by Troy Landrum, Jr.
Our physical bodies fade. Our spirits transition. Our legacies lay down roots. The legacies of Black entrepreneurs have been planted in the Northwest soil for many decades. These histories and legacies are being unpacked and recognized for the first time in front of our very eyes. The history of these individuals represents to us, as Black people, the trees that were already growing in our backyards. While the whole world is currently reading about these legacies, these are the stories that are passed down to us, whispered in our ears by our elders and ancestors from a very young age. These stories are a part of our fabric, our DNA. They have been one of the reasons for our survival. They are the stories that we pass down — our folklore of the heroes who pushed against resistance and produced progress, not just for an individual, but for communities.
Candace Smiley transitioned from this life on Sept. 8, 2022. Her life and work will carry on as our community’s legend, forever rooted in our soil. She was known as MzTwist for her quick hands, her retwisting locking techniques, and as a natural hair advocate. She could get a client in and out of her chair in no more than an hour, leaving customers amazed and confident once they left her studio.
That legendary name — MzTwist — was given to her by her late family friend Rashaan Philips, a local barber who Candace called brother. “Started out, $15 per head in her father’s kitchen and then from there went from shop to shop until she got her own in 2014, which she was very proud of,” says Shai’Ree Walker, her only child and sole heir of the business her mom built. Candace was in the cosmetic industry for 30-plus years, winning numerous awards and tons of community recognition, and became known as the Seattle Seahawks’ main locktician. She was a superstar for superstars.
According to her daughter, you would have never known the type of powerhouse she was. “She made you feel like you were the only person in the room. And she just treated everyone the same. It wasn’t because you have more money or you got a higher status.” Her humble demeanor, her amazing technique, along with a list of other tremendous qualities, brought customers back throughout her whole career.
Her diverse list of clientele throughout the years spoke to her focus on all types of hair and paved the way for the evangelization of natural hair. At a certain point in her career, she realized the damaging effects of chemicals on the hair, especially for Black people, and discontinued all chemical services in her shop to focus on her mission of advocating for natural hair. She created a natural oil that transformed customers’ hair and skin. In so many cultures, and especially in the Black community, hair and beauty are sensitive topics because of the history of white supremacy in the United States. We often question our own beauty and the natural textures of our hair because of what the media displays as beauty and makes clear that it is not us. MzTwist sought to change that perspective. She empowered her customers to embrace their natural beauty. She taught them that their natural hair is beautiful and deserves to be nurtured and recognized.
MzTwist’s service and entrepreneurship were akin to the spirit and philosophies of the millionaire business owner Madam C.J. Walker, whose signature hair product changed the course of what it meant to be a Black Woman in the business of cosmetology in the early 20th century. MzTwist not only had the strength of a special business owner, but had a deeper vision to teach the next generation of owners and cosmetology engineers. During the height of her journey, she brought other businesses into her space and allowed them to build their own cosmetology dreams. She gave them the blueprint to succeed with the vision that they would eventually grow out of the space she provided for them.
These particular skills are reminiscent of other local inspirations, those of Ruth Whiteside and Marie Edwards — two women who saw a need in the Seattle community and brought their vision to life. “In the late 1930s to 1940s in Seattle, a Black woman by the name of Ruth Whiteside saw the need for an institution to train Black women as cosmeticians in the Pacific Northwest. She was known with respect as ‘Madame Whiteside’ and was one of the youngest and most successful businesswomen in the region.” Seattle Green Book Self-Guided Tour, (Black & Tan Hall, 2021). Marie Edwards was Ruth’s student and eventually bought the business. “Edwards renamed the business to Marie Edwards Beauty School and moved it to 23rd Ave & Jackson Street where she continued teaching students to shape hair, but she also taught them how to shape lives.” Seattle Green Book Self-Guided Tour, (Black & Tan Hall, 2021). You combine those three women, and you have the legend and career of MzTwist. A visionary. An entrepreneur. A community pillar.
“She did everything. She was everything,” says Shai’Ree. This statement rings true to the people who encountered MzTwist’s contagious spirit. Whether she was supporting local sports events, helping you reimagine what your hair could be, hanging with family, or out and about in the community, you could feel her positive energy — an energy that the community continues to feel. The energy she possessed was unwavering even in the midst of her first bout with cancer back in 2007, during one of the most difficult periods in her life. Her faith, smile, dedication to her family, and contribution to the Seattle community held steadfast. MzTwist worked with that same energy and consistency the next 10-plus years after her first diagnosis. Her daughter learned a special lesson during that time: “You can’t be afraid to chase your dreams, do what you like, because you never know what’s going to happen, and she lived every moment to the highest peak as best as she could. She was positive. She was energetic. She was loving. She was caring. And she smiled. She smiled through it all.” Even when the cancer came back more aggressively within these last couple of months, she smiled through it.
Candace Smiley’s — MzTwist’s — legacy will be remembered. She will be cherished and represented as our community’s hero. Her impact will ripple through our lives as the breathtaking pillar that she was for those who sat in her chair, heard her loud cheers at Seattle sports arenas, and those she just simply smiled at when she saw them in the community. The life she lived will be whispered in the ears of the generations after her. She represents the soul of entrepreneurship, the soul of cosmeticians, the soul of resilience, and the soul of our Seattle community.
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Troy Landrum Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is currently a program producer for KUOW’s “Radioactive” program. He has spent the past few years as a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seward Park and recently graduated with a master’s in fine arts at the University of Washington, Bothell. Follow Troy on Twitter at @TroyLandrumJr.
📸 Featured Image: Candace Marie Smiley transitioned from this life on Sept. 8, 2022. (Photo: Erica Daniels of Emazing Photography)
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