Earlier this year, I met up with Gina Knight, AKA @naturalbelle, to talk business and beauty, but in some small way, I felt like I already knew her. I’ve been following Gina for some time now – at least since the days when her Instagram followers were around the 20k mark. Today they stand at 60k+ and are rising steadily. Some might say that’s small growth, especially within the current blogosphere, but for me there is nothing better than organic growth that illustrates the authenticity of an audience, that follows you because they find something that resonates in your posts – no bought followers here.
To be fair, I don’t really think Gina’s in it for followers; she’s putting things out there, exactly how she wants. Via her blog and social media platforms, she shares new ventures and projects - her latest being @thewigwitch, a wig-making service that kinda had to happen.
The day we meet, Gina brings along her daughter, Freya, (you can find her on Instagram at @freya_ayo, although her account is set to private) and it turns out to be one of the most fun interviews I’ve done in a while. Freya included me in her pretend tea party, and even allowed me to wear a pair of her neon kitty ears. Throughout our interview she frequently asks whether we want green or purple cups, but when it comes to the end she just won’t accommodate my photo requests (which kinda hurts as she’s quite the selfie queen.) When the talking stops – at Freya’s instruction of course (just be quiet, now!’) – and it's time to leave, she bursts into tears, instantly reminding me of my own cute four year old niece. Mark my words, I think Ms Freya is going to have her own impressive following soon. But for now, l want to talk to mum Gina about beauty, social media and more.
Do you have a specific beauty routine?
Nowadays yes, because it’s quite simple. With Freya running around I need something easy. I’ll use an oil cleanser and make sure I take off my makeup before I go to bed, that’s about it. Because of the blog, I tend to try lots of different products, but when it comes to cleansing I only really do oil cleansing. I don’t oil cleanse at night; I’ve recently tried using Micellar water but I’m hmmm, not sure about it – because it’s just water, but it is coming off!
If your skin/hair plays up, do you have any emergency go-tos?
I always tend to stick with completely natural products from Sheabutter Cottage. If my skin’s playing up it’s usually something that I’ve used, so I’ll go back to African Black Soap, which will clear it up as it takes everything off. Because I try so many different things, I have to strip it back for a couple of months.
With your business, your job (part-time receptionist at a Headmasters salon) and a family, how do you wind down?
I don’t wind down. The only thing I can try to wind down, is have a bath, and even then Freya gets in with me. I have to wait for her to go to bed. She is my main focus; I can’t focus on anything else. I know we’re supposed to be able to multitask as women, but I find it very difficult to multitask with Freya. When she goes to bed, there’s so much other stuff I have to do, so winding down isn’t something I can do right now. If I wind down I’ll be asleep.
What makes you angry?
Lots of things; insignificant things make me very angry. Stupid people; stupid questions. I get a lot of comments that are just silly. But I try not to be angry; it’s a stressful feeling, and in my actual personal life I don’t really have anything to be angry about. I’m in a good place.
Who inspires you?
Since I’ve been blogging I’ve got quite a few mentors – although they probably wish I’d stop texting! There are two in particular who always come through for me. Lana (Boone) from Kurly Klips and Akua (Wood) from Sheabutter Cottage; both of them are very empowering women who are doing it for themselves. They’re supportive and just genuine people.
Tell me about The Wig Witch
It was born out of me liking wigs. Since I suffered with hair loss I kind of fell into it. It wasn’t something that I planned to do; I was doing it for myself. But it got to a point where I couldn’t keep saying ‘no’ to people when they asked me to make one for them. Now I’m doing the workshops and there’s possibly a ready-made, bespoke situation coming out. It will most likely be a limited edition. Everything I try to do, I like it to be different; I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. The idea is to be able to offer a ready-made option, because I don’t really want to sell hair – I’d rather sell the complete package. It’s tough, as the industry is very poorly regulated. So trying to find synthetic hair that’s as good as human hair is impossible, it’s always going to have that plastic feel. You can get it but it’s not going to last as long; then you’ve got to source hair that is genuine and fair – at the end of the day, it’s never going to be ethical: it’s peoples’ hair, but there are ways to try and keep things fair. It’s not just about going for the cheaper options; it’s going to be a premium product.
Work/life – is there a balance?
My partner was like, ‘you need to go work.’ I said, ‘I am at work’, but he said that he could see that I was becoming depressed. He said I needed to be around people again, after being at home with Freya for 18 months. Anything to get me out of the house basically, so I started working at Headmasters and I’ve been there for over three years now. The goal is to be able to do my wigs and social media full-time, but even then, I know what I’m like – I need interaction with people. I’m very motivated, but I find it hard to be on my own, as it’s easy for me to get really into it, and become anti-social. Then I become angry and miserable.
