Carolina Contreras suffered hours upon hours of poking, prodding and burning before she unexpectedly realized she’d had enough.
“At 23, after 15 years of relaxing my hair and being a slave every two months to a very painful chemical relaxer, I took the decision of embracing who I was,” Contreras, now the CEO of Miss Rizos Salon, told In The Know. “And so one day I literally decided to just cut it all off.”
The defiant chop marked the beginning of Contreras’ journey not only toward self-acceptance, but also toward becoming a trailblazing entrepreneur and successful businesswoman.
It was nearly a decade ago that Contreras launched a blog centered on Afro-Latina hair care — a topic often plagued by misinformation and stereotypes.
“For too long, we’ve been taught to hate our hair and to think of it in a negative way,” Contreras said. She used to frequently receive unsolicited comments from people criticizing her natural locks: “‘Did you forget the comb at home?’ ‘Do you need money to straighten your hair?’ ‘You look crazy; you look ugly.’“
They’re all comments you’d never hear inside Miss Rizos Salon, which would go on to open its doors in Washington Heights, the upper Manhattan neighborhood largely populated by a diverse Hispanic community.
“The term ‘Afro-Latina’ is very mainstream right now, but it’s not something we would hear about years ago. Even just five years ago,” she said. “But guess what? I existed five years ago. And so did the millions of Afro-Latinas that are currently existing now.”
Miss Rizos is “the only space that caters specifically to loving and caring for curly natural hair,” Contreras said. “When you step in here, you can see it in the stylists’ faces, the clients’ faces, that everyone is learning to love their hair, and in turn learning to love exactly who they are.”
For Contreras, bringing new life to her hair is a symbol of the resilience she associates with her ancestors and community.
“When I look in the mirror and see these curls draping my head, I think of how in one way or another, I am honoring and I am celebrating those who came before me,” she said.
Watch more with Contreras in the video above.