"Introducing our new blog series, “Changing the Coarse of Curly Hair”! In this series we interview curly change makers: salon owners, hairdressers, curly platforms, curly journalists, and much more. Stay tuned, because Curlee Girlee is changing the coarse of curly hair and it begins right here … Tuesday is blog day!
I am so excited to interview Alanna York, owner and creator of Controlled Chaos!
Alanna describes herself as “an unruly child”—which, to this day, she says is a direct result of her untamable hair. With thick, coarse curls that neither her mother nor she could control, she vividly recalls the exact moment her hair torment began. It was in the third grade during an in-class movie. Everyone had settled into an anticipatory silence of the film. Lights off and then, “Hey, Brillo Head, I can’t see the TV!” And so it began, the instant mortification that she learned could (and would) explode at any moment throughout grade school and her teenage years. Spurred by relentless taunting, Alanna took to sleeping with wet hair encased in a tight-knit cap. By morning the puffiness had deflated, but she says her neck was encircled by what can only be described as a Shakespearean collar of curls that had crept out during the night.
A bad hair day is NOTHING compared to a bad hair childhood—and so Alanna’s obsession with hair began.
When her professional career began in the early 1990s, Alanna had perfected a hairstyle that was tolerable, at best, and was eager for life after high school. Alanna had intended to distance myself from the bad memories, but instead she found herself diving headfirst into helping others with their curls. Alanna opened her own salon, Head Games, in 1999, and developed her very own cutting technique for curls, which she teaches to stylists all over the US and Canada. In 2007, she created Controlled Chaos, hair care products that help turn frizzy chaos into the BEST CURLS EVER. Airing on ABC’s Shark Tank catapulted the product line to a new level of success.
Curlee Girlee: You are the owner of Controlled Chaos- a really cool, curly haired salon in Maine. How long have you been in business and what made you decide to open your own salon?
Alanna: It was a total fluke! I had been working at another salon for seven years and loved it there. I was just tired of the decor, and like any normal Virgo, I needed a new work space. I checked out one cool-looking space and signed the lease that day, then thought…"I guess I’m opening a salon!"
Curlee Girlee: In your salon do you style adults and children as well?
Alanna: Yes. I especially love the awkward teen or pre-teen age group. I remember how I felt as a frizzy-haired, buck-toothed teen and I love showing them the uniqueness of their curl, and that the actually have CURL…not frizz … if they embrace it. They are usually amazed by the great hair they have had and never knew it!
Curlee Girlee: You created your own product line. How did that get started?
Alanna: There were only two other curl brands out there when I started this process in 2007. I owned a salon & specialized in working with curls, so of course I wanted to carry these products and offer them to my customers. I was disappointed to find that they didn’t actually WORK any better than regular mousses or gels from other brands meant for all hair types / straight hair. Plus, I thought there should be an effort to be socially conscious & eco-friendly, which neither were. Basically the old adage “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself” was how it all began.
Curlee Girlee: I know your hair products were featured on SharkTank. There must be a great story as to how you got there. Tell us about it?
Alanna: I traveled a lot pitching to different salons and distributors and doing hair shows, and complete strangers kept telling me, "You should go on Shark Tank!" I had no idea what the show was, but after hearing it of the 50th time or so, I had to check it out. I watched one episode, and of course was hooked and thought “I SHOULD go on this show!” We applied for season 4 and got to round 2, then the producers called us for season 5 & I was SO EXCITED. THEY called US?! But we still didn’t make it. We were struggling with handling some large orders, keeping enough inventory on hand and going through lots of growing pains. I had never manufactured a product line before (we had 16 at the time!) I was educating stylists on the Controlled Chaos haircutting technique—the only precision cut for curls—and it was just too much. We still weren’t profitable and I felt it was time to pull the plug on the entire company when I heard Shark Tank was hosting auditions in Portland, Maine…literally 2 miles from my salon! I could barely summon the energy to put forth to attend. I couldn’t take any more disappointment. My friends and family talked me into it & we did it! It was a long & somewhat torturous process, but it saved my company & was totally worth it!
