A room full of D.C.-area hairstylists converged on a downtown office last week to listen to an interview with industry icon Camille Friend during the annual March on Washington Film Festival.
Friend, who created the hairstyles for actors in the blockbuster hit “Black Panther,” sat with Isisara Bey, the festival’s artistic director, at the northwest headquarters of the Raben Group consulting firm on Friday, July 13 to discuss hair as a business, industry politics and how to strengthen the network among local stylists.
Friend said strategy, opportunity and a strong network is what got her to the set of “Black Panther,” the seventh Marvel film on which she has worked.
When Friend moved to Los Angeles, she started working with famed African-American stylist John Atchison, who taught her how to properly cut hair. Styling hair for music videos led to styling wigs for actress Lynn Whitfield for the movie “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate.” The next stop was the NBC comedy “3rd Rock from the Sun,” where she worked for six years and was nominated for an Emmy.
“When I got that first paycheck, I said ‘Whoa!’” said Friend, a third-generation hairstylist. “I made sure I was going to stay on that show. I endeared myself, worked as hard as I could and made sure everything was done in our makeup trailer, even if it wasn’t the character I was hired to work with.”
Selflessness and a willingness to serve is what Friend said she looks for in the people she hires. She also recommended to always be ready by practicing hair techniques, especially any that have not been used in a while.
Each job Friend secured led her to people who were able to give her a strong recommendation or had power to hire. As a result, she is known in the entertainment industry as a versatile stylist and barber who does hair, extensions, wigs and color for any ethnicity.
The consensus among the stylists at the breakfast event was that Friend reinforced many qualities to which one aspires in perfecting a craft, building a business and creating a good support system.
“I’m inspired by how you can start at any point in your career and go to exponential heights,” Camille Reed, owner of Noire Salon in Silver Spring, Md., said after hearing Friend’s advice. “I heard other stylists dealing with similar issues like struggling to maintain balance between business and one’s personal life.”
The festival event also brought attention to how African-American hair salons played a role in the civil rights movement. Many beauticians opened their salons for organizing meetings, and salon owners paid for buses to bring people to the March on Washington 55 years ago.
The event was one of three at the festival to pay tribute to Madam C.J. Walker, creator of hair care products for African-American hair and a philanthropist who supported activist and cultural endeavors.
A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter and official biographer, was a special guest during Friday’s event.
Bundles told stylists that at Walker’s first convention of her agents in 1917, the women sent a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson to protest the recent riots in East St. Louis. She was very much about using their revenues in an impactful way.
“Madam Walker incorporated into her philosophy that it wasn’t just about making money, but it was about what you do with the money,” Bundles said. “She was very much about using their money, influence and numbers to make a difference, politically. It was really ‘Black Lives Matter 1.0.’”