I first discovered Nicole Updegraff back in 2010 when a friend introduced me to the children’s book she had written and illustrated. I cracked it open. With the turn of each page, I smiled bigger and brighter. By the end, I was nodding in admiration. Finally, someone stepped up and produced something so simple yet profound. The message was clear: love yourself. This was so needed! Fast forward to today. I’ve been keeping my eye on Nicole’s success as an artist and illustrator. She stays true to herself and her message through the talent that she now shares with an international audience. Yeah, she’s pretty dope!
Let’s begin with some hair talk! Have you always worn you hair in its natural state? If not, when and why did you begin the journey back to your natural texture? What was the reaction of your family and friends?
No. I actually big chopped in 2009 while living overseas in Japan. Back then I didn’t even know what a big chop was and I had no idea of the movement going on here in the states. I chopped because I was confronted with a situation where I had to set an example for my young daughter about loving herself in her entirety. My friends and family were shocked but super supportive.
Why do you love being a natural gal? How have you been able to overcome any personal challenges along the way?
I love being natural because this is me and I love me. All of me. Period. Luckily I haven’t had to deal with any outside challenges. Everyone I know has supported me in this journey from day one because they knew it wasn’t about me. Well, at least in the beginning it wasn’t. It was about my daughters and making sure they knew that they, AND their “Cotton Candy Hair”, were perfect. I realized that mommy couldn’t effectively give them that message while I was straightening my own. So, you have your own hair to deal with as well as your girls… what’s that like? Do you knock out everyone’s wash session, including your own, in one day?
Not at all. Lol! I have 3 daughters. Luckily one is a baby who’s hair requires very little effort. My older girls though, ooh-wee those girls have got some hair. I actually haven’t managed being able to take care of all 3 of our manes properly so unfortunately I don’t take as good care of my hair as I should. But I take excellent care of theirs :-).
Kids can be rather fidgety when mom is doing their hair. How have you been able to manage?
My girls actually do a great job sitting still :-). They rarely complain. Taking care of their hair has always been part of the routine. Like brushing their teeth. I don’t even know that they realize there are children who put up a fight when getting their hair combed.
For those who may not know the story, one challenge you were confronted with a few years ago had to do with your eldest daughter. Can you tell us about that and what it prompted you to do?
About 5 years ago when my oldest daughter was three she came home from a playdate crying and begging me and her dad to make her hair “straight and yellow.” We were floored! It was heartbreaking to see that at three years old, our perfect little girl had already found something about herself that she felt wasn’t good enough and needed to be fixed. She cried herself to sleep that night and immediately my husband and I began a search for books about absolute self love and acceptance. The problem is, they are very hard to find for three year olds and even harder for children who look like mine. I looked for about a year and a half and when it was apparent that I wouldn’t find what I was looking for I wrote and illustrated, “I LOVE my Cotton Candy Hair!” A story about loving yourself just the way you are, whatever that way might be!
Besides the book, are there any other ways you help your daughters to appreciate the hair they were born with?
I’m just consistent in my messaging to them. The fact that their hair is special and beautiful is constantly being reinforced in our home. I tell them everyday because they are getting messages everywhere else (television, school, magazines) and, unfortunately, those messages aren’t going to reinforce that. I can’t count on the world to tell my girls that they are special and amazing and don’t need to change or “fix” any part of themselves to be better. It has to be me.
You have a very successful and growing design business. Has working for yourself afforded you more time for family? How are you able to juggle it all, especially with your youngest daughter?
It is difficult at times. I am in a fortunate position that I can stay home with my children but when you have 4 little ones who need mommie during the day and a growing business that you tend to at night… Let’s just say that the baby has been to many business meetings and there are nights when I don’t get as much sleep as I’d like, lol. But I’m not complaining. I definitely realize how blessed I am.
Tell us about Cotton Candy Playground. How and when did you get to point of using your talent in more of a professional capacity?
Cotton Candy Playground manifested almost on it’s own. The book had been out for about 2 years when I started dabbling in graphic design and exploring different types of illustration. Curly Nikki hosted an event in LA and I decided to take a few graphic designs I’d created and put them on shirts for me and my friends to wear to the event. I wasn’t trying to launch a business, I was just trying to look cute, lol. Well I got a ton of feedback on the shirts. Later in the week, photos from the event were posted on Curly Nikki’s FB page and the inquiries were non stop. It was insane. Cotton Candy Playground was launched about a week later with 3 t-shirt designs :-). We are loving your recent “Blend In for What?!”™ movement! How did that come about?
It was just something that I felt at the moment. That image says so much and completely encompasses what my brand is about which is to absolutely love and celebrate who you are, regardless of what the world around you is doing. That image is what I want people to feel about themselves! I actually did 5 different versions and posted them all but that is the one that really resonated with everyone.
Any current projects or future endeavors you’d like to share?
I am constantly updating and launching new designs on my website. The latest is my Deeply Rooted Collection featuring “My Roots Run Deep” tees/ hoodies for men and “My Roots are Showing” tees/ sweaters for women. This collection allows people to customize their garment to reflect who they are and where they’re from. Aside from just being really excited about the design itself this is the first collection available for men. I am beyond excited to be able to offer something for them! I also just launched a tee called “Legend” in celebration of Nelson Mandela. Finally, in 2014 I will officially launch my custom stationery line. Illustration is my first love so I’m very excited about that as well :).
What words of advice can you give to moms raising curly/kinky/coily-haired girls or any who are aspiring to “make it” in the world of art & design?
My advice to mothers raising curly girls, or just girls (or even boys), is to always remind your children how wonderful they are! Put images, stories and people in front of them who look like them and who are doing amazing things. Make sure they know that they are absolutely perfect just the way they are, whatever way that might be! Because when a little girl knows she is perfect and she doesn’t have to do anything extra, or try to be anything different in order to be better, then she won’t feel like she has to be mean to this girl so that this group of girls will like her. Or that she has to do this thing with this boy so that he’ll think she’s good enough to hang out with. No, I’m awesome. And if you don’t think I’m good enough then there’s something wrong with you, not me. There is no one more vulnerable than a child who doesn’t love themselves and nothing more dangerous than an adult who doesn’t love themselves and understand his or her worth. Decide that your children will.
In terms of business I just say do what you love. When you do what you love you’ll find that even when nights are long or business is slow, you’ll still be happy. Also don’t compare yourself to someone else’s rate of growth or perceived success. Just know that as long as you keep working, what is meant for you will be yours when it’s your time :).
Nicole, thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit of yourself with us! ♥ ♥
In an effort to spread the love, Nicole has allowed me to give a Blend in for WHAT?!™ tee to one of you! Eeeeeeeek!!! Follow the Rafflecopter instructions below to enter. In the meantime, make sure you follow and keep up with Nicole on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and of course, check out all her amazing work here.