I told a dear friend of mine I was looking for women to interview for the Wonder Women series. She sent me the HERcuts UK Instagram page and it was a collage of beautiful black women with shaved hair in different styles and colours.
When I saw the photos, I wanted to find the nearest barbershop using the directory and shave my hair. I had to meet the woman behind this Instagram page and website of black women with shaved hair.
“Years ago, I really needed to get a shape up before a photo shoot I booked. My usual barber wasn’t available but there was this barber who always wanted to shave my hair. He was always asking me.
That day I agreed because I didn’t have much of a choice. After I sat in that chair and he started shaving my hair, I knew I’d made a mistake. I felt it and my gut kept telling me to leave the chair but I didn’t.
After he was done, I put my glasses on and looked in the mirror. I was horrified, he’d taken my hairline back at least an inch and I looked a mess. I called my barber the next day and I cried.”
HERcuts aims to change the narrow, stereotypical narrative around black women with shaved hair. It is the first website to provide a free database that lists barbers and stylists for black women with shaved hair worldwide.
Tori started HERcuts because she realised that a lot of black women with shaved hair were having negative experiences at the barbershop. Her goal was to provide a directory of recommended barbers for black women to shave their hair in peace.
Creative Beginnings“The first song I created a choreography for was Sisqo’s Thong Song.” Click To Tweet
Tori showed creative tendencies from a young age. She would talk to herself in the bathroom and have many adventures. Her mother decided to send her to a performing arts school – Second Wave Youth Arts Centre.
She learned acting, drama, dance and she got to transform her mental adventures into plays. It was there that she discovered her love for dancing and choreography.
“The first song I created a choreography for was Sisqo’s Thong Song. I made my little sister learn the routine. I didn’t even know choreography was a thing you could do as a job.”
When Tori went to secondary school, she studied textiles and design tech. In school, she would draw graffiti and make designs which she received a lot of compliments for.
“I failed design tech and most of my subjects and I only learned to sew one line on a machine. I think I failed because of the teaching style. I’m a hands on and visual learner.
If you talk at me too much, I lose interest. Design tech was good when I was practicing it but when it came to the theory, I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy reading. Everything I did at school that was hands on, I remember till this day.”
Teaching“One of the students I used to teach is an actor now. His name is Martins Imhangbe and he will be in a Netflix show by Shonda Rhimes called 'Bridgerton'.” Click To Tweet
“After College, I didn’t want to go to University because I knew I wasn’t academic and I didn’t enjoy writing. I knew I would struggle. I was volunteering at the youth centre and they asked me what I was going to do next and I told them I wasn’t sure. They asked if I wanted to be an apprentice and I said hell yeah!”
Tori became their first ever apprentice and studied to become a qualified dance and drama tutor. She took lessons from her experiences of being taught growing up and incorporated it into her teaching style.
“I loved teaching because I love to give back to people. I mix up my delivery style when I teach so I talk, provide visual cues and get the students to practice. It’s important to understand how your students learn because everyone is different. That’s why I try to do a mixture of everything.”
Tori wrote scripts for the young people she taught during her apprenticeship. The students came up with story lines and she would create them into plays for them to act.
“That job was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done in my life. One of the students I used to teach is an actor now. His name is Martins Imhangbe and he will be in a Netflix show by Shonda Rhimes called “Bridgerton”.
He plays Will Mondrich. It makes me happy to know that I could be a part of the growth of so many young people.”
Adulting“I would get inspiration at random moments that would spark the feeling that I should be creating. There was so much in me that I needed to get out.” Click To Tweet
Tori eventually left the Youth Centre because she wanted to explore more of her creative talents.
“I was 22 and I got my own place so I needed to pay my bills. My sister suggested I work for O2 because I liked phones and talking to people. I didn’t want full time hours because I wanted to keep engaging my creative side so I interviewed with O2 for part time hours.”
Tori’s manager at the time regularly offered her extra hours which she would take. It got to the point where she was doing so many extra hours that her manager encouraged her to become a full time employee.
Tori became the store keyholder – the person responsible for opening and closing the store within a few months. She was also given leadership responsibilities and asked to run the store on a Sunday – the least performing day.
