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Sharon Thompson


'If You Can Style European Hair, You Can Also Style Afro'

"It’s just a matter of having the interest," Sharon Thompson, the International Marketing Manager for McBride Research Laboratories.

BY Agnes Amondi

May 09, 2023, 10:52 AM

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Sharon Thompson
Sharon Thompson is the International Marketing Manager for McBride Research Laboratories, a family-run black American-owned business based in Atlanta Georgia and Manufacturer of the Design Essentials® brand of hair care products.

Amongst her roles are marketing and business development management throughout the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa). 

Sharon has dedicated the better part of her career to working with black-owned companies, having previously worked with two businesses with a similar focus, and taking pride in working for brands that elevate the Black community.

“I am happy that I have used my expertise to help elevate black-owned companies, which focus on our well-being whilst helping to support small businesses worldwide," Sharon told YAZA Kenya.

"We have a salon professional haircare systems through which we provide education to stylists & salon owners and our home use systems, which are mainly for naturally wavy & curly hair, targeting consumers with these hair types throughout the region,” she added.
Design Essentials Home Maintenance System
Moreover, through McBride Research Labs’ sponsorship of  Pavillon Afriques at the Cannes Film Festival, Sharon spearheads support with their Design Essentials brand. This gives them the opportunity to collaborate with producers and filmmakers. 

It also enables those in front of the camera, the actors, presenters and guests with African-type and curly hair, to engage with products and hair stylists that cater to their hair and provide authentic products for placement on set to suit the relevant setting.

We spoke at length with Sharon about this and much more. Read all about it below.

What made you venture into the industry?

I was headhunted. Before, I was working in advertising and sales management as well as being a Fashion Designer producing my swimsuit range, Sharon Monique Swimwear, (I have a fashion design degree also), that I was supplying to stores in the UK and Jamaica. 

During my time working as an Advertising Manager for a Jamaican weekly paper in the UK which is owned by a Jamaican broadsheet paper called The Gleaner, I was connected to all the hair care companies that advertised and promoted their products in the paper.

One of them approached me to join them as their International Sales & Marketing Manager because they thought I was the ideal person to replace the previous person with this title, as she was migrating.

I was hesitant at first because my dream was to go back to Jamaica and set up a factory manufacturing my swimwear and exporting it to the UK, Caribbean, and Miami amongst other places. 

Nonetheless, I took up the position and it evolved as extremely engaging and rewarding.

What’s your experience with your hair?

When I was much younger I had my hair relaxed, wore it naturally at some point, and I also permed it. Now, due to convenience, because my job requires a lot of travelling and is demanding, I wear protective styles that make it easy to maintain. That said, on more relaxed occasions like when on vacation, my natural hair will be out.

When you talk about texture and types of hair, what do you mean?

Africans and descendants of Africa have different curl patterns, and types which need different maintenance, styling and finishing products to get the proper effect.
Design Essentials Agave & Lavender Silk Press collection
Sometimes, the consumer doesn’t realise that there are specific products that work better collaboratively to achieve their desired results. 

Our job is to help them better understand their hair. We do this with an expert team of international educators and styling teams and through exhibitions, seminars, and shows during which we demonstrate how you can care for your hair, maintain it, and what hair products to use to get the best results.

How do you collaborate with the film industry?

Within the film industry, we liaise with performers and actors' hairstylists by supporting them with the products and knowledge on the products needed for diverse hair types, which may be wavy or curly and of African texture

We mainly engage with the actors' stylists and producers but for some theatre and wig & makeup departments in the United Kingdom, we've directly worked with the actors.  

Which stylists have you liaised with?

Camille Friend, the stylist who styled the hair of the actors in the feature film ‘Wakanda Forever’ is an ambassador of Design Essentials and an Emmy Award-winning Hollywood Stylist.

