For some, the path to pursuing a hairstyling career is a straight shot. For others, namely Naeemah LaFond, pre-med schooling may be the precursor to a livelihood based on manicuring manes. Despite her roundabout road to becoming a stylist, Naeemah’s talent and hustle quickly earned her the recognition she deserved. Just after a year in a role at Amika in which her job was to find the best candidate for Global Artistic Director, she snagged the title for herself. Ahead, the Brooklyn-bred wife, mom, and master of every texture under the sun—her impeccable attention to detail and love for shape and dual textures is hard to miss on Instagram—talks leaping from pre-med to manes, the importance of mentors in the beauty industry, and what she hopes to teach her daughter.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I told myself that I wanted to be a doctor but my actions and everything that I loved screamed hairstylist
Tell us why and how you entered the world of hair.
I dropped out of college once I realized that being a doctor wasn’t in the cards for me. I had more passion towards building my sorority and doing community service than I ever did in any of my pre-med classes. I came back to Brooklyn and held several different corporate jobs until my best friend, who was an aspiring model at the time, asked me to do her hair for a test shoot. I fell in love with the idea of being a hairstylist on that shoot. I felt alive and inspired.
I quit my day job and worked a graveyard shift position so that I could do photoshoots during the day. After two years of building my portfolio and being published in magazines, I knew that I had found my calling. It was then that I attended the Carsten Institute (which was an Aveda school at the time) and started my official journey towards being a hairstylist.
Did you have a mentor along the way?
I didn’t have a hairstylist that took me under their wing and showed me the way but there were industry professionals who were generous enough to offer advice and guidance. The one person who really gave me the advice, direction, and tough love I needed when I was just starting out is Crystal Wright. She’s a business development coach for artists in the fashion and beauty industries and she holds these seminars where she literally gives you the blueprint to a career in the industry. She made me realize that I wasn’t going as hard as I could be and that my success, or lack of, will match my effort. I clearly remember one time when she had left me a voicemail, and for whatever reason I didn’t listen to it until a few days later. When I called her back she picked up the phone and said, ‘If I were calling you about a job, you would have missed an opportunity.’ People don’t usually care enough to call you out like that. I appreciated that moment.
Do you think it’s necessary to have a mentor in the hair industry?
I think having a mentor or just someone who can provide knowledge and advice is important. I don’t think that this person necessarily needs to be another hair stylist. A potential mentor could be involved in any other aspect of the industry. I think the main thing is connecting with someone who has the track record and experience to match the advice that you are seeking.
How did you snag the role of Global Artistic Director of Amika? What steps led to that amazingness?
I was initially hired as the National Education manager in January of 2013 and one of my top assignments for the first year was to recruit a stylist that would hold the position as the Global Artistic Director for the brand. I used that first year on the job to instead prove that I was the person for the job. I was promoted to Global Artistic Director in January 2014.
Where, what decades, and/or from whom specifically do you find inspiration for hairstyles?
Mainly I’m inspired by women and their individual beauty and personalities. My best work comes when I have an opportunity to study my model and see what works best not just for her face but also her personality. I love staring at someone whose hair I’m going to do. It’s similar to when an artist steps back and stares at a canvas as they contemplate their next stroke. Hair is truly an art form.
I’m also completely obsessed with ancient Egyptian beauty and African tribal hair techniques. The intricacy is mind-blowing.
How important do you believe it is for up-and-coming stylists to master styling of all hair types and textures?
If you want to be open for all opportunities that come your way, you need to be well-versed in all hair types. Only knowing how to work with a small range of hair types is limiting to your growth and career as a stylist. There are tons of courses both online and in the professional world where you can learn to work with various hair types. If all else fails, YouTube university won’t steer you wrong.
What message do you wish to convey, if any, through the mane masterpieces you create?
I want stylists to know that they can and should explore their artistry. People often point out that my portfolio is diverse in the textures that I work with- I take pride in that. The hairstyle is the art and texture is the medium.
You post frequently on your Instagram and I noticed your strong hashtag game. Do you believe social media has played a part in your success?
