Education, History & Now

PSA: The Jheri Curl was created by a white man

Yes, that Jheri curl.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Jun 19, 2022

The famous Jheri curl (also known as the ‘Jerry curl’ or ‘Jeri curl’), worn by people like Michael Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ice Cube, was created by a chemist and stylist called Jheri Redding. (Side note: Redding also created hair conditioner, pH balanced shampoo, and Redken.) Creating a hairstyle named after you is not the shocking bit in this story. What’s shocking is that a white guy created a hairstyle that Black people wear.

 

History lesson

That’s right, the two-step permanent process that changed Black hair into loose, shiny curls was profited by a white man and his Black counterpart Comer Cottrell — the mastermind behind Pro-Line Corporation, the hair care company that offers African American products.

 

Cottrell and his brother moved to Los Angeles after serving in the Korean War and started Pro-Line with just $600 dollars. The first product they created was a spray-on oil that gave shine to Black hair. But what really put them on the map was the Curly Kit, his at-home version of the Reddings, Jheri curl. The Curly Kit, priced at $8 a box, gave an affordable option to people, and Black people really took to it.

 

The hairstyle was appealing because it was low maintenance—just wash and wear. There was no worry about chemical relaxers, or any additional daily styling. The oil activator in the product helped curls spring and bounce, and the neutralizer sets the curls. However, one big caveat is that it would stain clothing, furniture, and anything it touched.

 

When Cottrell and his brother moved to Dallas to look after operations, they shortly realized that they could make a lot of money if they sold the business. By then, everyone knew about the at-home Jheri curl, and the brothers were in a good position to sell. Post Pro-line, Cottrell became a force to be reckoned with in the Texas elite.

 

He went on to purchase Bishop College, a Dallas-based historically Black college that was down on their luck after a funding scandal. He also sponsored the Miss Collegiate African American pageant in 1989, and hand-picked a group of investors to purchase the Texas Rangers.

 

It’s weird to think that a cultural staple in the Black community was not created by a Black person. Generally, products made for us are by us. What we are happy about is that the at-home kit put dollars back into our pockets. With the help of the Cottrell brothers, the Cottrell legacy will live on.

 

Did you know these Black hair care brands aren’t Black-owned? Read on about why we might want to go a little easier on the founders.

 

Photo via Cliff Schiappa/AP