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?”