“We had the best Sunday that quarter and smashed our targets. I’m not a salesperson and I don’t enjoy selling to people but I made great sales. It’s because I was good at listening, understanding what people wanted, making suggestions and I was always honest.
I wouldn’t sell things to people if I didn’t feel like it was the best option for them.”
Tori moved from a sales rep to an O2 guru based on her skills and the results she demonstrated. She loved her job but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t doing the right thing.
“I constantly felt like I should be doing more. I would get inspiration at random moments that would spark the feeling that I should be creating. There was so much in me that I needed to get out.”
Tori was torn because she loved her team, her job and she was making enough money to provide for herself. Some months before her birthday, her manager reminded her that she needed to take time off work as she had a month’s worth of annual leave she hadn’t taken.
She decided to use the time off to create. She set herself a challenge to create something new everyday.
“After a week, I knew I couldn’t go back to work. I felt great and I was really happy. I even made my own outfit for carnival. A few days before I was meant to start work, I started to feel very sad.
The day I had to go back to work, I couldn’t stop crying. I was getting dressed for work and crying. The thought of walking into the store made me cry. I called my manager and I couldn’t really speak.”
Tori’s manager was kind and he asked her to take the week off. After the week, she still felt extremely unhappy. She was given three months off work and she used that time to create more.
“I was painting, making clothes, bags, outfits and I loved it. After my 3 months off, I saw my manager and told him I wouldn’t be coming back. He was shocked but told me he respected my bravery and passion for doing what I wanted.”
In 2013 after she left O2, Tori applied to be self-employed. She spent part of her last paycheck to buy a camera and she enrolled onto a photography course. She became a photographer and started her own company – Tori Lens.
“It’s been quite the journey but I wouldn’t change any of it. I learned patience, leadership and developed my people skills in my job at O2.”
Forging Your Own Path“I only have myself to blame if I don’t chase my dreams because the world made me feel like I couldn’t.” Click To Tweet
“So many people hate their job. We’ve created an environment of sadness and unfulfilled lives. I’ve always felt like I’m in charge of my life and how I feel about it. I used to feel that I should conform to society’s expectations.
But I realised I’m the one that has to live with myself. I only have myself to blame if I don’t chase my dreams because the world made me feel like I couldn’t.”
Tori’s Aunt and Mother are two women that have had a strong impact on her life. Throughout the interview, she mentioned them and their courage.
“My mother and my aunt have always chosen their own path. Even when people didn’t agree with it. I saw that growing up and that’s had a huge impact on who I am today.
I don’t feel like I need to make choices that affect me based on other people’s opinions. My mother hasn’t liked it sometimes but that’s her fault.” Tori told me laughing.
“When I thought of shaving my hair, my aunt inspired me because her hair was cut short and we look very similar. She was beautiful so I thought I could be beautiful with my hair shaved too.”
On Being A Creative Director“People always say you should stick to one thing but my brain doesn’t work that way. I like doing multiple things.” Click To Tweet
“I think I was a Creative Director long before I realised I was. I used to battle between photography, videography and wanting to direct.
People always say you should stick to one thing but my brain doesn’t work that way. I like doing multiple things.”
Tori has worked on adverts and the most recent one was a campaign for HERcuts called United Colors of Queens. She created the concept, styled the models and directed the filming of the campaign. Tori wants to work on campaigns for large brands like Nike.
HERcuts Hair Tips“Trust your gut, you hold the power.” Click To Tweet
These were Tori’s top tips for women who want to shave their hair:
- Always cut your hair forward. Cut it in the way that it grows and from the crown outwards.
- Moisturise and condition your hair especially in winter!
- If someone is shaving your hair and you feel uncomfortable, just leave. Even if it’s half done. Trust your gut, you hold the power.
Tori is the first woman I have interviewed for The World In Her Words. They say that you never forget your first and I will not forget her anytime soon. What I enjoyed about interviewing Tori was her energy and her spirit.
I came away from the interview learning a lot more than I bargained for. Tori reinforced to me the importance of following your own path and the value of strong female role models.
Did you enjoy reading Tori’s story? Tell me in the comments and share her story on social media using the buttons below. You can follow Tori’s Instagram page here. Who are the wonderful women in your life that should be featured on The World In Her Words? Tell me by filling in this survey.