When Gina Knight was diagnosed with alopecia in 2013, she decided to create a community for Black women to come to terms with hair loss – and look fabulous doing it – by starting her own wig design business.
We live in a world where so much of our identity can be derived from how we look, and women unfortunately carry the lion’s share of this burden. Our hair, and how it makes us look, so often feels like everything. As Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag famously decreed, we wish it didn’t, but – for some of us – it can make the difference between a good and bad day.
Gina Knight had to take a second look at how she viewed her identity – and how her hair fit into that – when she was diagnosed with stress-induced alopecia in 2013. Her hair meant a great deal to her, it was intertwined in both her heritage and her career, and what she decided to do next would turn out to be a huge step for both.
After much thought, she decided to shave her hair off and start a new chapter, as well as a new business. On Stylist’s Nobody Told Me podcast – sponsored by Clinique – she has opened up about the new community she has cultivated for women to reinvent themselves. Her business, Gina Knight Wig Design, was born after she made herself her first wig in 2016 – three years after her diagnosis.
What started out as a side hustle began to evolve when Knight realised that she could make a difference. “I thought ‘do you know what, people are taking notice, and people care about this business, not just me,’” she says, describing how she started out by listing her wigs on peer-to-peer shopping app Depop, and was pleasantly surprised when she sold three on her first day.
Knight was adamant from the beginning that her wigs would cater to Black women facing hair loss. Many contacted her with similar stories to her own, who had felt like they had to go through their ordeal in silence. “[When I started out], there were a lot of wigs out there for people with hair loss, but there wasn’t a lot that spoke to Black women and natural hair. And that’s really what where I wanted to be different,” she says.
You may also like
Hair loss: why is my hair falling out?
Staying connected to the Black community has always been important to Knight, partially due to the fact she was fostered by a white family from a very young age, and she struggled with learning specific skills like – taking care of her textured hair. She soon mastered her craft, though, and was asked to braid other people’s hair from the age of 10.
After going on to work in a hair salon as a young adult, Knight soon became further acquainted with the “politics” of Black hair. “We can be excluded from school for a type of hairstyle, we can be bullied for our hair is not seen as desirable for the masses,” she says. It was important for her to create a space for this women while they renavigated their relationship with their hair and their appearance, and to provide advice and support while they did so.
“I get a lot of messages from women who not only appreciate the wigs, but they appreciate the level of service and advice. I will go the extra mile to make sure that people are feeling confident and comfortable,” Knight says. “A lot of the time, they genuinely just want to replace what was lost. They don’t want to be extravagant, they don’t want to be as extra as I often am! They just want to have that replacement of what [once] was.”
Although, Knight is quick to insist that wigs aren’t a prerequisite for feeling okay with hair loss, but can just be a way to express yourself. “I try to promote the fact that it’s okay that you have alopecia, or if you have hair loss from for any reason. It’s okay to embrace that side of yourself – [wigs are] just an option, not the rule.”
Part of her own journey has been challenging what she views to be beautiful and feminine, as well as getting up close and personal with her appearance. “When you shave off your hair, you have to learn to love your face,” she says. “Because it’s all you’re going to be able to see, there’s nothing to hide behind. There’s nothing to distract you.
“When I first did it, I would wear a lot of make-up [and] big earrings and get my eyelashes done. Anything to add that piece of femininity that I thought I was missing because I no longer had hair. That’s changed for me now – I feel like I look and feel feminine.”
Knight describes her hair loss as an opportunity to find herself, and to help others. “From when I was braiding young people’s hair, my main aim was to helping people and helping myself connect. It’s [also] been about connecting with Black women – because of my childhood that always been important to me.”
Having gone on to win awards for her wig design skills and acquired quite a following – over 12,000 Instagram users follow her account – Knight is thankful to have turned such a traumatic and difficult time in her life into something that has helped both herself and others.
“I’m astounded – I would never have thought that something that I felt was so negative could turn into the most positive thing in my life.”
Images: Getty, Gina Knight/Instagram