“I grew up Dominican and we love hair,” she tells HipLatina. “From the time you’re born, you start to learn about hair.” The Dominican-born, Miami-raised Cordero says that when she was nine, she was inducted into an age-old rite of passage: getting her first relaxer.
“Every Dominicana knows that the relaxer is just a part of growing up,” she said. “You straighten your hair because you want to be a proper young lady.”
But Lulu noticed that though she was taught to love her African heritage, though the community around her tried to preserve their traditions and roots, that didn’t extend to her curly hair.
“There was always a stigma attached,” she said. “To this day, there’s still a stigma attached to having your big, natural, afro curly hair.”
Still, old habits die hard and Lulu kept straightening her hair — as many women of color know, it’s just what you do. It wasn’t until 2004 that Lulu decided it was time for a change. She wanted to make positive changes in her life and live a “healthier, cleaner, greener life.”
When she started examining her hair products — especially ones geared towards women of color — she realized that they were full of chemicals. That was a natural tipping point for Lulu: she tossed her relaxers. But while the decision felt seamless to her, the backlash from friends and family surprised her. “I was not ready for the negativity that was going to come my way,” she explained. “It was being treated like an act of rebellion.”
The criticism only strengthened Lulu’s resolve to go natural and “show how amazing and how great the pajón is,” she says. “While it started off as a decision to do it for health reasons, it morphed into, you know, ‘I am declaring that my pajon is beautiful! I am declaring that my big curls are beautiful! You’re going to have to deal.’”
Eventually, people did deal — and once they saw how healthy and happy Lulu was, they started noticing her hair transformation. “My mom even stopped relaxing her hair,” she said. “That was the best thing, just to see my mom, who’s old-school DR, embracing new-school DR.”
Lulu started experimenting with old-school natural hair recipes, tweaking them to fit her curls. When friends and family saw how healthy her hair was, they started asking her for the secret ingredient — and Bomba Curls was born.
Bomba Curl’s flagship product, Dominican Forbidden Oil, is a lightweight oil formulated with coffee seed and castor oil to promote a healthy scalp and hair growth. While there’s just the one product so far, Lulu says she’s working on a deep conditioner next which is tentatively set to launch this winter.
Part of Bomba Curls’ larger mission isn’t just to help women achieve healthy hair; it’s also to “broaden the representation of us, of the Latino community, because we’re a rainbow, and I want to make sure people experience all the sazón that we bring,” Lulu said.
It’s well-known that Latinas spend a lot of money on beauty products. One 2015 Nielsen study reports that the Latinx community consistently “over-index,” meaning they spend money more frequently than the general population when it comes to beauty and health products.
But it’s also true that beauty products for women of color, especially Afro-Latinas and black women, are often relegated to the sidelines of beauty stores, confined to one lonely “ethnic” aisle.
It’s not just beauty products. Within the Latinx community, too, there is a long history of segregation, colorism, and racism that permeates almost every aspect of society. Every Latina is familiar with the concept of “pelo malo vs pelo bueno.”
As Lulu points out, almost every lead actress in Latin American movies or telenovelas is a white or light-skinned Latina — you almost never see an Afro-Latina as the star. Afro-Latinas are left off the covers of magazines and out of the national conversation around politics, music, art, culture.
However, things are slowly changing. The response to Bomba Curls has been largely positive, which might be a result of the fact that society —especially media — has more recently taken notice of the fight for representation.
“We’re gaining more visibility,” Lulu said. “People are excited to see themselves represented in our brand, and I think that’s helped to propel us to bigger and better things.”
She adds: “I’m happy to see that this generation is being met with more support – and I want to be a part of that support system, and encourage them, and uplift them… and help them embrace all that they are and their curls and see that that is beautiful.”