Mane Master Vernon François on Styling Lupita, Entrepreneurship and What He Wants You to Know About ‘Textured Hair’
Jun 16, 2021
François—who famously learned to braid, loc and twist hair on a mop from the age of eight, while teaching himself how to blow dry hair using a fork—has a nice (not-so-little) list of accolades he can add to the aforementioned.
In addition to being a global inclusivity advisor and educator for Kerastase, Vernon’s also a global consultant, celebrity hairstylist and educator for Redken. Oh, and lest we forget, he was at the forefront of scalp care importance years before it really took off in 2021.
But behind the impressive resume and a who’s who of celebrities adorning his Instagram (we’re lookin’ at you, Amandla Stenberg, Willow Smith and Serena Williams), François is a family man who considers every moment doing his own daughter’s hair, an emotional bonding experience.
We featured the superstar stylist as our latest Mane Master, not only because of his incredible contributions to the hair community, but also because Vernon has a fascinating story to tell, and his love for hair has no bounds.
Skin tones & Assumptions
Mane Addicts: You pretty much knew right away that you wanted to work with hair for a living. Tell us about that young realization and the journey to get to where you are now?
Vernon François: As a child growing up, all I knew was that I loved doing hair. It never occurred to me that I wanted to work with hair for a living, because I had no idea that was even possible. The driving force for me spending every spare moment doing hair, was pure passion. Not much has changed in that way from then to now. I’ve always been driven by the art of doing hair, transforming how people approach the hair they were born with, enabling individuals to feel uplifted and inspired by how versatile their kinks, coils and curls are. It just so happens that beauty is the natural home for my skills, and there is a need for professional hairstylists championing and educating about kinks, coils, curls, and waves, that this is now my livelihood, as well as my obsession. I still pinch myself that this is possible.
MA: One of your most notable fun facts is you learned how to blow dry your hair using a fork…
VF: As a child I was completely obsessed with doing hair, it took up every spare moment. At eight years old, without proper hairstyling tools around, I adapted and used whatever alternatives were to hand. In the case of teaching myself to braid loc and twist that would be anything from fringing on the living room rug, to the threads on the knee of my jeans, grandma’s beaded curtains, to unravelling cords on the mop. When it came to blow drying, I found an old hairdryer which was not working properly but could still be powered, matched with a fork and a dolls head this was everything needed to start nailing my technique. Dyslexia has gifted me with creativity, resourcefulness, excellent puzzle solving abilities, and the ability to see unconventional routes forward which is how this solution came to be.
MA: What was the biggest hurdle that stood in your way to success as a hairdresser?
VF: The beauty spaces that I operate in are high-end, highly visible, and high profile where most leaders and decision makers happen to be white. In these scenarios being black is a hurdle due to conscious bias, unconscious bias, and privilege. My skin tone leads to assumptions like I only do afro or curly hair, but I do it all; kinky, coily, curly, wavy and straight. On jobs people who don’t know me have assumed I must be in the wrong place, or stepped in to direct me on the behavior of hair textures they have never touched. I have to lobby for realistic prep time for kinky, coily hair models. My work is sometimes retouched in post-production to fit someone else’s idea of beautiful; hairlines unrealistically smoothed out, parts of hairstyles completely deleted. Constantly educating to re-set expectations around all of this is exhausting but comes with the territory.
MA: What was the first moment where you felt you “made” it?
VF: The first time I realized that I can make it was winning Newcomer of the Year at 16. Launching my own brand in 2016 was a major moment. VERNON FRANÇOIS® Haircare went on to win Most Inclusive Hair Brand at Yahoo! Lifestyle’s Diversity in Beauty Awards, Refinery29 selected me as a finalist for Beauty Innovator of the Year. This year, in 2021, InStyle magazine named me a black beauty founder changing the industry, and I am judging Allure magazine’s Best of Beauty Awards, and there have been many more highlights along the way. Seeing my daughter excited by individuals with the same hair texture as hers in my work is always emotional. Redken inviting me to be Global consultant, celebrity hairstylist and educator; being the first Global inclusivity advisor and educator for Kérastase; aligning with North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA) helping to shape the direction of the awards, all these things are milestone moments.
The fact that I got to move from the UK to America with my life partner, have a baby, and continue with my journey at pace is an overwhelming achievement for me. Growing up in a small town in Yorkshire, which some say is the middle of nowhere, a lot of people had me down as not going far. Teachers wrote me off at school due to my dyslexia. It goes to show you can come from anywhere and go anywhere, like Huddersfield to Hollywood. You can do, be, and achieve what you set your mind to.
MA: Who are some budding U.S. hairdressers everyone needs to have on their radar?
My work is sometimes retouched in post-production to fit someone else’s idea of beautiful
— Vernon François
All Inclusive Styling
MA: What’s been the most nerve-wracking career moment?
VF: My most nerve-wracking career moment? More like moments! Red carpets are always anxiety inducing. The moment your client steps onto the carpet is heart stopping. Lupita Nyong’o’s towering sculptural up-do for the Met Gala 2016 immediately comes to mind, she looked stunning. When your client feels their most beautiful, and you want to ensure that the images reflect their intentions, so, everything is carefully planned, all angles, all details, every minute.