She used our Design Essentials African Chebe Hair Growth Collection, which we launched to coincide with the launch of the movie. We are very proud of that. 
Design Essentials for Natural Hair Almond & Avocado Collection
In a recent James Bond movie, one of our team members used our Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Collection for naturally curly hair and suitable for every hair type, as it adds moisture and helps with detangling, to style the hair of the black female actress in the movie. 

Recently, we did a documentary on BBC 1 TV in the UK, as Afro and textured hair were not part of the national curriculum for hairdresser training.

Students left college as trained stylists after two to three years, without having touched hair like ours. This is a disservice to the student because of the diaspora community in the UK who have these hair types. 

We supported the efforts of HABIA, the Hair & Beauty Industry Authority, to lobby the UK Government for this to be changed, and as of June 2021, wavy & curly hair types are part of the curriculum.

How about Africa?

We have distribution for the Design Essentials brand in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, across Southern Africa, & Nigeria, which support our efforts to liaise with Stylists in this market.

There are also two large partnerships we have in the continent that hopefully increases our engagement with filmmakers and producers.

Our team works as the artistic hairstylists for ‘Africa Fashion Reception’ a nationwide event showcasing African Designers, produced by Legendary Gold;

For the first time this year, we are earmarked to support ‘Africa’s Next Top Model’ by Isis Models International. 

This is why we also sponsor ‘Pavillon Afriques’, spearheaded by Karine Barclais, so we can build awareness of who we are and what we can offer in terms of hair, to the film industry, which helps and supports the producers and their actors.

What’s the difference now from when you started?

There is a big difference. The film industry has significantly evolved when it comes to diversity which makes it an even more exciting prospect to support.

When you look at the movies being produced in different parts of the world, it is clear that they have a high proportion of actors and actresses of African descent, which has led to increasing demand for products which cater to their hair, and we are proud to be in a position to support that demand.  

How did your collaboration with Pavillon Afriques come about?

When Karine Barclais started Pavillon Afriques, she always knew that she wanted to have a hair brand because hair and make-up are a big part of the behind-the-scenes activity within the film industry.

She approached us and it was a great opportunity to share our message and offerings with the producers and directors so that they would be fully aware of what we had to offer, and we have continued to support Ms Barclais and Pavillion Afriques since then. 

As a company, McBride Research Laboratories supports the growth of others and sponsoring Pavillion Afriques is one of the ways we are able to do this.

How has your work impacted things? 
Design Essentials Scalp Care Oils Collection
It’s definitely impacted things because we are bringing these issues to the fore and helping to change the narrative. 

Before, people walked into salons and couldn’t have their hair managed because of the narrative that our hair is difficult to manage. However, we are saying that it’s not difficult, you just have to take the time to learn about it.  

A few years ago, there was an actor who was so pleased to see us in one of the panels at Pavillion Afriques because she was tired of not getting the services she wanted on set for her hair.

The message is, if you are a stylist and can work on European hair, you can also work on Afro and textured hair. It’s just a matter of having the interest to do so. 

With A-List actors like Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis walking the red carpet in their natural hair, does this signal a long-lasting change or is it a trend that will die out?

It’s not only about wearing your hair naturally but about wearing your hair the way it suits you, and how you define yourself at that moment in time. 

This can change from day to day or week to week, but the important thing is that if your choice is to rock your natural hair, you should feel empowered to wear it.   

What’s your best hairstyle when you are not busy and have all the time in the world to do your hair?

I’d probably have my natural hair out, styled and finished with the appropriate and relevant Design Essentials product, and create some coils.

When you're not wearing your natural hair, what’s your best protective hairstyle?

Braids, wigs or crochet faux locs, but I still care for my hair underneath and have it cleansed, conditioned and prepared regularly to maintain the health of the hair. 

What’s your message to girls struggling with their hair?

Embrace your hair and get as much information as possible about caring for it because your hair is beautiful and versatile. It’s not difficult to maintain; you just need to nourish it, using quality products and keep up with techniques that will help you in your styling journey. 

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