By Akili King
For Mecca James-Williams, fashion has always been a way to celebrate her culture. Whether she’s styling Justine Skye on the cover of Essence Magazine, a story for the Wall Street Journal, or Solange’s When I Get Home film, she uses her work to, as she says, “tell stories about things the audience has never thought about before.”
“My mom raised me since I was a baby to be very strong-minded and understanding of the strong, prolific, resilient, beautiful struggle of being Black in America,” James-Williams adds. This mindset is evident in her personal style—an eclectic earthy-chic mix that often shows up in “best street style” articles—and her ever-changing hairstyles (though braids are her favorite).
“I wear my fro proudly,” James-Williams says. “But was I always there? Absolutely not.” At 12, she permed her hair, but eventually realized it wasn’t for her. Through high school, she struggled with how to style her hair, leading her to try a big chop in college. “It’s important to go through the journey of trying different things to figure out what you want,” she notes.
It helps that her hairstylist, Mickiela Smith, is also her neighbor, making it easier for James-Williams to transform her styles whenever her heart desires. Her latest look? Knotless box braids that cascaded down her back during a soul-searching trip to Jamaica. For James-Williams, braids have protective powers that go beyond hair; they represent “protection of the spirit, protection of myself as a Black woman.” She was pursuing those same ideals in the Caribbean. “Going to Jamaica wasn’t about having a vacation. It was about manifesting something positive for myself,” she says—all the more important during a confusing time. Naturally, she adds with a giggle, “On my [spiritually] protective trip, I wore my protective style.”
James-Williams particularly appreciates the versatility of braids, sweeping them into updos or accessorizing them with cowrie shells, bucket hats, or a few flowers strung throughout to add an elegant touch. “I loved playing with the natural elements I had around me while I was [in Jamaica],” she says.
To keep her braids and scalp healthy, James-Williams reaches for dpHUE’s Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse as needed, as well as Maui Moisture’s Coconut Oil Mist for added hydration and shine. To lay her baby hairs, she uses Blueberry Bliss Curl Control Paste with a baby hair brush. Even when she’s not rocking her box braids, protective styling is very much a part of her routine, including bimonthly wash days with Olaplex, and a steamer to enhance the benefits of a hair mask—usually Camille Rose. After drying her hair, she’ll braid or twist it up at night to sleep in. That said, she admits that these days, her hair routine is often the last thing on her mind. “But I try to use it as an opportunity to pour into myself and not think about the outside world for just a moment.”
She’s also learned to take a holistic approach to her hair: “Whatever I put into my body, is going to reflect what’s on the outside,” she says of her approach to beauty. That inside-out mentality applies emotionally, too: “I’ve learned the importance of simply accepting who I am. The good, the bad, the shadow,” James-Williams says. “As soon as I started respecting myself as a woman, and who I wanted to be, it was easier to be confident because I didn’t have to put on a façade to be something else.” Whether she’s experiencing moments of struggle or joy, “I focus on the fact that I know who I want to be, even if I’m not all the way there yet. And that feels really great.”