Frédérique Harrel, aka Freddie, began to grow an online following as a blogger writing about fashion and mental health. But her followers were always asking about her signature lace front afro wigs, which led her to launch a side business called Big Hair No Care, selling the extensions she’d always worn. More recently, the French-Cameroonian entrepreneur has expanded the idea into a company called RadSwan, which aims to innovate in the synthetic textured hair market and create a community around hair and identity.
For someone who exudes a bright sense of confidence, it may be a surprise to hear that Harrel hasn’t always known how to approach her hair. “Growing up, I don’t think I fully owned my hair,” she says on the phone from London, where she lives with her husband and son. She’d get it done every week, usually in braids. “In hindsight, I really love that this was the first teaching I had about expressing my own identity,” she says of her varying hair looks. “Just having that multifaceted ability, you know? And even if we didn’t have money for fashion or anything, we would make it work for our hair. I remember going to school and kids would comment on the fact that I changed my hair so much and I would respond with something like: ‘yeah I used a magic shampoo to get this style,’” she adds with a laugh.
At age 13, she remembers “wanting to look like the girls on the perm boxes,” and she got her first relaxer. Later she experimented with clip-ins, too. Harrel went natural at age 21, but then she got a job in banking. “I felt like I had to wear a weave and cover it,” she says. Eventually she left the world of finance to be a stylist at ASOS, and began experimenting with her hair again. “What I’ve really always loved is the whole culture around our hair and what it brings in,” she says.
Harrel, who counts Grace Jones, Diana Ross, and Solange as her biggest hair inspirations, maintains her hair’s health with products from the UK-based brand Afro Skin & Hair; she particularly loves their Flourish Butter and Bloom Oil. “The ingredients are ethically and naturally sourced and so much research goes into it,” she says. “I also really love Taraji’s products, too.”
While London maintains its lockdown, Harrel is focused on growing RadSwan. “We’re launching our recycling program in the spring and will drop a couple more styles in the meantime,” she says. “We also have our content platform Blacklikeme.com, which aims to really focus on our customers as an individual. There’s so much more I want to do with it.” Through it all, Harrel hopes to spread a message of positivity. “I want people to look at their hair like a map and not just dismiss it as this one thing. It’s an entry point into a more meditative or holistic lifestyle,” she says. “Looking after it and learning from it helps you tap into your intuition. I feel that’s how we should look at it first rather than just the superficial aspect of it. Since the beginning of time, Black people have been super expressive when it comes to our hair. So don’t forget to be creative with it. It can connect you to your people. And to yourself.”