Within Our Borders: Meet Marcia Seales-Rodney of the Pre-tied Headwrap Brand Afrocessories
by Lou-Ann Jordan Aug 2, 2022
In the Caribbean, there exist many practices that are reminiscent of our diverse cultural heritage. Our ancestors echo in our present through various customs. Our food, music, religious traditions, language, and dress bear traces.
One relic that continues to gain prominence in today’s fashion is headwraps. Unquestionably, a throwback to our African legacy, headwraps have crossed ethnic barriers. Fashionable and dynamic, women adorn their heads with them for a range of events. Some wear them on a quick shopping jaunt, others as part of their casually elegant ensemble and others at highly formal events.
Yet, with its dynamism and obvious value as a fashion item, there was one drawback. Executing the perfect wrap requires a singular talent, and for some of us, it is challenging to acquire, no matter how hard we try. But all of that is behind us with the ingenuity of Afrocessories.
Launched in 2017, the Trinidadian brand has made the donning of this versatile fashion item accessible for all women. They’re not limited to headwraps but create trendy headgear for men and women. Excited about their joining our Within Our Borders alumni, we reached out to Marcia Seales, the Creative Director. Marica chatted with us about the brand’s start and continuing work. Read on to learn about Afrocessories’ story.
First, what is the correct term, headwraps or turbans, or are they the same?
The correct term is pre-tied turban or pre-tied headwrap. At Afrocessories, we call them AfroBonnets. A headwrap is any length of fabric that you use to wrap around your hair or head. When you wind a headwrap around your head, completely covering it, it is known as a turban. What we’ve done is create a hat that already has the style of the headwrap sewn into place.
Have you always been interested in fashion, and what directed your focus to headwraps?
No, not really. However, I’ve always worn my hair covered. I love the look of a headwrap. But my problem is that I cannot tie a wrap to save my life. So, I wanted to create fashionable pieces for people like me, those who love a headwrap but don’t possess the tying skills.
Please share the journey from your interest to what has quickly developed as a hot-pocket item.
As I mentioned, I loved the headwrap look but didn’t know how to tie it. So, for many years, my husband tied all my wraps. Then, a few years ago, I had an important meeting one day, and he refused to tie my hair. What’s more, I was undoing my braids, so half of my hair had braids, and the other half was already undone. My hair was a complete mess! I decided to give it a try. I wrapped it myself and left for my meeting. At the time, I told him I would create something so I would never have to ask him to tie my hair again. This incident happened during Carnival in 2017.
Fast forward to a few months later, in July, I was doing sensitisation and outreach for an NGO, and we were displaying wrapped fabric on a mannequin’s head. Often passers-by would ask if the material was a pre-tied turban. On the third occasion that we were asked, I turned to my colleague and said, “I think this is a great business idea here”. So, the combination of my personal need and what appeared to be public interest made me decide to create something.
At that time, I could not sew, so when I came up with a design, I handstitched it and carried it to a sister in my church. Also, my husband got involved. He modified the size of the knot, increasing it from what I had initially made.
In September 2017, we began with 12 hats my church sister sewed for us and showcased these at our first Pop-Up Market. We sold every hat, including the ones my husband and I wore then! Yes, sell men’s turbans too. Since then, we’ve never looked back. Also, ironically, my husband makes the knots for each hat. Imagine that, and to think this started because he didn’t want to tie my hair that one time.
What guides your selection of fabrics, colours and designs?
My husband chooses the colours and the fabrics. Early on, we realised that the materials he chose sold hotter and faster than mine. As far as the designs go, they have been shaped by need. My AfroBonnet was the first design. I added satin when I realised I could turn this fashion statement into a protective style. The HawtBonnet originated when a girlfriend asked for a hat, sans the prints, just a solid colour and without satin. Lola Turbans came about when one of my best friends wanted a hat that would not slip off her head, and at her request, with the added feature of a smaller knot.
That’s how it’s gone. We now have eight designs—four with satin (including bucket hats) and four without satin.
More than a brand catering strictly to women, Afrocessories maintains a male clientele. Tell us about the products offered for men.
