Better known by her nickname Lassa, Miss Dominica 2013, Leslassa Armour-Shillingford is not only a three time pageant winner (holding the title of Ms. Caribbean Culture, Ms. Carival and Jaycees Queen), she a vivacious natural beauty with an infectious smile.
It’s also lesser known that she is a huge advocate for natural hair starting her own natural business while at the University of Waterloo. Of course I had to interview Lassa to find out more about Hair by Lassa.
First off thank you so much for agreeing to this interview.When did your love of all things hair begin?
At age 9, I remember being in awe at the artistic concentration embodied by one of my classmates while she was cornrowing another girl’s hair. I was at school in Barbados and my favorite past-time became watching girls do their hair at school, practicing on my dolls (and myself), and asking my family and friends to let me experiment on them.
I consider myself an artistic person and am most known for dancing, but I also love visual art. Hair design became my platform of expressing my visual art. It’s art coming to life on top of your head.
- Can you tell us some of your own personal hair struggles and how you overcame them?
Combing out my hair every Sunday growing up was always an emotional roller-coaster of me crying from the pain and trying to squirm away, followed by the completion of a hair style that I was often not satisfied with. I give my mother and aunts all the praise for attempting to deal with my thick hair and sensitive scalp, and I understand that after the hours of combing and grooming, the energy to style my hair was limited.
As a teenager, the pressure to straighten my hair surrounded me. Friends, media, family and schools all pressure young girls to showcase their definition of a well-groomed individual, which is often connected to straight hair. At age 15, I texturized my hair and by age 15.5 I cut off all my hair. I loved how thick and dynamic my hair was and I felt silly for allowing others to sway me. I texturized my hair because I remembered the struggle of my younger years and felt unattractive in a society that deemed straight better.
Breaking down those two thoughts, I realized that the products and knowledge I have will enable me to make my hair care regime stress free. Also, if I was going to continue basing my beauty on the perception of others then I was allowing myself to live a very unhappy and pitiful life.
My largest hair struggle was during my journey to the title of Miss Dominica and my reign. At first, my team just expected me to straighten my hair or wear a wig, and when I refused it was unexpected and shocking. The negative feedback about my hair got worse as I traveled through the Caribbean to other pageants, but the worst time by far was at Miss World where I was forced to use the local hairstylist who only knew how to make my hair look like a birds nest.
Though negative comments occurred, the positivity that came from people who felt inspired by what I was doing is what I chose to focus on. At first, I simply just didn’t want to change my hair as it is part of my identity, but without realizing, I was inspiring others and became the first Miss World contestant to sport an afro regularly.
My current struggle is communicating my knowledge and expertise to others through the business I have started called HairbyLassa. Currently, I am focusing on hair styling and hair care tutorials with the goal of growing to include a hair care product line that is all natural.
- When was the first time you truly embraced your natural hair?
On an innocent level at age 9, I found my hair beautiful. At age 19 is when I recognized it as part of my identity and a canvas to express myself.
- What was it like participating in pageants where natural hair was not typically the norm?
There were a lot of questions, especially at the international level. Many of the representatives had never seen natural hair while other wanted to know why I chose such a bold choice. Reflecting now, I see that I was bold but in the moment my energy was focused on winning.
- What is your current hair routine and favorite products?
I co-wash my hair every week and detangle while it’s wet and loaded with conditioner. If I am hoping to do a stretched hairstyle then I braid my hair in large plaits and cover with a bonnet overnight. I have started doing a lot my finger curls and twist out, which you will see in my up-coming YouTube tutorial.
Most important to me is wearing bonnets or scarfs to protect my hair from drying out and friction damage. I am experimenting a lot with natural oils. Olive oil and bees wax have been great for me.
- If you could go back in time and speak to a younger Lassa about your hair what would you tell her?
Only comb your hair when it’s wet and take the time to braid your hair at night. The process of prepping and styling hair can be pain-free and enjoyable.
- What is your opinion on the natural hair phase that has been in effect since last year?
I love the natural hair phase. One of the first reasons I started HairbyLassa was to ensure that the men and women that I was able to help could feel confident in their natural hair.
I believe that no one should make you feel less than amazing, especially based on something as ridiculous as what they believe YOUR hair should look like.
- Why did you start documenting your hair styles?
Moving to Canada for school allowed me to realize how blessed I was to grow up in the Caribbean and have a supply of resources to style and care for my hair. In Canada there was no one that I could find that was able to style my hair.
People started stopping me on campus to ask who did my hair in hopes of getting their own done. Without planning, I was styling about 5 people a week and realized that there was a demand and I can provide the supply. This was the start of HairbyLassa and the reason I would document and showcase my hair styles.
- When did you first start doing the hair of your friends and what do you find most satisfying about it?
I started doing my friends’ and family’s hair since I was about 13 but turned it into a business last year (2016). This semester, I am dedicating my time to growing the business and hoping to get it to a sustainable level.
A satisfied customer means there is one more person who feels more confident in themselves and embracing their hair. I want all my people to slay in these streets!
- Who is your ultimate hair crush?
I don’t have specific hair crushes, I am inspired by certain looks and feel pride when I see healthy kinky/curly hair.
- What advice would your have to others who are having trouble embracing their natural hair?
I would like them to ask themselves, “Why are you having issues with your hair?” Really try to pin point what the issue is and why you think you have that issue. It may sound simple, but dedication time to deep, purposeful thought about yourself is very important for bettering yourself in many ways.
- Can you give three facts about yourself that people would be surprised to know?
- I am starting a hair care company called HairbyLassa which includes hair styling, care tutorials and products
- I have had the pleasure of living in 6 countries
- I am studying urban planning with specialization in transportation, and hope to better developing nations through holistic planning solutions.