She wanted to become a financial broker, but ended up creating a community that redefines Italian identities through hair careFrancesca Ferrario
Evelyne Sarah Afaawua defines her creation Nappytalia as “a container of information about natural Afro hair.” Some define it as a blog, but Evelyne thinks that this definition “reminds me of something too personal, whereas Nappytalia is a platform for a growing community and I’d rather call it a website.” Far from being a space exclusively dedicated to beauty care, Nappytalia uses afro hair as the symbol of a broader discourse on mixed cultural identity in Italy.
Pride in a blended identity
Evelyne is of Ghanaian origins, was born in France, and has lived in northern Italy since she was a year old. “While growing up, I’ve never questioned my Italian identity. But with time, I realised that not everybody around me thought the same: they still considered me an ‘immigrant’, a ‘foreigner,’” she says. Moreover, Evelyne also started coming to terms with the stereotypes of beauty she grew up with, which did not match her body. “I did not have straight long hair and my size was bigger than the average around me,” she tells us.
“I am black because I am from Ghana; I speak with gestures because I am Italian,” she continues, “I cannot negate any of these two parts of me, so I decided to be proud of being both!” As a symbol of a rediscovered self, Evelyne decided to let her hair grow naturally without straightening or colouring it. “Initially, I started a Facebook page where I could gather information for my personal interest about how to keep my hair, but soon it became a source of consultation for many girls across Italy.”
Crafting new ideas of beauty
These experiences led her to write an essay by the title “Io chi sono” (‘Who I am’ in Italian) and to use the term Afroitalian to define herself. In the essay, she writes about the conciliation of two cultural identities, as well as the acceptance of new parameters of beauty based on the natural body features one is born with.
“Nappytalia doesn’t want to discover or dictate fashions - which are by definition temporary - but to support different types of beauty care focused on features more typically African,” explains Evelyne, who continues, “We don’t want to supersede existing ideas of beauty, but just add new ones!”
In September 2014, journalists from the popular Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera knocked at her door, proposing for her to shoot a short documentary on Nappytalia. From that moment, Evelyne recalls, “I started thinking that, after all, what I was doing was not that superfluous!”
With the help of a friend, an expert in graphic design, she passed from a Facebook page to a website. After a few months, she went on a self-funded “Nappy tour” to meet her followers across Italy; she participated as a speaker at TEDx Milan; and won the MoneyGram Award for the category Young Entrepreneur in 2015.
She confesses that external media coverage has had little impact on the increase of her followers, “the documentary shot by Corriere della Sera, for example, has helped Nappytalia to have a more authoritative presence - which helps in finding investors for example - but speaking of numbers, my followers increased just by a hundred or so.”
Evelyne adds that, “In any case, I’ve needed a lot of courage, because I’ve never made any profit out of Nappytalia. I have to keep my part-time job, but I am strongly persuaded Nappytalia is what I want, I am good at doing and what I want to do in the future.”
Plans for a future very different from her original plans
Recently, she has added an e-commerce platform on her website to sell products for natural afro hair. She explains, “At the moment, I can source these products only from the US and the UK, but in the near future, I’d like to produce them in Italy.” After all, she continues, “I found out that 70 percent of cosmetics sold globally are manufactured in this country!If I combine the existing knowledge capital and my learning, I can offer higher quality products while cutting the costs of transportation.”
By the end of the conversation, Evelyne confesses, laughing, that she used to dream of becoming a financial broker. She was enrolled at Bocconi University, the first one in Italy for economy and finance, and was doing great. However, she had to quit because she lost her job and could no longer afford to pay the fees. “It’s funny to think about me now,” she smiles, “I am completely the opposite to what I thought I’d become!My job - the job I am creating - lacks any predetermined rules, it’s a discovery every day. It’s hard but it pulls passion out of me, and it’s fun!”
Now Evelyne has almost finished her business plan and is ready to take a further step and ask for funding. Who knows, it is likely that someone with a degree from Bocconi will start working for Nappytalia!
To learn more about Nappytalia, visit their website.