Courtney Willis, a communications specialist, discovered a community she didn’t know existed when she created Tik Tok content urging followers to embrace their curly identities.
With the tagline of “Your Curly Big Sister”, Courtney Willis, a fourth-year communications major from Monrovia, California. is a rising Tik Tok influencer illuminating the often overlooked curly hair community.
At the height of the pandemic, Willis was bored. Sent home early after her second year of college, Willis worked as a personal assistant and social media manager for a hair salon owner. In his spare time, Willis did what everyone else seemed to do, go on Tik Tok and make funny videos to pass the time and connect with people while staying safe at home.
Despite barely knowing how to use Tik Tok, Willis has started sharing the behind-the-scenes world of salon work. Her account started to take off, but it wasn’t until she started sharing her hair journey that she found her niche and her passion.
At 16, Willis went natural, a term for people with curly hair who stop using any type of heat styling products. In doing so, Willis struggled with self-esteem and embraced her natural hair, with beauty standards telling her that curly hair did not equal beautiful hair.
“I posted a video crying and how I struggled with my own hair and a lot of people resonated with what I had to say,” Willis said. “They wanted to watch me on my trip.”
More than 270,000 people have now followed Willis on his journey, and the girl who once struggled with his hair is now the one helping thousands struggling with theirs.
At the heart of it all, Willis’ message stems from his previous experiences: for others to not “hide behind their hair” and embrace their curly hair identity.
“I just want to create an environment that’s a safe space for people who are going through the same things I am,” Willis said. “Curly hair is not the standard of beauty. I’m just saying I’m here for you if you need me and kind of like that big sister who doesn’t put you to shame.
In the span of a week, Willis spends about six hours on Tik Tok, creating content and interacting with his followers. Some videos require a trial shoot, such as comedy videos or multiple trials, especially when shooting a tutorial. Her plate is full, juggling being a full-time student, working on the campus of Aztec Lanes, a student associate program, and managing her brand.
Less than a year into her journey with curly hair, Willis has partnered with a variety of brands, her first “big name” being Walmart and Shea Moisture. Additionally, she has worked with Bumble & Bumble, TWIST, and Carol’s Daughter.
As a one-man show, Willis communicates with the company, creates the content, and tailors each piece to the company’s taste. The most exciting partnership for Willis to date has been with Target, one of the companies she’s always loved.
Although she’s worked with many big brands, it wasn’t until Willis spoke at Curly Con, a Canadian convention centered around curly hair, that Willis realized she’d made it as a curly hair influencer. His workshop, entitled “To Chop or Not to Chop? centered around whether or not to go natural and making the decision to fully embrace your curly hair.
Willis took what she learned in class and translated it into her career. She learned not only to communicate effectively with different brands, but also with those who admire her for her authenticity and vulnerability.
“As a communication student, I really learned about empathy and how to talk to people,” Willis said. “I deal with a lot of people’s personal experiences – your hair is a very vulnerable part of yourself. Being able to communicate and understand individuals and where they come from is a big part of the beauty industry. .
After graduating, Willis hopes to turn her part-time job into a career. While her long-term goal is to one day launch her own products for people with curly hair, Willis looks to continue to grow her network within the curly hair community and interview stylists in the field.
For Willis, the best part about being a curly hair influencer is the community she’s created during a time of isolation.
“I encountered a community that I didn’t even know existed,” Willis said. “I accidentally slammed my hair on the car door and 10,000 people said, ‘I smell you! “”