Plus, why she used to use a popular sandwich condiment in her hair. 

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Tracee Ellis Ross Pattern
Credit: Courtesy of Pattern

Tracee Ellis Ross grew up in a family "with a lot of hair," as she puts it. And when you grow up surrounded by brilliant Black women — ahem, her superstar mother, the incomparable Diana Ross, who was also a natural hair pioneer in her heyday — hair tends to be a frequent topic of conversation. So naturally, we wanted to ask her all about it.

When we spoke to the black-ish actress and fashion icon over the phone last week, she recounted old memories of her family's hair rituals growing up — remembering the influence both her mother and grandmother had on her perception of natural hair. "My grandma [would] line all the cousins up outside of the fancy bathroom downstairs at her house [on] conditioning day, and she would lay us on the sink in the bathroom, put our head in the sink, wash our hair, and then fill it with mayonnaise."

But despite growing up with Black female role models, Tracee tells us that it wasn't until the 10th grade when she fully embraced her natural texture. Partially because besides her family and a few other trailblazing women, (she lists Neneh Cherry, Radon Chong, Cree Summer, and Lisa Bonet) she didn't see a whole lot of other Black women wearing their hair natural.

Now, the black-ish star is changing the narrative of Black hair in Hollywood, not only by wearing it herself on the red carpet, but also with her wildly successful hair care line Pattern, which is celebrating its second year anniversary next month.

"I think one of the underlying missions for me, as the CEO and founder of Pattern, is to really change the understanding in the retail and beauty industry that Black haircare is a niche market," she tells us. "Because I disagree, and I think the growth of Pattern is evidence that that is really not the case." Which explains why Ross isn't planning on slowing down any time soon.

On Aug. 24, the brand announced that it's expanding its retail horizons to the highly-coveted shelf space of Sephora, across both the U.S. and Canada online at sephora.com starting today, Aug. 24, and in stores on Sept. 9. "Let's call it the Sephora panache," Ross laughs.

"There's a three-handed mission to the brand," she explains. "Number one: to meet the needs of the curly, coily, and tight-textured community, and really offer products that are effective. Also, to be an active space of celebrating Black beauty and authentic beauty. And the other is to be in an ongoing dialogue with the community that we serve, so that we are uplifting and empowering in any aspect that we can that's an extension of the brand."

Along with the news of going into Sephora, Pattern is also expanding their product arsenal with a new styling custard, available Sept. 13. And as Ross tells us, it's as good for your hair as it makes it look, with ingredients like flax seed oil, Irish moss, chamomile, and agave making up the ingredient list. Plus, it's Pattern's first product that is totally kid-tested.

"What we really wanted to do was create a product that would work for all ages," Ross tells us. "It's lightweight, it's slippery, it makes the hair easier to manipulate and braid. It's great for kids and adults."

Ross also reveales that even she, queen of creative hairstyles, was blown away by the product's abilities. "I had never used a custard before, and when we started sampling it, I was like 'Oh my god, look at the curls and the way they are popping!'"

Tracee Ellis Ross Pattern
Credit: Courtesy of Pattern

Pattern news aside, Ross has long worked to normalize natural hair and often painted the picture of a Black woman's hair journey through her characters like Bow on the hit sitcom black-ish, and even in the early 2000s when she played Joan Carol Clayton on Girlfriends.

"I've been wearing my hair in cornrows since I knew that that was called a cornrow. I think it's really authentic to those women, and particularly to Bow Johnson. She's got five kids, she's a doctor, she is a wife, she's got a lot on her plate," she says. "I don't do a lot of zhooshing to myself as a character — I mean my clothes are little fantastic — because I try really hard to make it seem like that's a hair style that I did, or that I went to the salon to get it done and I'll have it in for a little bit. I like to play women who feel authentic and feel like someone you would know and doesn't feel so out of reach."

Ross's efforts to authenticate Bow have proven to come through to audiences, time and time again. For the fifth (!!) year in a row, Ross is nominated for an Emmy for her outstanding work on black-ish. And COVID-permitting, the actress is excited to dress up and get back on the red carpet — just don't ask her what she's got planned for her hair on the special night. She's still trying to figure that one out.

"I mean I'm nominated for an Emmy," she says. "I was excited I got nominated, but my first thought was, 'What about my hair?!'"

This is All Natural. From the kinkiest coils to loose waves, we're celebrating natural hair in its many forms by sharing expert tips for styling, maintenance, and haircare.