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Curlfest: A Guide to the Biggest Hair Festival in the World

Curlfest has become one of the most popular festivals to attend over the summer. Many have never heard of it. Those who have heard also may not know what it is about or how to approach it when considering what to do for summer. Don’t worry tips and tricks are here to back you for Curlfest 2024.

The stage is set for Curlfest 2023.
The stage is set for Curlfest 2023. Still from Curly Girl Collective CURLFEST® NY 2023 “THE BOUNCE BACK” - SIZZLES/Vimeo

Don’t know what to do this summer? Well, here’s an event that will make your ears perk up.

Festivals have been one of the favorite mix of pastimes to do within the last decade. Coachella is one of the most notable festivals to reach popularity in the last five years.

But what if I told you that there is an entire festival dedicated to us curly girls?

Natural hair has been in and out of pop culture since the civil rights movement as a way to reject assimilation into white culture and Eurocentric beauty standards. Natural hair has resurged in popularity in a more mainstream realm again within the last five years through societal changes and a healthier perspective when it comes to curly hair care.

With societal changes so vivid, many women with curls and coils were able to learn more about their hair and embrace it. So much to the point there is a festival dedicated to such. It is a universe filled with wonder. It is called Curlfest.

What is Curlfest and how did it start?

Originally, Curlfest began as a business and later became a campaign. According to the festival’s official website, it started in 2010 with a group of recently natural friends gathered face to face in a Brooklyn, New York apartment. There, the women exchanged products, tips, and stories. Soon after, the rest was history.

The five women from that meetup, Gia Lowe, Charisse Higgins, Melody Henderson, Tracey Coleman, and Simone Mair, started a business called Curly Girl Collective and began hosting small events around the United States. Soon enough, it turned into the event we know today, Curlfest.

Since 2014, the feel-good festival teaches people about curly hair, provides a place to exchange products, and inspires people to embrace their natural hair. Never would they think it would become one of the most posted hashtags on social media.

Curlfest’s rise in popularity

The first Curlfest took place at Prospect Park in 2014, with approximately 1,000 people in attendance. Currently, the @curlygirlcollective account has 139K Instagram followers, and the Curlfest hashtag has over 88,000 posts. On TikTok, it has over 1 million posts. But how did this happen? Well, it started with vloggers on YouTube. Vlogs of Curlfest became a fascinating sight for the natural hair craze in the mid-2010’s. Publications like Allure took notice, along with celebrities such as Yandy Smith and Taraji P. Henson, with her brand TPH by Taraji being featured at the festival one year.

As celebrities began attending Curlfest and mentioning them on their social media accounts, the event’s exposure and popularity began to rise accordingly. It was a rising phenomenon, but it wasn’t yet a boom until 2019 when television network BET sponsored and televised the event.

During this time, popular black-owned brands such as Creme of Nature and Cantu began sponsoring the event and putting up booths. Target and Dove were even a sponsor that year. With all these business opportunities and connections under Curlfest’s belt, along with a strong social media presence, the festival was becoming a worldwide name. Especially noting that many people flew in from around the globe to attend the experience in past years. Speaking of experience, you’re probably wondering what it is like.

The experience behind that Instagram post

On a usual summer day, entry lines can wrap around for blocks. Thousands of people can be seen with elaborate hairstyles and outfits that make you think that you are in the Emerald City of Oz. Once you enter the park, booths with products up to the wall, such as Palmer’s and Myavana, will be one of the first things you see.

One can also look at galleries of art while you can get your hair styled at the braid bar. Keeping up with the ambiance of the festival, music plays in every direction. You can also find children playing and running happily, as this festival is for all ages.

Attendee poses for a photo at the 2023 Curlfest on Randall's Island
Attendee poses for the 2023 Curlfest on Randall’s Island. Still from Curly Girl Collective CURLFEST® NY 2023 “THE BOUNCE BACK” – SIZZLES/Vimeo

You will feel at home as you wander around with the smell of Caribbean food, wine, and prosecco filling the air. Attendees can listen to and watch Live dancers and drum bands on the stage. Soon enough, a concert can quickly emerge with people moving to the music and recording the performers with their phones. It is an overload of happiness. You can even listen to the founders of Curlfest on stage talking about their brand and the success that they are grateful to receive from it. And there is a lot of it.

