Sisterlocks is a trademark company founded in 1993 by Dr. JoAnne Cornwell. The Home Office is in San Diego, California, and there are trained practitioners and Certified Training Associates in over 30 other states. The company has developed an innovative approach to marketing its natural hair care system to African American women. The company motto says it all: “Sisterlocks is not about a hairstyle, it’s about a lifestyle.” Sisterlocks invites women who are interested in self-empowerment and cultural self expression, to embrace a natural hair care system that is self-affirming and truly gorgeous.
The company has three divisions: hair services, training, and a product and accessories line. The Sisterlocks business philosophy is intended to enhance not only the self image of African American women, but also their self-awareness and their bottom line. For example, Sisterlocks uses innovative approaches when marketing its hair care system that have a strong emphasis on education and offers business opportunities to those inclined to become Certified Sisterlocks Consultants. When people inquire about Sisterlocks, the Home Office sends out free packets about the system that include pictures, answers to frequently asked questions and information about what to expect from any Certified Consultant who does their hair. When it comes to training, the Sisterlocks company insists that instruction is done in person. Unlike some hair care systems, you can't learn Sisterlocks by simply viewing a tape. The one-on-one interaction promotes sisterhood, and a sense of community responsibility for how the newly-acquired skills will be carried out. This is the cornerstone of the cultural values that Sisterlocks embodies. Once Sisterlocks Consultants are trained and certified, they become part of a national registry where they have access to ongoing retraining opportunities, receive referrals to help build their client base and become distributors for the Sisterlocks line of maintenance products.
As part of the educational mission of the Sisterlocks company, its founder has authored two informational books, That Hair Thing (currently in its second edition), and The Sisterlocks Book: A Tapestry of Dreams. These books are designed both to provide information about Sisterlocks, and also to focus attention on the historical and cultural reasons why natural, African-type hair is such a thorny issue among African Americans. Added to theses are two informational videotapes that complete the picture on ways to learn about this hair care system while learning about self. Dr. Cornwell has also produced a volume of poetry and commentary: All About Love. Dr. Cornwell served as Editor-in-chief of the Sisterlocks Lifestyle Journal (2006 - 2009).
Sisterlocks has been featured in Essence magazine, Shop Talk, Braids and Beauty, Black Elegance, Black Hair (London) and Jet.
Sisterlocks Originator and Company Founder, Dr. JoAnne Cornwell
Dr. JoAnne Cornwell is an Associate Professor of Africana Studies and French at San Diego State University. She is also a third generation entrepreneur and beauty specialist. She has researched African descended cultures worldwide, and understands how deeply hair issues relate to cultural identity. This understanding was the driving force behind her decision to found her trademark company, Sisterlocks. Dr. Cornwell was born in Detroit, Michigan where she remained through high school. Her passion for hair care began at age 4 when she produced her first braided hairstyle in her own abundant, very kinky natural hair. From that point on, she just had to do it herself. “I thought I knew what I was doing, and no one could meet up to my high, 4-year-old standards!” says Cornwell. By the time she was in college, she had become the person everyone else relied upon to do their perms, hot comb treatments, braiding and whatever else had to do with hair care. Her grandmother had been trained in the CJ Walker tradition, and a lot of what she learned as a child came from her. Dr. Cornwell stresses that since the days of Madame Walker, hair care has been at the economic center of black people’s lives, and of our communities. “Vast numbers of our women and men made it over because somebody in their household stood in the kitchen over somebody’s hair. It’s a shame we no longer own the industry!” Dr. Cornwell adds with a touch of sarcasm, alluding to the fact that the majority of product lines geared toward African Americans, and the majority of beauty supply stores nationwide that carry those products, are owned by people other than African Americans.
Today Dr. Cornwell is an active member of the American Hairbraiders and Natural Haircare Association. She lectures widely on topics related to cultural expression in Africa and in the African Diaspora.
Dr. Cornwell has toured nationally, carrying her message of self-empowerment and cultural celebration to enthusiastic women (and men!) throughout the country and abroad (London, Barbados, Jamaica…) She has appeared on numerous talk shows and on local cable and network programs, and has given interviews for a variety of radio stations, including the Longhorn Radio Network, a major syndicated network outreaching to African Americans nationwide.
Dr. Cornwell’s two most recent projects include the establishment of the Sisterlocks Lifestyle Journal (2006) and The SisterLodge (2007). The Sisterlocks Lifestyle Journal is the only publication in existence that is entirely devoted to promoting natural hair and affirming lifestyle choices for African descended women. The SisterLodge brings an updated ‘lodge’ concep back into the community and promotes lifestyle enhancement activities that focus on the holistic health of women.
Natural Hair and the Law
Dr. Cornwell is a Hair Bandit!
Many are aware that the practice of braiding, twisting, locking the hair that is so widespread in African American communities, is against the law in most states. This is true unless, of course, the practitioner has a license in cosmetology.
For over 2 ½ years, Dr. Cornwell participated in this highly publicized national debate over what might be appropriate training, certification or licensing for natural hair care practitioners. Most braiders and locticians (hair locking specialists) feel that existing cosmetology laws and practices, including curricula and testing, are inappropriate for what they do. There have been lawsuits over this in several states that have challenged or sought to change existing legislation, and several new precedents have already been set (for example, in Michigan, Maryland, Washington DC, Ohio and New York).
In 1997, Sisterlocks and the national association called the American Hairbraiders and Natural Haircare Association (AHNHA) filed a lawsuit against the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, charging that California law was unconstitutional because it did not conform to 14th amendment equal protection qualifications. Cornwell and AHNHA charged that there was no rational relationship between existing California legislation and the actual practice of natural hair care. The required 1600 hours of cosmetology training typically includes no training whatsoever in natural hair care. On August 18, 1999 a California Federal District Court judge ruled in favor of Dr. Cornwell’s position, which represents the position of literally thousands of natural hair practitioner throughout the state. This precedent-setting case has not only made life easier for many, it has also protected the integrity of the cultural practice of “African hair braiding” from inappropriate tampering by an insensitive government bureaucracy.