapse in judgment that led her to severely damaging a client’s hair early in her career.
“That crushed me,” she said. “And I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ I was mortified, I’m still mortified. I thought my career was over and it took me a long time to build that confidence up again.”
Several years and clients later Jazmi got back on the horse and started to brand herself as a go-to hair care specialist in New Haven. Without a degree in marketing or advertising, Zanders started her “JazmiUp” brand on Instagram and branched out to a website and hairline complete with the Black hair care products she wishes had access to growing up.
Her product line, “MyRoots,” launched earlier this year. For her, this milestone pays homage to her journey to becoming a hair care entrepreneur and honors her family who helped her accomplish her goals.
“The reason I named it ‘MyRoots’ is because my biological grandmother was a hair stylist,” she said, commenting how the poetic symmetry of her journey. “This stuff is rooted in me.”
Zanders admitted it’s never been easy and being her own boss comes with its own list of ups and downs. But for the moment JazmiUp and MyRoots are offering Zanders a rewarding alternative to a regular 9-5.
“I’m taking it day by day and learning different strategies from my peers,” she said. Noting that her confidence has always been her biggest struggle, she said, “I was scared of what people thought of me. I was always worried about what people would think and now I just don’t care and I’m going to do me.”
Meanwhile, I’m still trying to recover from the PTSD of Easter Sunday 1998. But that’s a story for another time. ...
To hear Jazmi Zander’s full conversation 0n “Werk It Out” on click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below