Image Source: Courtesy of Nicole Williams
Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person's skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we're passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be - and how they're using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Nicole Williams, head of creative and communications at Headquarters, a scalp-focused hair-care brand.
I grew up in Maryland, just outside of Washington DC. I wanted to go into fashion ever since I was a little kid. I was always one of those people who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up and was very driven. When I was 9, I learned how to sew and then started building a fine-arts portfolio because I found out that's how you get into top designing schools - I was already thinking about college when I was in eighth grade.
Years later, I moved to New York for college at Parsons. I absolutely loved the city; I call it my first love, but I always wanted to live abroad, so I used grad school as an opportunity to move to London. I studied for my master's there and ended up falling in love with London and stayed for four years. I haven't really stopped seeking every opportunity to sort of be somewhere else, at every minute possible. I spent the last 10 years or so working in fashion, and then I had the awesome opportunity to jump over to join the team at Harry's Inc., a personal care and grooming company, which is the parent company for Headquarters, a new scalp-focused hair-care brand.
I wanted to work on something where I could truly see myself in the brand. I've had the opportunity to work on so many brands that have such different target consumer groups, and it was exciting for me to have the opportunity to build something I could relate to and that I could see myself in. That was a big draw.
It was also an interesting time for me to move into the beauty category because it went well with my own hair-care journey of transitioning from years of relaxing and chemically treating my hair to building a more healthy relationship with my natural hair and texture. My mom started relaxing my hair at a very young age. My hair type is very coily 4C, so it takes a while to style. I think relaxing made it a lot easier and more manageable, which was fine, but I definitely was experiencing some of the negative downsides of relaxing. I was getting tension alopecia spots, which is spot balding, and it was the result of the relaxers. It became clear that this thing that you have to put gloves on to apply wasn't healthy or good for me.
I made the decision in my 20s to just move on, and one day, I went into my bathroom with my roommate's clippers and shaved off my hair. It was a bold move, and it was really cool. I was just ecstatic to try something new and be on this new hair journey.
Reflecting back on it now, I don't think I knew enough about how to care for my natural hair at that time. I started growing it out, but I didn't build a good "relationship" with my hair - a lot of that stems from European standards of beauty. And so, after a few years of growing it out natural, I ended up cutting it again and just wearing it short for several years. I loved it - short was just my vibe - and then the pandemic hit, and suddenly, I couldn't go to my barber to get my cute, tapered buzz cut. I had to start growing out my hair again, but this time - having a better sense of what I needed to do and what my hair needed - it's already been such a better experience, exploring different protective styles and leaning into how I treat it.
Image Source: Courtesy of Headquarters
Headquarters has been a definite part of that because the premise for this brand is that in order to achieve healthy hair, you actually need to take care of the place where you have the most impact, which is your scalp. While there's nothing wrong with talking about hair type - because there is a real difference between types - there's a missing conversation happening around the actual needs of the skin on your scalp.
With our model selection, we're looking at how we can make sure we're working with a wide variety of models to represent differences in every way.
There are a lot of other brands that are doing really interesting things in the scalp and hair space, but at a much higher price point. Accessibility is the most important thing for me, and it takes a few forms. We purposely came to market with our own DTC site where you can shop directly online, but also with an exclusive partnership with Walmart so that we could actually make sure Headquarters could be shopped at stores across the country.
Something else that was important to me when taking on this role was making sure our consumers truly see themselves in this brand and that it comes through in every way possible. With our model selection, we're looking at how we can make sure we're working with a wide variety of models to represent differences in every way. So, racial differences, but then also differences in terms of hair type, hair color, hair length, hairstyle, how they wear it. All those details reflect the uniqueness of each of us as individuals.
I'm always pushing to say, "Let's not go through the same old, same old." An anti-goal is a 1970s shampoo commercial. We want to instead say, "Hey, your hair isn't bad. Let's actually embrace it - whatever your natural hair type is - and really focus on how can we make your hair be its best without trying to conform to some standard."