From Insecure to Inspired: Issa Rae's Journey to Co-Owning Sienna Naturals

Issa Rae's professional journey is often synonymous with the years she spent developing and creating the hit series Awkward Black Girl and Insecure, which often depicted Rae showcasing her natural hair on camera. For many, Black women especially, Rae became a pillar on-screen and in the entertainment industry of what it means to show up as your whole self in every room you enter, but for Rae, her hair journey wasn't always one of extreme confidence. In fact, she details times where she often felt shame around her natural hair texture and struggled with an internal tug-of-war between wanting to keep up with the perm trend during her high school days and listening to her mother about nurturing her natural hair. So, how did Rae go from struggling with the complexities of growing up as a curly-haired Black girl in L.A. to becoming a force in the entertainment industry and now being the co-owner of a Sienna Naturals? Growth, both literally and figuratively.

Hair journeys are deeply personal and Rae has been embarking on her own filled with trials, tribulations and triumphs, which is why she can confidently sit at the helm of a beauty brand aiming to normalize the struggles and realities of embracing natural hair. It's why the brand's "Rooted in Real" campaign strips away the overly glamorized nature of haircare commercials and directly addresses Rae's real experience and feelings about her hair.

Below, Rae details her journey to embracing being natural and how it led into her first beauty venture.

Beauty, Haircare,  Natural Hair, Issa Rae, Sienna Naturals, Interviews
Beauty, Haircare, Natural Hair, Issa Rae, Sienna Naturals, Interviews

For more beauty brand founder stories, check out our coverage of Beyoncé's journey from battling scalp psoriasis to creating Cécred.

Why did you decide to enter the beauty space in this way and become the co-owner and face of Sienna Naturals?

Not to be punny, but it was natural. I have been testing these products for so long via Hannah Diop (founder of Sienna Naturals), and I have also been struggling with my own hair journey. It was an excuse to start really taking care of my hair and paying attention to what I was putting into it. I started falling in love with the product and I usually become an evangelist for things that I love. So, Hannah was like, I'd love for you to come on and be an evangelist for this.

Why is it important to have the clean ingredient messaging emphasized at the forefront of the brand, especially in relation to Black women's hair?

Sometimes our beauty is at the expense of our health and that is crazy to me. There's not enough attention paid to the fact that some of these products are literally hurting and killing us. It's been surprising to me that clean, vegan and healthy products haven't been at the forefront of haircare, especially when you're thinking about the care that we put into our skin and  into the things that we eat. Our scalp is connected to our brain and anything that we put on top seeps into us. So, it's extremely important to be mindful of how we're taking care of our hair and ourselves. You can't get your health back so, it's important to be super mindful. I love that Sienna is at the forefront of being mindful on our behalf.

Beauty, Haircare,  Natural Hair, Issa Rae, Sienna Naturals, Interviews
Beauty, Haircare, Natural Hair, Issa Rae, Sienna Naturals, Interviews

We often see you on camera wearing natural hairstyles and being the face for naturals in the industry. Has your hair journey always been centered around embracing your natural hair?

It was, unfortunately, because of my mom. My mom did my hair when I was younger and she'd be like, "You're wearing your natural hair." I went to school in LA, and that's a different hair scene where people were getting relaxers and getting perms. I would beg my mom for that and she'd be like, "Your hair can't handle that" and I did it anyway and my hair fell out. I had to live with the embarrassment and wear ponytails and braids just to keep up with the scene. When I got to college, I saw girls wearing their hair naturally and in twists and protective styles. They had the same hair texture as I did and there wasn't any shame in it. It was beautiful, and that helped me embrace and not hide my hair because I was hiding it in braids and under hoods in high school. I was like, "Why am I ashamed of what grows out of my head?" So, during Awkward Black Girl, I cut all my hair off and with Insecure, it was an opportunity to showcase that natural hair can be beautiful and desirable. I started believing that message even more as I started to take care of my own hair.

In the "Rooted in Real" campaign video you're speaking straight to camera about your hair journey with no frills or picturesque hair shots. Why did you decide to take that type of approach for this campaign?

Candidly, some of the conversation around me being involved with Sienna Naturals actually was me being like, "Hannah, my hair journey isn't all roses; it's difficult. I am not like a hair girl in that way, so you have to meet me at my level, and I want to be honest about that. There's a lot of stuff that I don't know, and I'm going to be learning it during this process with you. I've had a lot of trials and tribulations with my hair. Sometimes I hate wash day. I'm a dry b-tch in every sense of the word, and I want to say that." She was like, "Then say it, please."

It can be intimidating watching some of these hair campaigns and commercials where the girls are just automatically moisturized and have healthy hair, and I am so far from that journey. I want to, at a base level, tell that story, where we can be honest about the fact that wash day isn't always fun. Also, doing your hair every morning and trying to get that perfect bun, having the same hairstyle because you're lazy, or turning your camera off on Zoom because you don't have it together is a real thing and Sienna Naturals will see you through that journey.