Cipriana Quann : We grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, but we’ve lived in New York for about a decade now. When we first came to New York, we were scouted on the street by a model agent. I made it into a career for 10 years, but my sister, TK, absolutely hated it. I didn’t enjoy it either, but I was better at hiding it than she was.
My hair was a big concern for the majority of my jobs. They either wanted me to straighten it or turn it into a looser curl, because I have afro-texture hair. As a model, I understand that you’re supposed to be a canvas for the client to create the look that they think is beautiful and will sell, but I had to go home looking that way at night and it was really impacting my self-esteem. I just didn’t feel that it was right, so I decided that I needed to get out of that business.
I started Urban Bush Babes with my friend Nikisha Brunson as a platform where women could feel comfortable being themselves. We wanted to focus on things like beauty and fashion, but also on arts and culture and interesting interviews. Then, a few years later, my sister joined as one of the major contributors on the site.
TK Quann : I really became involved when the site covered our first New York Fashion Week. Photographers will pay attention to our site because of how we style ourselves and how we showcase vintage finds that don't break the bank. That's how things really snowballed for us. I'll cover that, and then I'll write music and opinion pieces as well. Beyond being a writer, I also rap, sing, and write songs now. I’ve opened for N.E.R.D, Erykah Badu, and a bunch of others.
Cipriana : So much of our inspiration comes from people like Solange, Diane Keaton, Lisa Bonet, and Shingai Shoniwa from the Noisettes—and our mom! She has always been super fashionable. She used to dress us is the greatest outfits, but our interest in fashion didn’t really start until we came to New York.
TK : When I first moved, I used to wear crazy stuff like zebra print skirts and goth over-the-knee boots and a sequined skull t-shirt. I look back and think, ‘She had a lot of confidence.’ I’ve always been comfortable with myself. I think the greatest thing about fashion is that it’s really not about pleasing other people. It’s about how you feel.
Cipriana : The first beauty advice I ever received was from my dad. He told me to make sure to keep my hands off my face, because that’s how you get breakouts.
These days, our products are very similar. We both use Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps in Almond and Peppermint. You can use it for your body and face. It’s great because it’s organic and moisturizing. We also love coconut oil. We use Organic Virgin Coconut Oil from Spectrum or Nature’s Way—you can get it at Whole Foods. It’s multipurpose, so we use it on our hair, to moisturize our faces, and then also as a makeup remover. We love beauty, but in a minimalist way.
TK : Everything my sister said is true, plus water! I think that’s really the secret to great skin, but a lot of people take it for granted. A lot of times when we do photo shoots, the makeup artist will tell us we have good skin, and we’ll say, ‘We drink a lot of water.’ When you fuel your body in a healthy way, it shows on the outside.
Cipriana : Diet and exercise are important to us, too. My gym opens at 6am, so I get up a 5am every morning to work out. Sometimes 4am if I need to write something. Exercise is so great because it releases endorphins, and we sweat all the bad stuff out, which is fundamental to beauty.
TK : My motto is ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ If you find something that works for you, you don’t need to try anything else. When it comes to soap and body wash, I’m not that adventurous. But when it comes to makeup, that’s another thing.
Cipriana : We love & Other Stories. They have this fantastic Demi Matt Lip Colour that doesn’t peel or make your lips dry. They have a great Concealer Quad as well, especially for women of color. I mix two colors in the Dark palette to get my right shade. It’s cream-based, doesn’t cake, and is super light. You only need a little. We don’t really wear foundation, but if we have a pimple or something, we do concealer. We’ll also put a little bit of powder on top to take the shine off. In terms of color makeup, lip color is our thing. We just love it. I gravitate toward pinks. Fuchsia and red are usually my night colors. I wear Nars Velvet Gloss Lip Pencil in Mexican Rose or Marc Jacobs Le Marc Lip Crème in Oh Miley 200. I love more natural tones like mauves and pinks during the day . TK is more adventurous. She’ll try the eccentric tones and they look great on her, but I stick to my favorites.
TK : I love all lipstick. I’ll wear any color that works for my skin tone. I think Wet N Wild MegaLast Lip Color is great because you can choose a color and experiment with it to see if you would want to buy that shade in a more expensive brand later. Makeup can get expensive, so it’s good to play with lower budget lipstick.
I have thicker brows, but I overtweezed one brow when I was younger, so they’re uneven. I always say that my left eyebrow needs to grow up. My trick for filling them in is to use L’Oréal’s Voluminous Power Volume 24 Hour Waterproof Mascara. I used to use a brow pencil when I performed, and at the end of the night, I’d look in the mirror and find my eyebrow was gone. So now I use waterproof—it doesn’t come off until I wash it off.
