After a lifetime of damaging hair procedures, Carriene Rendbo started transitioning to her naturally curly hair while transitioning to Denmark. Today, I Love Natural Hair's Founder uses her company to advocate for representation and spread the word about having natural hair - and loving it.
Photographs: Søren Hald / Sylva Bocsa
Text: Cecília Tümler
Moving to a new country can stir up deep identity questions. The journey of finding oneself in a new country and culture is, at the same time, a journey of redefining who you are - and sometimes, it works as a wake-up call, or a unique opportunity to show your true self to the world. In the case of entrepreneur Carriene Rendbo, Denmark is where this transformation happened, and where she flourished from within.
With a big smile, Carriene disentangles her life through the story of her hair – curly and natural, and relaxer-free for the past eleven years. As we chat, the curls stay hidden under a plastic cap, being nourished by natural products, this is one of Carriene's steps in her hair routine, developed over many years. "As young black girls, you are taught your hair is your crown and glory, and this forms a part of your identity." Hair is an extension of your fashion and is a billion-dollar industry around the world. You can make the transformation from long lushes locks to short bobs, the choices are endless.
In 2010, one year after leaving London and moving to Denmark, the stress became noticeable. While struggling to secure a TV production job, the traction alopecia that Carriene was suffering from became worse, it affects the hairline and leads to subsequential hair loss. The leading cause being many years of wearing weaves, artificial hair extensions etc. and not giving the hair time to rest in its natural state. "I didn’t have sufficient knowledge to take care of my hair, and I should have given my hair a break in between all these changes and treatments. I struggled to embrace my natural hair and the identity that I had created with my weaves. When I look back, it felt like it was very much a part of my identity, and I had to now learn to embrace my natural hair", muses Carriene.
Embracing a new culture
Arriving in Denmark during 2009, she wasn't prepared for how different it would feel compared to London. Coming from South London, a cultural melting pot - where you are exposed to so much more, Denmark appeared a little more sheltered. Not knowing Copenhagen's community, she didn't feel entirely at ease wearing her natural hair and how it would impact her professionally either. "Unfortunately, some employers don’t accept certain natural hairstyles on black people, and not knowing this predominantly blonde/blue-eyed society, I wasn't sure how I would be perceived.
On top of that, Carriene didn't speak a word of Danish. "I felt like a bit of an outsider. Being British did have its advantages, but I did encounter some awkward situations where people assumed my husband had saved me from poverty, because of my skin colour", she remembers. But as you do in a new community, you learn, discover, and adjust, and not only was this my husband's home, I also wanted to make Denmark my home.
Learning to love natural
During her first year of living in Copenhagen, Carriene would still travel back to the UK to get her weaves done. But when the traction alopecia became unmanageable, she couldn't sustain the hairstyles anymore. Denmark proved to be the best place she could have been to go through her hair transition. "It was almost easier to do it here because I didn't really know that many people (that might recognise me in the street). I had to move past my insecurities and realise that my hair didn't make me - I was more than just my hair".
In many cases, after years of procedures like weaving and chemical relaxing, it is hard to know what your natural hair looks like. For Carriene, that meant she had to reinvent herself. Following a friend's suggestion, Youtube videos became the first source for her to figure out how to take care of her curls, which took time.
"The website was created as a platform to empower people, especially those who had struggled with hair issues like me."
Despite Carriene's will to keep searching for a hair routine that worked, in 2010, Denmark didn't have a wide range of options specialising in natural hair. When Carriene first moved to Denmark, many specialised hair shops in Copenhagen usually focused on weaves and extensions, and seldom had natural hair products. Little by little, Carriene adapted the videos she watched online, keeping what she noticed worked for her.
Developing her own hair routine and seeing her hairline improving, Carriene started gaining confidence. Her personal struggle with her hair became an opportunity to share her experience with other curly fans, and the idea to start I Love Natural Hair seemed, well… only natural. "Because I struggled with it, I knew others were struggling too. Going natural was very liberating!"
Building a brand
Carriene started offering workshops, providing scientific and practical information for those who needed guidance with their hair. Part of that knowledge was initially highlighted on her own Youtube channel, which has collected almost one million views. But it was through ilovenaturalhair.dk that she became an entrepreneur. "The website was created as a platform to empower people, especially those who had struggled with hair issues like me", adds Carriene, who officially started her business nine years ago.
Besides selling products for the entire range of different curly hair types, the business was a source filled with empowering content. From finding out your curl type to simple explanations on hair care management, the website is filled with content tailored for people who have just arrived in the natural hair world to the importance of diet and exercise.
When asked about the journey of opening a business in Denmark, Carriene highlights the importance of having had assistance from the municipality of Copenhagen: "It was effortless to start a business here. The kommune had free courses on getting started, and I was blessed with a Danish business mentor. I will forever be grateful for his open, welcoming and supportive approach during my initial start-up. This was my first time interacting with the local side of Denmark, and he always made time for me, guided me and cheered me on through every step of the way." Like many entrepreneurs experience, success didn't come right away, and Carriene kept her job as an English teacher on the side as she built up her business.
"It has been a tough journey, and at times I would work around 15 hours a day. I thought of giving up, but every time I felt like packing it in, I would get a message from someone who had visited my website saying: "I love natural hair, it has helped me on my hair journey, thank you", explains Carriene.
Set up for both English and Danish market, the website has successfully connected Carriene to curly women all over Denmark. One of these connections was with Sari, a Danish girl who realised her fears were unfounded regarding her hair. "I remember the feeling, being so nervous, and I knew that everybody was gonna look at me and think: Wow, that's some crazy hair because all of the other girls had long blonde hair", says Sari on a video on the I Love Natural Hair's website. Her mom found the website and suggested that she tried the techniques. Sceptical initially, Sari attended a workshop where Carriene taught her the routines she should follow to get the best of her hair.
On the website, one of the most essential pieces of information is regarding the existing curl types. Type 2 is wavy hair; type 3 is curly hair; type 4 is textured hair. Working with various hair types also led Carriene to understand that one size doesn't always fit all. "There isn't a magic formula that can work for everyone", as the organisation's informative website makes it clear.
With the I Love Natural Hair's page portraying a palette of women, children and men, Carriene stays true to her original goal of creating a space for people to reach out that have struggled with their hair for years, just like she did. "I'm sticking to what I know best", she says, adding "I was always trying to find myself in people that didn't look like me. I think representation is vital and also showing positive images of different cultures and their curls".
"Me succeeding in my business is not only about providing for my family but also about changing the narrative of how black females can be portrayed in Denmark - and I feel I'm on my way with I Love Natural Hair''.
The road ahead
Settling in can be a long process, but Carriene is happy to say Denmark is finally home after eleven years. "Now I'm settled, I've grown more confident, fallen in love with the people of the country, and an added bonus - my hair is now the longest and healthiest it's ever been!" She is also starting to appreciate Denmark's unique work-life balance as a wife, raising two children and being a business owner. She wants to serve as an inspiration for not only her children, but other up and coming start-up businesses, and know that you can have it all! As a tip for newcomers, she suggests you focus on learning the language, she is still on the path of mastering advanced Danish. "You have to focus on the fact that you're not doing it for others around you, but you're doing it for yourself", she suggests.
For the future, Carriene plans on working with her new skills as a trichologist and has recently received her education in scalp treatment, hair loss, and other hair related issues - so watch this space.
For more information about I love natural hair, you can visit the website: www.ilovenaturalhair.com