Amber Montalvo ’20 recently guided me through the journey of starting her lifestyle brand, “Love Me Natural,” her inspirations, and her advice for Trin’s upcoming class of 2024. To get to know her a little better, I first asked Amber about her major and her extracurricular activities:
At Trinity, my major is education, with a focus on education and power. I am involved with the Trinity College’s Black Women Organization (T.C.B.W.O), and I am a barista at Peter B’s. Off-campus I am remotely interning for “Embrace Her Legacy,” based in NYC. “Embrace Her Legacy,” is a non-profit personal development organization dedicated to equipping women and girls with the tools needed to overcome internal and external challenges in fulfilling a purpose-driven legacy.
As the founder of her lifestyle brand, “Love Me Natural,” I was curious to know what her inspiration was for her first-ever event back in 2017?
It started with a T.C.B.W.O event my sophomore year. We held an event called “Love Me Natural,” and at the time I had just transitioned to wearing my hair curly full time, and my curls had been revived from heat damage. The event was a space for women on campus who had the intention of going natural, or were curious about it, to learn about my journey. I loved the event. I wanted more people to feel more comfortable wearing their natural hair. I used to straighten my hair because I felt like it stood out too much.
Amber was unaware of what the event would morph into. What was supposed to be a one-time event, flourished into a lifestyle brand. This blooming occurred after Amber spent time studying abroad in Amsterdam. ? She reflects on this pivotal change for her and her brand:
In the Spring of 2019, I went abroad to Amsterdam. It also happened to be Women’s History Month, so I wanted to do something with the small community of international students at the student hotel I was living in. I decided I was going to do a second natural hair event in Amsterdam, except this time, instead of doing beautification of hair, I organized a workshop focusing on the politics of black hair globally. I brought in women from around the Netherlands. I direct messaged people, I posted flyers and invited people from Amsterdam who had networks and similar interests. We all ended up coming together in this office space and shared our different experiences with our hair. It was powerful. I was in a different country and the women around me were from different countries. They gave me a perspective I didn’t have back home. The purpose wasn’t for me to come into the space and teach, it was really for women to get to know each other and discuss why black hair is important globally. After getting positive responses from that event, I knew I needed to keep doing the work, because I saw the importance of it, and recognized how good it felt. The brand grew from there. I eventually did various workshops in NYC, created an Instagram page and YouTube channel, and now the brand is also active on campus.
How do you see “Love Me Natural” thriving on Trin’s campus, and into the future once you graduate?
I have two ambassadors right now who are going to help when I graduate: freshmen Keanny Correia ’23 and Jason Farrell Jr., ’23. They reached out to me wanting to be part of the mission. That’s who I want to be involved with this brand, people who are genuinely interested in the idea of the “Love Me Natural” lifestyle.
Initially, I held workshops last semester, but now I hold consultations for women who are interested in the natural hair transition process, or who have questions about being confident in their natural skin, and with their hair. There are various levels of the journey for many people, and I work with them one-on-one so I can learn their story, and tailor my advice to them specifically.
I was curious about how Amber personalizes her consultations for people. So, I asked her what a typical consultation looks like.
Prospective clients email me with interest, and typically, I will send a form to understand what their full needs are, because often, it’s not just about hair, it’s about skincare as well. The form allows me to understand what the client wants to talk about, and what stage they are at with their natural hair so I can tailor to their needs. Then we will set up a time and a location to meet. I have had sessions in public spaces, like Peter B’s, but I have also had sessions that are in private spaces. I understand that this can be a sensitive topic for some people. It’s not always easy talking about self-confidence, about Blackness, or being Black on Trin’s campus. Everything during the consultation process is up to the client.
I asked Amber, who has inspired her current projects?
I am inspired by my mentor and boss, Maria I. Melendez, who is the founder of “Embrace Her Legacy.” She is a boss because she is unapologetic about being herself. I have been with her in spaces that have been professional and casual, but in all these different areas she is the same, and I love that. I am trying to do that myself—to be comfortable being myself in every space that I am in. Watching Maria achieve that level of comfort and confidence is very inspiring. In terms of celebrities, I am inspired by Yara Shahidi, because she is also unapologetically herself. She is using her platform to be a scholar, an activist, a model, and she’s Black. I am rooting for every Black woman.
With the global pandemic and spread of COVID-19, I asked Amber how her projects, like the anticipated Hair Gala, which had been slated for April 2020, will be adapted?
“New Growth: The Hair Gala” was scheduled for Saturday, April 11, [but had to be cancelled] so I was feeling low on that day. However, I shared @loveme.natural.official behind-the-scenes footage on Instagram and YouTube that day, as a way to leave the community with something until the final show can be held. Editing the footage not only made me feel good, but it motivated me to use this time to improve the initiative. The Gala will now be held at a later date, still to be determined. I don’t have solidified details to share with the public as of yet.
The “Love Me Natural” team is also increasing our online engagement. We currently have free one-on-one consultations. The consultations are a chance for our clients to receive hair-care remedies tailored to their lifestyle and hair, and guidance in feeling confident if they are new to the natural hair journey. But, you don’t have to be new to the journey to sign up. If you have questions about your hair, or you just want to share your story with us, sign-up. The link is located in the bio on our Instagram page, which is the best way to engage with “Love Me Natural”—follow us on Instagram. As for me, the brand keeps me hopeful. Speaking with clients is the highlight of my week. I can openly say that I am fighting depressive episodes, like many of you. I just take it day by day and am grateful for every moment where I feel energized. I am healthy, and that matters most right now.
What are you grateful for about your time at Trin?
I am grateful for the tools that were available to me, such as the darkroom, the media labs, and the studios. I didn’t grow up with resources like that, and I’ve always had an interest in dancing and videography, but I never had the space to do it. I wish I had gotten into videography and dancing sooner, but I am glad that I can do that now and use it for what I can.
What advice do you wish you had heard as a first-year, and what advice do you have for the class of 2024?
The advice I am about to give is advice someone gave me, and I wish I had listened to them. So, I hope someone listens to me: Do not define yourself according to your social group or according to a specific space, like Trin. I know it’s hard, but be aware of how you are growing according to the space you are in all the time and try your hardest to step off campus and try new things so that you continue to grow. Your freshman year, when you are 18-years-old going to college, you have so much growing to do. You don’t know who you are going to be once you become a senior. You are so impressionable which means you have to be super intentional about what is influencing you, and what is influencing your values, even if it’s just about changing your hairstyle, or the way you dress. Be cognizant about what’s making you change, because you are going to look back and be like, “wow I don’t know who that person was,” or, “wow, I’m happy I was around those people and I’m more mindful now.”
Amber left me with this final piece of advice:
I used to be super sensitive about being misunderstood. People are going to judge you, of course, but my number one pet peeve was being misjudged. I have learned that you can’t control other people and what is being perceived. That’s just how it’s going to be. So, don’t be sorry about the decisions you make to be yourself or express yourself.