I had post-natal depression when I had Freya, which made it worse; I was on my own from early on, as my partner only had a week off. It was hard work; it put me off having any more. It’s hard! Everyone’s like, ‘you should have another one, for Freya.’ But it’s my body – my life. What’s she gonna do? Right now she doesn’t have anyone vying for the attention she gets.
I do tend to overfill my life; I could stop working at the hairdressers, but I don’t really want to, because then I’ll have some free time and I'll have to stop and think about things! I have created my life; any one of the factors can be put to the wayside if I need it. I pulled back a bit on the blogging once The Wig Witch started, but it’s still something I do, and I’ve still got social media clients and there’s lots going on that people can’t see.
You were so open with your hair loss on social media – have you ever regretted being so honest?
No, because it was in context. I’m a beauty and hair blogger so my honesty made sense. There are lots of things that I post that I probably shouldn’t. In a way, (social media) is all a fabrication. It’s what I choose to show, it’s what I want you to see. I pride myself on being an honest blogger; that’s kind of my thing. Other bloggers show a polished image – we all know it’s not true, but that’s their choice, that’s what they want to show.
Where do you draw the line?
Probably showing my partner; mostly because he doesn’t want me to post his pictures. But also because, I’m a black woman, and I’m pro-black, but when it comes down to it, I was brought up in a white family – I’m adopted – and I have a white husband. When I do post pictures of him I always get idiotic comments. How does who I decide to love correlate with my views on how I feel about how black people should be treated as a whole? I love myself. I don’t need to have anyone telling me what I should be doing.
At the same time, I’m not about the glorification of interracial relationships! My husband just happens to be white. His personality is awesome, he’s attractive, he’s a silver fox. I’m like: yes. But stop tagging me in interracial posts!
I’ll share problems with my hair, skin, superficial things, but there are other things I choose not to share. I didn’t want to talk about my postnatal depression. It’s not like I could help others, especially while I was going through it. You’re either going to bring them down or make them feel pity, and I don’t really need anyone’s sympathy, I’m just trying to get through my life. I’d rather talk about it afterwards, to show people I’ve got through it, that there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
A lot of bloggers have anxiety at the moment – everyone’s got anxiety! I’m like, it’s just life – you are stressed. You’re probably stressed as a blogger because you’re under the microscope, and you’re not really allowing yourself to be who you are, as opposed to some random standard that you’ve set up for yourself in order to get free products and money. I don’t think it’s everyone’s place to share everything.
How do you deal with trolls?
I just call them out. I don’t get it a lot, so when it does happen, I get all up in my feelings. I am genuinely hurt. The comments about me being a witch – that's the latest one. It doesn’t offend me: I just find it really dumb. A lot of the time people don’t comment - instead they send me really, really long emails. Once I did a review of Chili Pepper headwraps, and the lady who runs it is a white woman. So this follower emailed me cussing me out, saying it was cultural appropriation. I had to call her out: how is it cultural appropriation if I‘m the one wearing it? And also, I don’t even think the fabric came from Africa. A lot of the time people just want attention and the only time it will really bother me is if it’s about Freya or my partner.
Do you credit social media with helping to build your business?
Definitely. Especially Instagram; that’s the one I like the most. I like my blog too, but I’m starting to feel like blogs are outdated now. It’s about using your platform/s to evolve; nothing’s forced. I like being able to turn things down, due to my day job. If blogging was my main gig, maybe I would have said ‘yes’ to a lot of things, just because I had to eat. I don’t think it would be genuine and it could have changed everything that I’m about.
I feel that it’s all about how you use it. I’ve been doing it for a really long time, and I don’t think I’ve grown as much as other people. I’ve stayed away from YouTube as it’s less genuine – it seems like a load of infomercials to me now. Also, moving out of London (Gina lives in Reading) affects my being able to get involved in certain campaigns.
Favourite social media accounts?
I like @asiyami_gold – she’s so perfect. I’m like, ‘where’s my life, I bet you don’t have a kid!’ I don’t even read the captions; the images are just perfect. I like @freddieharrel, I like the founder of Curl Box, @myleik. Since that last algorithm it’s hard to keep track of the ones I really like; instead it will be someone random from Uni or something!
Find out more about Gina's upcoming workshops here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-wig-witch-workshops-at-simplygorgeous-2-tickets-28227082965