Curlfest is the gift that keeps on giving

With a large following on social media, celebrity appearances, and well-known brand features, it is safe to say that Curlfest is quite successful. But did you know that not only the event receives success?

Of course, Curlfest was a helping hand in amplifying the re-emergence of the #Natural Hair movement. Brands like Shea Moisture and Curls gained popularity, along with an increase in sales, from being a featuring partner.

In a 2020 Cosmopolitan interview with Co-founder of Curlfest, Gia Lowe states, “At the first CURLFEST in 2014, there were two brand partners whose early beginnings we’re excited to have been a part of… The second is Curls, who is on all kinds of shelves now”.

More exposure for the festival came from television coverage in 2020 when Hulu’s film Bad Hair became a sponsor. Not to mention, Trill Magazine is not the only publication nor the first that has reported on Curlfest. Some of these other publications include Forbes, The New Times, The New York Post, Refinery 29, Glamour, Teen Vogue, Allure, and media partners Cosmopolitan and Essence magazine.

In addition, there is often coverage from news companies such as ABC News, Today, PBS, and Pix 11. Have we interested you so far in possibly attending Curlfest this summer? Wish you knew more? Here are some tips that can help with your experience at Curlfest.

Tips for making the most of Curlfest 2024

Attendees often say Curlfest is an amazing experience that overwhelms the soul with endorphins. But if you’re new, it can be quite confusing knowing what to do and wondering if you’re making the most out of Curlfest. Let’s not keep procrastinating and start preparing for the next Curlfest with some advice on how to improve your experience.

1) Keep yourself updated by following @curlygirlcollective

On the festival’s social media account, posts are mainly about the upcoming fest, especially on Instagram. Follow @curlygirlcollective on their social platforms to be notified about the vendors, people, music, and more that will take place on the day of the festival. This way, you will be informed and will not miss out on potential tables to visit.

If you are not a social media person, be sure to look at the company’s official website, Curlfest. There, you can investigate the brands and events taking place prior to your date of attendance.

2) Stay hydrated and wear sunscreen

Curlfest usually takes place in the summertime, so with that in mind, dress lightly. The clothes you wear to Curlfest should contain fabrics such as linens and silks. Drink lots of water and wear sunscreen to stay hydrated and protect your skin. Unfortunately, coolers and ice chests are prohibited to bring. In addition, it is important to find a nice, shady place for you and your friends/family to sit down. This leads me to my next point.

Attendees at the 2023 Curlfest vibing to a West Indian performance.
Attendees at the 2023 Curlfest vibing to a West Indian performance. Still from Curly Girl Collective CURLFEST® NY 2023 “THE BOUNCE BACK” – SIZZLES/Vimeo

3) Stay cool and comfortable for a picnic

Curlfest usually takes place in big venues, such as Prospect Park, Randall’s Island, and Floyd Bennet Field, so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. Trust me, your feet will thank you later. No chairs or tables are already placed at the event, so you have to bring your own folding chairs or a blanket to sit down on. Just don’t bring any hammocks, slacklines, tents, canopies, large tables, pets (unless it is a service animal), or glass and metal containers of any kind. Believe me when I say just bring the basics, which brings me to the next point.

4) Pack light and Prepare to spend

The festival’s official website states the following.

the MAXIMUM allowable bag size is 16″ x 16″ x 8″ which means that most small soft-sided bags and small purses are allowed. Bags larger than 16″ x 16″ x 8″ must be CLEAR. Diaper bag with baby items are allowed BUT subject to be searched. Backpacks and briefcases are prohibited”.

It is crucial to pack light with the essentials and a reusable bag because all persons, bags, and other items are subject to security screening. This includes your wallet. Many of the vendors take debit or apps like Apple Pay, so don’t pack a whole band worth of dollar bills. Just pack a few in case some of the vendors at Curlfest don’t accept digital payments or if there is a technological difficulty that day.

Either digitally or by paper, you will be spending a lot of money, easily ranging in the hundreds by the time you walk out of the festival. So, make sure to save up in advance if you plan on going this year.

Summer is what you make it, so when you think of what to do for this upcoming summer, don’t forget that Curlfest is an easy way to have fun.

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