MA: What’s the biggest DO and DON’T for anyone trying to break into the hair industry?
VF: One piece of advice for anyone starting out in the hair industry, and a wider life lesson, is to be yourself because everyone else is taken. The first tattoo that I ever got is a daily reminder of that, it says “It’s hard to be me but harder to be someone that I am not.” By being genuine clients will seek you out and keep coming back to you. Try not to fall victim to always being liked. I did that for a long time, it’s not self-serving and now I’m rediscovering the beauty of self-love. Try and remain honest with yourself, there is success and opportunity in evolving oneself.
MA: What’s something you wish people understood about styling curly hair?
VF: One of the things I wish more people understood about curly, kinky and coily hair is the importance of approaching it with positive language. Language affects your mindset. Mindset affects your relationship with your hair. A positive relationship with your hair leads to happy hair, happy you! Phrases like fighting frizz, banishing frizz, taming unruly curls, are negative and play to our insecurities. We need to accept what we have and work with, not against it. Some frizz helps to give your hair shape, volume, and personality, let’s move away from frizz free and towards frizz love.
I also wish people understood that Textured Hair is not accurately describing a particular hair type. Texture means how something feels, all hair has a texture, no matter the shape that the strands make; kinky, coily, curly, wavy or straight. Textured Hair is often presented as a category aligned with skin tone, as is Natural Hair and Black Hair, but all hair in an untreated state is technically natural, and black is a color. Individuals with any skin tone can have any hair texture. Identifying hair texture by the shape strands make leads to successful outcomes all round. Knowing your hair’s true texture will allow you to choose the right products and learn how to care for it most effectively.
I also wish people understood that Textured Hair is not accurately describing a particular hair type
— Vernon François
MA: How has the BLM movement affected you / your profession, and what is the message of Buy Black?
VF: I don’t see Black Lives Matter (BLM) as a movement. Movement suggests a trend, but this is not anything new. Black and brown individuals, we, I, have always been here. Kinky, coily, curly hair textures have always been here. It’s for this very reason that despite working with kinky, coily, curly, wavy and straight hair, I intentionally showcase the beauty and versatility of kinks, coils, curls and waves as these are the textures that have been overlooked for too long by the beauty industry at large. The empathy that we are seeing in recent times by brands and organizations wanting to level the playing field needs to be met with the acknowledgement of “I don’t know as much I need to. How can I do the due diligence to address how and why change is needed?”
MA: What is the best way non BIPOC people can support Black creators?
VF: One of the ways to support black creators if you happen not to be a person of color is to take an honest look at how and where you can be more active in leveling the playing field. If you happen to be white it’s highly that at some point, along the way, or day to day, you will have benefitted from associated privilege. Examine this, independently, then set about creating meaningful change. Making a purchase or posting a hashtag can give a false sense of solving the problem. Much more is needed for businesses to be sustainable like mentoring and nurturing. Black owned brands often struggle for investment.
MA: How does your Vernon François collection differ from other hair brands or products on the market?
VF: My brand, VERNON FRANÇOIS® Haircare is for all hair textures with an emphasis on kinky, coily and curly hair. It’s for women, men, and non-binary individuals with kinks, coils, curls, waves, straight hair, braids, and locs. The line is vegan, cruelty free, and simple to navigate with color coding and visual icons that I created thanks to my dyslexia. Each of the shampoos are sulfate free and the conditioners are different from others because they are lightweight, water based, yet nutrient dense, and use spray technology that evenly distributes product onto the hair either as a targeted stream or a wider mist. The formulas have beautiful natural ingredients, tested only on humans, and properly work because I am intensely involved at every step of product idea generation and development.
The concept of my brand had been brewing for 15 years, before launching in 2016. Working in salons and on-sets I learned and understand first-hand about product performance, the best ingredients by hair type, how kinks and curls respond in different environments. With my years of professional hairdressing experience I knew I was perfectly placed to solve my clients’ frustrations and what they said was lacking for them in beauty: a prestige home haircare line for afro hair. My clients told me time and again they were fed up with having to go to an out-of-town store to find what they needed and didn’t want heavy formulas that weighed their hair down. I realized it was up to me to create a line that my clients would love, as much as their kinks, coils, curls and waves would too.
MA: What was the biggest challenge or piece of advice you have for those wanting to create their own hair line?
VF: A piece of advice for those wanting to create their own hair care line is to lead with the mindset of seeing opportunities, not challenges. Say to yourself, I can and will be a part of this experience, then set about equipping yourself to complete the task at hand. One of my tattoos says, “If you follow your dream, you will have something worth sharing with others,” an excellent daily reminder.
MA: Who are some of your biggest inspirations? Where do you go for inspiration?
VF: My mum has always been a huge source of inspiration for me in many ways. Reminding myself how Mum persevered and succeeded as single parent of us five boys, sometimes working four jobs at a time, helps me to stay driven. My lifetime partner is always a massive inspiration with an unwavering belief in me, often more than I have in myself. My daughter has given me purpose beyond knowing that I am here to be of service. I recognize now more than ever how the impressions that you leave on others can be instrumental in shaping who they become.