Curlee Girlee: I am sure over the years you have seen a lot of different types of hair, curly and straight. I have often felt that curly haired people have a personality that matches their hair. Do you find that to be true?
Alanna: Heck yeah! I say we are all “good crazy!” I haven’t met many shy or subdued curlees ;)
Curlee Girlee: How would you describe that personality?
Alanna: We all seem to be quirky, confident, unique, friendly & most of all, FUN!
Curlee Girlee: As you know I wrote a children’s book, Curlee Girlee, and started a curly girl movement in an effort to ensure that all children love their hair and all their unique features. How do you think we can change the “coarse” of curly hair and the way the world views curly hair?
Alanna: I think it’s been a long time coming, but finally curls are back! Gone are the days of sleek, straight blowouts, so it should be easier than ever—IF people can understand that frizz doesn’t exist. That’s right. It’s not even a thing. If a boy or girl has frizz, that boy or girl has curl! Period! In the past, the only way we have been taught to deal with frizzy hair is to straighten it. Why do that when you can embrace and encourage awesome curls with the right product and styling techniques. Throw out all brushes within 100 miles of all curlees would be a great start! It's all about confidence. We can all work together to keep curls cool and put an end to curl shaming, and confidence will come naturally.
Curlee Girlee: What do you find is the biggest difference working with curly hair and straight hair?
Alanna: I find curls much easier to work with, but I think stylists with straight hair or less experience with curls would disagree. Each curl has its own personality. One person could have a kinky curl, right next to a wave, right next to a perfect spiral and then… a crazy square curl mixed with a section that is totally straight! So I guess the multiple personalities & mix of texture that usually goes with a curly client can be a bit daunting to some. With straight hair… it all lines up like it’s supposed to, requiring less customization.
Curlee Girlee: Do you find that curly haired women struggle with their hair more than straight haired women?
Alanna: Oh yeah. I keep going back to the frizz thing. We love curl… we just hate when it turns frizzy.
Curlee Girlee: What is your favorite go-to curly haired product?
Alanna: Controlled Chaos, of course! We have a fragrance-free formula for kids, and our cleanser and moisturizer is launching in just 2 weeks! We are now offering the perfect little bundle of joy for curls!
Curlee Girlee: How important do you think it is to have Curlee Girlees start to love their hair and embrace their curls?
Alanna: OMG. It’s the single most important thing that can make or break your day. “Bad hair day” is a thing for a reason. How many bad hair days can one take before it starts taking a toll on one’s self-esteem? It sounds shallow, but it’s true for most people. When you look good, you feel good & feeling good is very important!
Curlee Girlee: What is your best advice for Curlee Girlees, young and older?
Alanna: Almost every single curly I have ever had in my chair says the same thing …"If I had YOUR curls, I’d LOVE my hair … but mine isn’t ‘good curl’." That’s when I show them that all texture is good texture, all curl is "good curl," you just have to know what your curls want. I have been a Curl "Thairapist" for so long, I can tell what my guests are going to say before they even start talking. They think I’m a mind reader, but it’s not that at all. We all have the same common enemy … FRIZZ. Find a great stylist who either HAS curly hair or has studied and practiced for YEARS on clients with curls. Watch as many styling videos as possible until you find ones that are specific to YOUR hair texture and YOUR curl tension. We have a ton at controlledchaoshair.com.
Curlee Girlee: There are 1.6 billion curly haired women in the world today and they overwhelmingly dislike their curls. What would you tell these women to help them realize they are beautiful just as they are?
Alanna: While I have created ONE product that replaces leave-in conditioner, frizz tamer, curl enhancer, shine serum, sun block and heat protectant…that works on ALL textures and curl types (just change the amount of product used based on texture & climate), EVERY curl type is different. Not all curls can be styled using the same technique & expectations need to be realistic so that everyone will be ABLE to embrace their curls. Let’s face it—if I wanted beach waves (think T. Swift circa 2015), I’d be putting a lot of work in every day and I’d probably be disappointed. Learn what your hair can do without a TON of product and a TON of styling time…and accept that you are SO LUCKY! Most of us don’t even have to blow-dry!
Curlee Girlee: Thank you Alanna, what a great interview!"