Meet Kiera Austin-Reffell, a seasoned marketing maven, Austin-Reffell spent five years spent working in tech in the Bay Area for Visa launching high profiled brand strategy and marketing initiatives. Kiera has a strong appreciation for culture and the Black experience, and aspires to launch a lifestyle platform that showcases Black businesses, marries Black history with world travel, and, ultimately, empowers the Black community.
As stated by the legendary Dr. Maya Angelou, Kiera lives a life that embodies these words, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
She recently sat down with us to speak about her journey to loving her natural hair and the confidence that she’s gained over the years from embracing her curls. Read more below!
Share your career journey. What led you down the path of brand marketing and marketing research?
When I was in high school, I took an intro to marketing class and we were each asked to choose a brand to follow for the semester. I chose Mattel because I am a Barbie fan - and this was the year of Barbie’s 50th anniversary so there was so much marketing activity for me to include in my project. During that class, we watched a PBS documentary which introduced me to consumer psychology and I thought it was so interesting. Soon after, I was working on my presentation and came across a picture of a dentist Barbie that I’d had when I was younger. She had a tube of Crest toothpaste and I also used Crest toothpaste and wondered if it had anything to do with five year old me seeing it in the hand of my doll. That’s when I knew that consumer behavior was of interest to me.
Since I’ve been working, though, I’ve realized that I enjoy creating experiences and wanted to take on a more strategic role so I’ve recently transitioned from market research to brand strategy consulting and I’m enjoying the challenge of it so far.
Talk to us about your hair journey. When did you fall in love with your hair?
I hate to admit this but I didn’t know Black people had hair that curls until I started school at Hampton and saw my classmates with curls down their backs. After I learned that my hair could curl too without a relaxer, I immediately committed to growing mine out by wearing weaves. By sophomore year, I was fully natural and my hair was so much fuller and healthier. I was still wearing it straight but knowing it was healthy and often complimented made me proud.
Last year, I decided I wanted to learn how to manage my curls so I found a stylist and got a DevaCut. I challenged myself to be curly for a year and seeing my healthy curls has created a whole new love for my hair.
What has been your hair journey within Corporate America? Did you ever feel like you needed to alter your hair to fit in with the culture of the office?
Up until I got my DevaCut last year, I wore my hair straight or pulled back into a bun. Sometimes, I miss wearing it straight so I may indulge myself at some point. Now, whenever I wear a new protective style, my mom and my friends like to remind me that I once said I’d never wear braids to work. I don’t remember saying that and, knowing how proud I am of my hair today, I’m sorry I ever thought that.
I’ll also say that I don’t think I was wearing it straight to conform, I was wearing straight hair because that was all that I knew how to maintain well.
What’s your favorite style to rock inside and outside of the office?
I’ve always loved a slicked bun with a middle part and I think I always will. But I also really loved wearing goddess locs this last summer.
Share your plans for your next hairstyle with us!
After this flight, I’m going to take out my knotless braids and I have a curly maintenance appointment scheduled. Looking forward to the adventure of introducing my natural hair to my new colleagues on Monday!
What’s one piece of advice for a millennial woman struggling with owning their truest selves while embracing their hair?
One of my favorite professors reminded me that every room I’m in is for a reason. I wouldn’t have been hired or invited into a space if my being didn’t offer some value. That said, remember that you were invited to the room as you are. Your voice, your skin, your smile, and your hair always go with you and, therefore, are always welcome too.