Cipriana : For my brows, I tend to use just a clear mascara from Maybelline. Mine are bushy—or thick and fabulous!—so during the summertime, they get wavy like my hair, and I need a mascara to hold them down.
TK : I love a smoky eye. I’ll use a black powder liner to outline my eyes and then take a thicker black pencil to shade over the powder and make it darker. For the lid, I use a bronze powder and then blend it all together. L’Oréal makes a good black eyeshadow, their Infallible Smokissime Powder Eyeliner Pen, and they have a nice mix of eye shadow colors, too.
Cipriana : And then there’s the hair.
TK : When we were younger, we really idolized our mom. She had this beautiful natural hair. I can’t really recall any other black women wearing their hair that way besides our mom. And then one day she had it processed and we were like ‘Oh, we want to look like mom.’ So we had our hair processed, which means using chemicals to make it straighter. Then our dad decided it was too expensive, and he wasn’t going to pay for it anymore. So I grew out my natural hair a few inches, chopped off the processed strands, and wore my hair in cornrows for a while until it grew it. For me, it was just hair. I was 16 or 17, so I didn’t really think too much about it. I always felt comfortable.
I remember getting a lot of flack for it in Maryland. This was before the natural hair movement, so people weren’t as accepting. And then I came to New York, and people didn’t care. No one judges you here.
Cipriana : As I mentioned, I felt very insecure about my hair when I was modeling. I was envious of my sister’s freedom. I’m not sure if I hated my hair, but I definitely didn’t like it. My sister only did it once, but I processed my hair multiple times and one time it all fell out. I called my sister crying. It was a very traumatic experience. I can laugh about it now, but it took me years to really love my hair. For me, hair is a physical manifestation of my self-confidence. So the more comfortable I become, the bigger my hair gets. My updos came about because I was feeling so confident and loved my hair so much that I decided to really go for it. I wasn’t hiding anymore.
I think the natural hair movement is getting a lot of traction because of social media. It’s helping to break barriers and give people access to platforms they didn’t have a few years ago. Now, young girls see images of women of all colors and shapes and hair textures, and I think it’s really inspiring everyone to be braver. It’s not just about hair—it’s also about feeling comfortable and being yourself and saying to the world, 'Here I am. If you don’t like it, tough luck.' It’s great to see women celebrating all forms of beauty and not just the one ideal.
For styling, I don’t really use many products. I have jojoba and coconut oils, and that’s pretty much it. I do the same thing every day. I take my hair down at night and braid it into six or seven large braids. My hair is in twists. A lot of people think that our hair is 'locked, because it’s so thick and because of the texture of it, but it’s not.
Natural hair is work and the longer your hair is, the more work it is. I’m not saying that it’s difficult to manage, but it is work—especially detangling. That’s the only part that takes a long time. We finger detangle. No brushes or combs. Finger detangling is a more natural way, and it’s easier because our hair is super fine even though it’s very dense. People get confused and say that our hair is thick and we’re like, ‘Yeah, our hair is thick, but the individual strands are very fine.’ Detangling by hand takes longer, but it saves you from breakage. It’s worked for years, and we have gotten so good at it that now I can actually take a comb and run it through my hair after I’m finished detangling.
TK : When we were modeling, the hairstylists we worked with never knew how to handle natural hair, so I think we were traumatized by that. I remember at a gig once, a woman was tugging so hard, and my hair was all over the floor. From then on, we always did it ourselves. I’ve been almost 12 years natural, and no one is going to know how to work with my hair better than I do.
Cipriana : It requires a lot of patience, so we’d rather do our own hair and do it right.
TK : And for people who don’t know natural hair, a braid-out is when you braid your natural hair, you wash it, and then you unbraid it once it’s dry so that it has this textured, ripple effect.
Cipriana : I put my hair in loose twists rather than tight-formed twists. Sometimes, I’ll do a braid out and then put in the twists. I can style my hair any way I want, I just choose to wear one style because it’s easier for me and I like it. We’re creatures of habit. As we said before, if it works, why change it?
TK : If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Cipriana : Exactly.
—as told to ITG
Cipriana & TK Quann photographed by Tom Newton in New York on March 27, 2015.
Aurora James continues the conversation on processed vs. natural hair in her Top Shelf.
For more sisters, check out Darlene and Lizzy Opko's Top Shelf.
Then, read about Alexandra Spencer's start with her own lifestyle site, 4th and Bleeker.