Most beauty pageants claim they’re about celebrating brains and beauty. But the beauty (and body) part often gets a majority of the shine while the brains get whittled to one or two questions on stage.
That’s what best friends Maureen A. Ochola and Jessica E. Boyd hope to change. The two created the Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina pageant, a natural hair celebration also focused on business that’s been disrupting the Southern pageant scene since its 2013 debut in their hometown of Columbia, S.C. It has proven to be a success, so much so that they’re putting on their third exhibition on April 16.
“I had a high-level overview of pageants when we started, and they all seemed to be focused on the just physical aspect,” Ochola said. “What I like about what we’re doing is we’re highlighting natural hair. We take that confidence and add on the business element because that’s really what you need to be successful in business. Confidence.”
The pageant focuses on the beauty of natural hair and the beauty of Black female business owners. Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina started as a program to grow interest and a customer base for the co-founders’ original business idea: a brick-and-mortar natural haircare beauty supply store. They started social media accounts to test their idea first, and the accounts gained popularity.
“The money that it takes to start a store, we really didn’t have,” Boyd said. “We thought: How can we stay relevant and make people continue to be excited until we can get the store open?”
The two chose to think outside the box and celebrate two things they love: natural hair and business. “We thought about a pageant,” Boyd said. “In December of 2013, we announced we would have it.”
The organic success of the pageant was a pleasant surprise to Boyd and Ochola. It gave them the initiative to explore the pageant as a legitimate extension of their original idea. It was clear that such celebrations were needed and gaining quite the following.
“After the first pageant, it kind of took off. We sold out of tickets,” Boyd said. “The impact it had on the girls and the community, in general, took on a life of its own. It wasn’t a question. We had to bring it back and do it bigger and better.”
It’s not a surprise that creativity in business is also one of the pageant’s key themes. Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina contestants learn firsthand about entrepreneurship and small business.
“Last year we added a twist: a business pitch idea because that’s essentially what we’re doing,” Ochola said. “Why not introduce that to these girls as well?”
Contestants attend seminars with coaches and successful entrepreneurs to perfect their business ideas. Instead of a Q&A interview format, contestants pitch a business plan to judges. Half of the inaugural pageant contestants, women ages 19-30, have actually taken action on their proposed business plans and made them more than just an idea.
“When [the contestants] saw that we were able to have the idea for the beauty supply store and also have the idea for the pageant, and were able to execute it on the level that reached across the globe, a lot of them were inspired to go ahead and start their own businesses,” Boyd said.
With the niche angle of the event and the force of social communication, including Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina’s Instagram page, the success of the pageant has brought about admirers, remixers, and straight-up copycats recreating their own versions of the event. Some even in the pageant’s home base of South Carolina. But Boyd says that’s a good thing.
“If this pageant can expand beyond our borders, that’s great! Ultimately, we want it to be the Miss Universe of natural hair.”
The two maintain a positive outlook and say they’re happy to plant a seed for the pageant in their city, in other cities and beyond.
There are tons of social media accounts and many positive online resources that cater to natural hair. Is there a need for a pageant to celebrate natural hair? Boyd thinks so and clarifies that their pageant is about more than just hair. It uplifts its contestants.
“South Carolina has not made the best news. Miss Naturally Crowned is in the center of all that. Imagine how powerful that is? We’re here to be positive, and combat the negative images.”
Both Boyd and Ochola believe the need is there, and the Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina pageant will continue to innovate and expand to meet the needs of its contestants and its audience.
“Being in a pageant not only brings you the confidence, but it allows you to to envision your dreams and bring it to other people,” said Boyd. “When you gain that confidence on stage and in business, nothing can really stop you.”
The application deadline to join in as a contestant in the Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina contest is Sunday, January 31. To support the Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina pageant, you can donate on their website as an individual, sign on as a business sponsor, or attend a local event.
article by LaKrishia Armour via madamenoire.com