Actually social media hasn’t really played a part in my success because my following only recently jumped from 3k to 35k within the past year and a half since I started actively work on posting more content. I can say, however, that it has given me tons of exposure. That, alone, is priceless. It’s humbling to know that my work has reached so many other artists across the globe. I love when I get tagged in another artists’ rendition of one of the looks I post. I would have probably never made those connections without social media. We put so much work into our portfolios to only have them sitting on our personal websites for limited viewing. Instagram lets me share my passion with the world.
What tips would you give to aspiring hairstylists who aren’t maintaining their Instagram and whose feeds aren’t looking so lit?
Your IG is your portfolio. Take it as seriously as you take the business of your clients. If you are a salon owner, Instagram is as important as payroll and inventory. Invest in your content and watch your business grow.
What are your favorite Instagram accounts to follow?
I love following:
You have a daughter named Milah Lulu. She’s adorable! Being the super-successful beauty industry mom that you are, what lesson(s) do you hope to teach her about life, career, and hair?
Thank you I want her to know that she can chase her dreams without hesitation and that with hard work and focus she can achieve great things. As for her hair, she gets to grow up during the height of the natural hair movement and watch the women around her rock curly and kinky looks. I grew up getting my hair pressed and relaxed because straight hair was the gold standard of beauty. I wasn’t really taught to love my coils until later on in life. Milah won’t have that problem.
Your husband is a cinematographer, and I noticed the really cool hair video you shot in Norway that he edited—it’s so good! Do you have plans to create more YouTube videos (please say yes)? If so, what can we expect?
Thank you! My husband is so good at what he does. I’m such a proud wife. I’m probably biased but I think he’ll be getting an academy award one day. His skill with a camera has really inspired me to showcase my work in different ways. We started shooting these videos in the back alleys of the convention centers where the hair shows happen. The show floors are always so busy and cluttered and it’s really hard to get a great image for your portfolio. We figured that we could get some images with more of an editorial feel by shooting in the bare and gritty areas of the building. I’m still learning how to work the camera but I really enjoy the directing side of the cinematography. My husband and I have some great projects in the works. We’re definitely just getting started.
How long have you been keying shows at fashion week?
The first show I keyed was the Azede Jean Pierre Spr/Sum 2014 show. Fashion shows are my favorite part of the job. I love the energy, the urgency, and the teamwork. Everyone is on their game and you can feel it.
What 3 attributes make a strong key hairstylist at fashion week?
Leadership, flexibility, and focus.
What are your do’s and don’ts of fashion week backstage etiquette?
- Be on time!
- Consistency is key – now is not the time to add your personal flair to a look
- Try to bring kit items in neutral colors only (black is best) nothing like a zebra print alligator clip to kill the vibe and spoil the aesthetic for pics.
- Don’t take it personally if the key stylist has to fix a look you worked on- they are responsible for making sure that all of the hair comes down the runway looking perfect
- Don’t post details from the collection before show.. no spoilers
- Bring your good vibes and positive energy
Tell us a little about your journey to embracing your natural hair.
I went natural in college and chopped all of my relaxed hair off and have since just worn my hair in curly styles. I really love that the market for extensions has expanded beyond straight hair and has ventured into textured hair giving all women the option to play around with different looks. I love big hair so extensions are my fav.
Your selfies are 90% hair, and we’re obsessed. Tell us your personal hair routine favorites for keeping your curls hydrated and defined.
I actually don’t like defined curls. I’m all about crazy hair. If you see my curls looking perfect, know that I probably just washed my hair and I’m having a bad hair day. Freshly washed curly hair tends to fall flat. My hair is at its best three days in.
You headline shows all over the world to teach your artistry. Since you’re a busy girl on the go, what hair products/tools do you pack to keep your hair looking fresh?
Who cuts and colors your hair?
I do. I’m too anal about my hair to let anyone else do it. I’d be the worst client. You know the one that is breaking their neck to see what you are doing and touching their hair at the same time you’re combing it. That’s me.
What would your job be if you weren’t a hairstylist?
Cinematographer or chef.