I'm so excited to kick this series back off with Mengly Hernandez! Featuring women with their natural hair, in their respective natural habitats feels like a peek into someone's soul for a few seconds. As this passion project goes on in collaboration with Maia, I feel so honored to experience these ladies and feature them in this space. Here, Mengly Hernandez shares her life in Washington Heights, and a little more about her natural hair process, the comb she can no longer live without, and the differences in mothering at just 18 and now, many years later.
Can you tell us a little about your work?
I am the owner and creative director for LINEA Germania which is a design company that focuses on creating textiles and exclusive patterns for accessories as well as consulting services for other businesses and creatives.
It's natural and low maintenance. It suits me.
You are now a mom of two, what has been the biggest difference in the two experiences?
Yes, I am mom to my son Ousmane who is 18 and little Ebba who is nearly 14 months. The age gap itself creates a very varied experience. I was 18 when I had my son and I was a single parent for most of that parenting experience. That setup comes with a lot to manage, especially when you are going to school and working. Looking back I feel my time and presence was more limited with my son. I was going to school full time and working while my mom babysat him. We spent lots of time together and did many things and had lots of fun, especially after he was 2, but I can definitely say that there were more stresses to deal with. I was much older when I had Ebba. I am married to wonderful human being who is a present husband and father and that makes a HUGE difference. I have more support and stability.
Tell me a little more about your hair story, how was it as a child, teenager, young adult, and now?
My hair has played a big part in my life. At the same time I am not attached to my hair. I have been cutting my hair super short since I was 15. Growing up my mom combed my hair every morning. Detangling and braiding was a regular routine for school. I remember all the pulling and pain on my scalp. My hair shaft is thin, but very coiled. Untangling is not fun for a little girl. By the time I was 12 (I believe) my mom relaxed my hair because she was fed up with having to go through the pulling and crying (from me) so it became easier for her to "manage" my hair.
By the time I was 15 I couldn't stand the texture the relaxer. Related. My hair grows very fast so it was always in a state of curly and straight. Curly roots and straight shaft. I couldn't stand it so I cut everything g off. That has been my routine since then. I usually cut it all off on a whim. It makes me feel free.
What’s your morning hair routine?
My morning routine consists of getting up and adding either coconut oil or argon oil to my hair. I either leave it out or tie it in a bun without combing. I was wash it once a week and my secret weapon is a brush I discovered in Sweden (but I think it's from The U.K.) it's called the Tangle Teezer Thick and Curly. It changed my life and I wish my mom had one when I was growing up. It's incredible. Sometimes I use a living proof product for moisture. Once in a while I go to the hair salon. I go under the dryer and then have it blow dried.
You’ve grown up in New York, have you personally seen the evolution of hair as an art form around the city?
Yes, definitely. People used to make fun of me all the time. Especially Dominicans in Washington Heights, where I grew up. They would tease me and say I look like I have a birds nest on my head. Ignorant comments that made me more rebellious and wanting to say fuck you I'm not changing my hair for you. It's funny it's become accepted now. About time!!
What are some products you can not live without?
Coconut oil, argon oil, my tangle teezer a good moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. As I mentioned before living proof has products that work for me and of course my Dominican deep conditioners!!
What was something about self-love you instilled in your son, that you now find yourself instilling in your daughter?
I always strive to promote acceptance of self and not being mean spirited. Ebba is still very young, but I know that will be my emphasis.
Are there any physical differences in their hair type? And what has this taught you (if anything) as a mother?
Ousmane's hair has texture, but it's not as coiled as mine. His hair has been very long for many years growing up, so when it was time to untangle I usually did it. I would do it in the shower while his hair was wet and not everyday. It was much easier for both of us. Ebb's hair texture is quite limp and straight thus far. We shall see....
How do you describe your home style?
My home style is colorful, but sparse. I embrace color and texture, but don't want to be cluttered or hoarding on to things that are not necessary. I can let go, but enjoy a colorful life.
You wear many hats, what has being a woman designer and stylist taught you?
It has taught me that I am capable of so much. That I am strong and flexible and that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. That challenges are strengthening and that women are the most amazing creatures.
Fill in the blank
I feel most comfortable when...my inside is still and peaceful. When my chest doesn't have anxiety knots.
Any departing words?
Embrace love and openness. Make goal lists and believe that you can achieve ANYTHING!!
(Photographed by Maia Harms. You can purchase Mengly's scarves at the Cooper Hewitt museum shop, Steven Alan (In Japan) and on her website. Some of her work remains on view at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.)