Yes, we’ve got them covered, literally, with stylish headgear like our AfroBeanies and our Reversible Bucket hats.
In addition to pre-tied turbans, what other accessories are offered by the brand?
Other than our pre-tied turbans, we have bucket hats, several types of headbands and scrunchies, and handmade African fans. These are all available on our website. However, if you meet us when we do our Pop-Ups, you can also get earrings, clutches, sleeping bonnets and fabric chain sets.
Innovatively, you’ve absolved women of the pressure of trying to create a perfect wrap. Did you believe it would have this kind of appeal at the start?
Honestly, I hoped so. Also, the number of times we were questioned about the fabric on that mannequin’s head led me to believe this would have been the case. I’m glad it was.
What was one challenge you encountered as you established the brand, and how did you overcome it?
My inability to sew was a real challenge in the beginning. It meant I was at the mercy of whoever I hired to sew for me. For example, the initial 12 hats I started with took three weeks to produce because the sister was busy with her brand. So, I needed to learn to sew. Today, we all sew—my husband, our children, and I create all the products ourselves.
What continues to keep you motivated?
I’m always excited to see how the piece will look. I also love to see people’s reactions when they try on a hat for the first time. Also, I live the brand and what I do. So, essentially, that love keeps me on a constant high.
Has Afrocessories developed the way you initially anticipated, or has it evolved? Please explain.
Going into this, I had no real idea what to expect. I was a year into working with my brand and starting to figure out the next step; how we wanted to go and grow, and then came COVID-19. Now, here we are, coming out the other side of the pandemic and once more we’re trying to decide who we want to be as a brand. All that is a long way of saying; we can’t fully answer that question yet.
What is one short-term goal you would like to achieve with the brand?
We have recently started exploring the idea of distribution via wholesale. So, we would be stoked to acquire three wholesale contracts before 2022 ends.
For new designs and accessories, what do you look to for inspiration?
I am in love with Afrofuturism. Since my brand is inspired by traditional African wear, both in terms of fabric and design, Afrofuturism excites me. If I want to get excited, I just need to look at any image from Osborne Macharia.
What has been most memorable since having established the brand?
That isn’t easy to say. However, I can identify the most rewarding and memorable year was 2019. That year, we did Tobago Jazz, Emancipation Village, and CARFIFESTA. We also sent our hats to Grenada as part of a collaborative Pop-Up. It was an amazing year that left us looking forward to 2020.
What’s the most impacting lesson you’ve learnt since starting your label?
“Enjoy the Journey”. For a long time, I believed that the destination was the thing. Now I’ve learned to enjoy every moment as it happens. Afrocessories taught me that.
What advice would you give aspiring Caribbean entrepreneurs with untraditional interests?
Choose your circle wisely. Whether we realise it or not, we do listen, react to and act upon how others see us. So, imagine if you had as your closest friends, family and mentors a group of people who breathed and spoke life into you daily; persons who keep you grounded whilst encouraging you to reach for the stars. There are no limits to what you can do with the right people in your corner!
How can interested shoppers access the pre-tied headwraps and other accessories?
If in Trinidad, they can be purchased from our store in Port of Spain, Our Space. It is located on the corner of Park and Frederick Streets, upstairs KFC. Also, our stretchy hats can be accessed at Tili’s Doll House on Ariapita Avenue. Our satin-lined items are available at Closet Red in Mt. Lambert. Additionally, we have our silk-lined designs available at Claudia Pegus in Long Circular Mall in St. James. Lastly, why not connect with us at a Pop-Up? We’re at Roots yard in Maraval most Saturdays.
Yello thanks Marcia for this engaging chat about Afrocessories’ journey. We believe Afroccessories’ story is a welcome addition to our Within Our Border features, joining the past brands: Stasia’s Sushi, Classix Republic, and LUHU.
There is much going on within our borders, and we’re excited about discovering and featuring them. Be on the lookout for our next issue of Within Our Borders, and if you know someone making waves, be sure to drop us a message on Facebook or IG.