Freddie Harrel is quite the Renaissance woman, she blogs, runs talks and workshops on confidence and style, and has just opened a location for Big Hair No Care, her brand of ethical afro hair extensions.
We visited her at the new store ahead of her taking part in 'FEMpowerment with Marguerite' on 5 August - to talk shifting career paths, representation and going big or going home.
Yours seems the epitome of a portfolio career, how did you get started and what’s your day-to-day like?
Where should I start... I left ASOS around two years ago now, but before that, I had been working in finance. It wasn’t creative enough, and I wanted to do something creative but still analytical. So I went back to school in Paris and changed career, I moved to London and was working in digital marketing initially on the agency side and then at ASOS. I looked after sales and marketing across brands, I really loved it.
Then we moved and I was doing marketing for a few different brands but I started to get really frustrated with it. Fashion was where I wanted to be, but not purely digital marketing, it felt too restrictive. I was doing mainly paid search and paid marketing, and I started the blog on the side, kind of as a way to cope with the daily grind because it was driving me mad.
I started it under a pseudonym because I was too shy to use my own name – I felt like if it wasn’t my name, it wasn’t me, so if people were nasty it wasn’t to me. I never expected the blog to really become something, it was just a way to express myself. Soon after, ASOS advertised a position as a stylist, and it was a really one-of-a-kind thing, it was basically like a paid blogger or ambassador, it was amazing. I applied, and they gave me the job, and we were the first generation, as I like to call it, of this kind of stylist.
It was fun, but I felt frustrated by it. Every day we had to just post on Instagram, and it was weird in a job to get told off for not posting enough photos. Everyone started losing weight because we were so “out there”, and it wasn’t really making any money, so eventually they dissolved the team.
While I was there I had been getting really into confidence content, people were asking me for help, thinking I was very self-assured. I thought, “No! I am not confident?!” I’d been through a really dark stage, and when I started the blog I decided to approach myself differently. When I finished at ASOS I went on a course to study wellbeing coaching. It was amazing, really life-changing. I came back and wanted to do something that had more to do with this, to do with fashion too, because it was a form of self-expression for me, but to link it to confidence as a tool or a weapon to “get there.”
And how did Big Hair No Care start?
Well, I was working towards doing wellbeing workshops and the blog on the side, but just as I was launching the workshops we found out that my husband would be moving to Geneva for work. We went to live there, and I was worried that it would slow me down, and I needed something to do, quickly! That’s when I got the idea for Big Hair No Care, I didn’t expect it would become something I would focus so much time and energy on, like I do now. It started as an online shop, but it’s become my baby.
It’s a chance to do something with and for black women, who are massively under-represented by the beauty industry. Black women spend six times more on hair and beauty than white women do, but if you look at the industry we barely make money off it. Most of the shops or brands for black skin or Afro hair are Asian owned, or they are owned by big corporations, you rarely have the real consumers behind it.
You go into these shops and no one actually knows about your hair, they are just offering their bestsellers. It’s not a great experience, sometimes the shops are dirty, they don’t really care about what they are selling – you might find an organic shampoo because it’s trendy, but next to a skin bleaching lotion, which shouldn’t be on anyones shelves anymore.
Here we elevate the aesthetic, we are offering an experience that is very different to a lot of the other shops. We care about what we promote and sell. We are also going to host events, one on hair and beauty and one about career and lifestyle. It’s not often that you see models of successful women in the workplace, but black women are even less represented. I’ve met lots of great, inspirational women, and by bringing them into this space, I hope I can make my audience feel limitless.
You manage to combine presenting a strong, confident self with a degree of transparency that isn’t so common on social media, is that something that is important to you?
What you see online is only ever a snapshot of what people want to show you. Sometimes I see how people are on Instagram and that makes me feel insecure, like I don’t do enough, etc... and then sometimes I just look the other way. I’m not going to post myself crying or anything but I think it’s important to be honest. People might think I’m always this happy, no problem person, but I have many downs on a weekly basis, and it’s really important to say it out loud because it helps me, and it helps other people. It’s good to share the ups, but also the struggles.
Tell me about She Unleashed?
Well, we only arrived back a month ago so nothing is planned yet, but I’ve been doing workshops commissioned by brands, sometimes I’ll do in-stores or in companies, at Unilever for example, and I work a lot with Stylist magazine.
But yes, definitely once Big Hair No Care is calmer I’ll be able to do more with this, it’s really hard to juggle everything but I want to organise more on my own.
Do you think that all these different roles work as means for you to represent different parts of or needs within your personality, in the same way you’ve said style can?
Yeah I think so. I’d been used to working in companies for a while, but I’d never been in the same job for more than a year... I’d always go on to something else, I never felt “This is it, I really like it”. I like doing different things and deciding on the what I want to try, that’s a key part of it, part of the exploration journey that I’m on. As I go on, I get closer to a better idea of who I am and what I want... and this keeps evolving anyway.
And when you decided to return to your real name for your blog, rather than Frankie, did it change the way you wrote?
Oh yeah, I was got sick of people calling me Frankie, and I was in a good place with myself, and confidence. And after all, going by Frankie was clashing with my message: “Embrace yourself”, it didn’t make sense. But it’s so difficult to take your own advice...
Why don't you visit Freddie's Big Hair No Care at Pop Brixton?!
Want to hear Freddie speak? Join us for FEMpowerment with Marguerite at The Curtain, Shoreditch on Saturday 5 August!
Words by Billie Muraben. Photography by Holly Whittaker.