By Janet Smith
Dreadlocks date back to the ancient Indian and African spiritualists - ascetics who would probably be surprised by how widespread the nappy knots are today. The hairstyle now crosses almost every form of music, gracing the heads of artists from ex-Rage Against the Machine political punk-rapper Zack De La Rocha to neo-folkie Ani DiFranco, and into the worlds of sports (tennis's James Blake or soccer's David Beckham) and movies (Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean).
Enter Vancouverite Adrianna Hepper, whose Knotty Boy Dread Stuff products have taken off with the rising popularity of 'locks. The 27-year-old entrepreneur, who started making her first all-natural hair wax on her kitchen stove just over five years agao, now sells her concoctions to retailers and via her Web site (www.knottyboy.com) across North America and around the globe. Her company has also recently opened its first storefront, the Knotty Boy Lock Shop and Salon, just off Commercial Drive at 1721 Grant Street - a cozy green house in this city's nappiest neighbourhood. There, Hepper reflects with hairstylist Jervais Dionne on the popularity of the 'do that Bob Marley made famous.
"Marley is where it all stems from; it's in every subculture, from folk to punk, metal, hip-hop. And that's the coolest part of working here: probably no one hairstyle spans that many genres," says Jervais, sporting her own long, palest-of-platinum knots. "We see everyone in here, from criminal lawyers to musicians to nurses."
Hepper acknowledges there are purists who subscribe to the long, slow process of growing dreads in naturally. She traces that approach back to the style's roots, when Indian holy men and, much later, Rastafarians let their hair mat up through neglect; it was a way of rejecting vanity in the search for a higher spiritual path. But Hepper invented her Knotty Boy Dread Wax to speed up the process: her boyfriend of the time wanted to cultivate dreads, and a lack of helpful products combined with her own interest in herbology led her to cook up mixtures at home.
The resulting combination of natural ingredients like beeswax and hemp-seed oil ($15 for 120 millilitres) allows people with just three inches of hair to kick off the process, and promises results within about three weeks or so, assuming people keep twisting and combing their locks tighter. (See instructions on the Web site, which also sells a $30 Knotty Boy Dread Kit with a comb, wax, and more.)
Of course, wannabe dreadheads can also hire a professional like Dionne to get them started. Once a Web designer in London, England, the 27-year-old long-time 'locks wearer gave up her high-tech career to follow her first love: she trained in L.A. and elsewhere in a technique that uses strings and a process called pinch-braiding to knot hair. Dionne figures only about 30 people around the world have studied the procedure, and clients are already traveling in from around the Pacific Northwest and even London and Hong Kong for her services. Besides working with live, natural hair, she specializes in synthetic and human-hair extensions of every imaginable colour that can fasten to as little as three to four inches of growth. "If it looks good, you can let it grow out into long dreads and eventually cut the synthetic part off," Hepper explains.
"They're also great for when you want to add not just length but colour," Dionne adds. Dionne says purple and black is popular among the Goth crowd right now, solid black came back around the time of Xtina's "Beautiful" video, and blond is also hot.
Just as dread styles continue to expand, so does Hepper's product range. One of her best-sellers is the Knotty Boy Dread Shampoo Bar ($9 for 120 grams), made of tea-tree, rosemary, and peppermint oils that Hepper says "fight the itchies". "There's a myth out there that you should stop washing your hair," says Hepper, who says bugs or even mould can result from this nasty approach. "But the truth is the more you wash it, the better it is for your dreads." Her most recent hit is the Emergency Dreadlock Removal Kit ($25), with shampoo and conditioner to instantly detangle. The new Lock Shop also showcases everything from hand-knit hats to decorative hair beads.
Over the years, Hepper has carefully cultivated her business like a good set of dreads slowly building grassroots cred via her Web site. Working over the stove is a thing of the past: she now has her concoctions manufactured. Says Hepper: "If there's been anything difficult, it's been dealing with the growth."
Thanks to her potions, the same can't be said of a new head of knots anymore.