Felicia “Hair Whisperer” Leatherwood has over 26 years of experience as a world-renowned celebrity hairstylist and natural hair expert. Her work and industry veteran status is rooted in the idea of holistic health and fundamentally loving yourself, which is a true inside-out approach to haircare. That’s why it’s no surprise that her work has been featured in Vogue, Variety, Essence, Elle, and Ebony.
You might know Leatherwood as the hairstyle hitmaker behind all of Issa Rae’s character’s hairstyles on Insecure, but Felicia has been building her empire for much longer than the hit HBO series has been on air. She’s also the go-to hairstylist for several other leading actors in Hollywood, including Ava Duvernay, Will Smith, Jill Scott, and Viola Davis (...not to namedrop or anything, but damn).
Leatherwood has developed groundbreaking products, solutions, and techniques for natural hair care over the past several decades, and she also conducts hair care workshops for audiences around the globe under the brand and slogan “Loving Your Hair with Natural Care.” For women with kinky or curly hair, her work is a godsend.
As 2019 comes into full view, the cultural dialogue around representation and inclusion continues to underscore all aspects of business. For Felicia, Hollywood’s embracement of natural hair and natural styles is a way to promote self-love and connect with a new generation through her art.
How did you get you originally step into the hairstyling world?
My mother didn’t know how to do my hair as a child, so at 9 years old, I took matters into my own hands and taught myself. The rest is history.
You also created a product, the FL Detangler Brush. What inspired you to launch your own product and business outside of hairstyling?
I needed something that could continue to support the hairstyling community with the proper tools. There just aren’t enough tools to support the health of our hair, so the product was to keep healthy hair/tresses. The product I created helps men and women maintain the health of their hair.
Working with celebrities sounds like it can put a lot of pressure on you. What’s been the biggest challenge and the biggest reward in having a famous roster of clients?
The biggest challenge is when award season comes around and I get requested for multiple people on the same day, which means I’d have to come up with multiple hairstyles that are completely different from each other. The biggest reward is at the end when I sit down and see everyone on the red carpet looking phenomenal, and the next day hearing of all the compliments they received on their hair.
What characteristics make you successful in the beauty industry?
I think my sense of humour, my knowledge of naturally-textured hair, and the fact that I am a hair nerd have all contributed to my success. I probably care about your hair more than you do :)
What does it take to build a beauty brand from the ground up in today’s world?
It takes really being open to learning more about social media and social media marketing. Being aware of where the future of marketing is going, what kind of content will keep you relevant, and what consumers are looking for as it relates to the business.
What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?
I feel the most fulfilled when people leave me feeling more knowledgeable and empowered about their hair.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
“Don’t look at anything as a failure, but as an opportunity to learn how to do it better the next time.”
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
The highlight has been working on Insecure with Issa Rae and being able to create so many hairstyles that viewers feel empowered by and proud to see on the screen.
You have a large presence on social media. How has it impacted your career?
What social media gives you is more of a platform to get more exposure. So I have been able to reach more women and give more people an understanding of their hair, and for that I am grateful.
Where does your passion/drive come from?
What keeps me going is watching so many women emerge into confidence about their hair.
What are the common challenges you've seen among female hairstylists?
Sometimes the challenge, at least for me, has been getting women to change the way they feel about their hair and embracing the beauty that they were born with.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road and switch gears to find success?
When ants are on a mission to get to a destination and you put something in their path, they will always find a way or an opening around whatever is blocking their path. They will always continue to push along until they find that opening. I’ve adapted to this lifestyle and however you block my path I will always keep pushing to find that opening or way around to reach my intended goal.
Whose career really inspires you?
Issa Rae, because she knows how to stay focused, she’s driven, and she really uses her success to support and give opportunity to those around her.
What’s next for you in 2019? What are you most excited for?
I have three companies that I am running and I’m really excited to watch them grow, so that I can give opportunities to more people and support their growth.
Photography by Annie McElwain Photography
Photoshoot skincare provided by Dermalogica