What makes Her Campus UCT so special and unique from the other chapters is that our members, writers, and students are incredibly diverse. Each person has something beautiful and interesting about them – a story to share, a talent, or an outlook on life. We’d like to celebrate our diversity by zooming in on individuals’ stories, speaking to them about what they’re most passionate about and letting them shine on our platform. Whether it be just for a chuckle or to actually share some wise words, we’d like to introduce a new series to Her Campus UCT: Humxns of UCT.
This Humxn of UCT is Milagre ‘Mila’ Lang. She studies Computer Sciences and Philosophy, the latter of which became a major because she missed writing, talking and discussion and felt that it would give her the space to do these things. She also finds it really interesting. In her spare time she’s actually rather busy. I had a candid conversation with her about the Cape Legion of Adventurers and Wargamers (CLAWS), the table-top gaming society of which she is a committee member and former chairperson, as well as her recently-opened hair dye business called Yula Land and her willingness to constantly use her own hair as a testing ground for ideas. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Why hair dye?
[laughs] My journey of hair: Small Mila used to get her hair cut exclusively by her mother and she became too much of a pain in the ass for it, so she got sent to a hairdresser and it was horrendous! I f*ing hated it! They were always bad, it was always terrible, and I waited for the day that I finished matric so that I could dye my hair purple and cut it all off. That is what I lived for! The day I wrote my last exam, I shaved off half my hair and I dyed it f*ing purple! I had purple hair for a year. I came to UCT and I didn’t have a mom to help me shave things, and I was too scared to find a hairdresser, I started doing my own hair. I kept it purple and I was like, “This is a lot of admin but…”
I’m assuming purple is your favourite colour?
It is my favourite colour by far. The whole of first year it was purple and the dyes that we get in stores and stuff are quite expensive. It was quite an expensive thing to be doing. I went back to Grahamstown, or Makhanda, and I visited a hairdresser to ask about hair dye. She suggested that I visit this random little teenie weenie store in the middle of nowhere. When I went they had super cheap amazing dye and I started bringing it back in big bags for me and my friends. Eventually someone was like, “Why do you do people’s hair all the time and never charge anything for it?”
Image by Aleya Banwari
Ah, if you’re good at something don’t do it for free…
I was just always handing out dye like, “You always use blue dye? I have a bag of blue dye!” And then I was like, “I need money…” My friend Yulin is super good business and art wise, so she helped put together our stuff. She manages all of our money, advertising and things, and then I mainly do the bleaching and dying. We came up with a cool little brand.
How long have you been in business?
So we sort of came up with the idea before the mid-year holiday (this past holiday). I went home and bought like a f* ton of dye and I started trying to make things with it. For Pride Month we released the six Pride colours as like a “Woo-hoo this is fun! This exciting! Come do Pride things.” So it hasn’t been going for that long. Today (21 September) we got a hundred followers on Instagram. So it’s mainly still friends and stuff, but it’s going pretty well.
Where do you operate?
Either out of my room in residence, this apartment (where the interview was held), or Yulin’s digs. This morning I cut someone’s hair here. And if someone lives close by then I can go to them. That’s the thing with our brand: We’re not just selling hair dye; we wanted it to be kinda like a service. So literally if you ask us, you don’t just have to buy dye. You can ask, “I want this hair colour. How can I go from my hair colour to that hair colour?” and we will sit and give you advice. We will say, “Maybe you should tone it, maybe you can cut off the ends because they’re really bleached and it’s a lot…” And if you want us to come over we will bleach your hair, we’ll cut your hair, we’ll do whatever you want. I think it’s kind of nice to have that personalized touch.
What inspired the colours?
It was Pride. But also when Yulin and I were coming up with the plans for it, we wanted the brand to be kinda somehow different, you know? We thought, “How can we make a better brand?” And that’s where we came up with the idea of characters and we named each colour after a character.
Image by Aleya Banwari
Yeah, I figured Purple Milagre was based off you!
These two (red and purple) were our favourites so we named them Yulin and Milagre. Blue is James because I’m consistently dying my friend James’ hair blue. These three, the green, the orange and the yellow we came up with, and we wanted them to be a bit more representative. And so we came up with Nomalanga, Kamva and Mbalentle. Mbalentle was quite special for us- We’ve always been super angry because we’re both part of the emo-goth scene, and there are zero people of colour because it’s a horrible horrible scene.
They are kind of trash. And that kind of breaks our heart because that’s something we care about. We made Mbalentle the goth queen that we love! We’re trying to make our characters relatable or important to people.
Image by Aleya Banwari
You were ClawThing for 2019. How was that experience?
It was pretty good. By the time I became ClawThing I cared about CLAWS like a lot. I was on the DragonFire (a yearly convention) committee in first year, I was Vice-chair and then I was Chair. And I enjoyed the fact that I got to revamp CLAWS in a lot of ways because if you speak to a lot of people from first year and second year, they had never heard of CLAWS in their entire lives.
CLAWS went through a serious slump where nobody really cared about it. It was like, if you’re one of the old people there then you knew what was going on.
Its like you have your niche crowd and then that’s pretty much it…
And not really looking to expand. It was so sad. Our Games Nights had like five people coming a week and no one really cared about setting up, no one cared about advertising. It was just, ugh, annoying. So when I came in I was like no. And we’ve had really good clean Games Nights where we have like 50 people there consistently which is really nice. We’ve had more events than ever before, lots of GMs or Game Masters who run our games, more people joining to run games consistently. And we’ve diversified so much! Again, not great still, I’m not claiming that by any standards CLAWS is good at this point, but there is more than one womxn and more than one POC. So, we’ve started to get better. Like in the last couple of years, there were no womxn or POCs anywhere.
It is a common complaint we all hear about and experience in “Nerd Spaces”. How did you deal with it?
It was a nightmare, a nightmare! Coming into the space and being one of three womxn, was horrible. It’s not a look, hey. There had been issues and I knew the reputation of CLAWS. Terrible things had happened. There were horrible misogynists that were in places of power and had to be kicked out and it was just… It was tense. But it’s getting better, we’re definitely getting better at making people aware of patriarchal norms and their own misogyny. There were a lot of people who, if they weren’t the problem, were not paying attention to the fact that there was a problem, you know? Making the men around me aware that this was an issue was also quite an important step. For instance, we were working with a couple of vendors, and the vendor would come in and talk to everyone else but me. Or they would come in while I was head of LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) and they would come in – some big man who would come up to me and be like, “Do you know what LARPing really is? How long have you been LARPing? Do you know these LARPers?”
Point is, now we don’t associate with those people, which is a good thing- The fact that the gaming stores that we have been building relationships with (which we’ve been working really hard on this year) are nice people, not trash and speak to me too like I am a person. Woo-hoo!
Yay! What next, the vote?
Luckily for us, there have been some amazing people coming up in the game stores because the board gaming community is not great. But we’ve been working with the people that matter. So this year has been good proof of the diversification. Our new comm, which is six people extended from four, is majority womxn and has a POC on there. And that’s like never happened.
And all within three years? That’s a lot of change!
Exactly. It’s not good yet, but we’re getting there. In the conversations we’ve had as a committee, they’ve all been instituting policies about bringing in ways to deal with people who are doing things we don’t accept anymore, you know, making our culture more inclusive and accepting. So as I am now the RPG (Role-player games) and LARP coordinator, “The Adventurer’s Advocate”, something I’m working quite hard on is creating Game Master resources. We’re going to have lists of standards that we want them to meet that involve protecting their players, asking for pronouns and respecting them. We’re even looking at making character sheets that has not just your name and your pronouns.
Image by Aleya Banwari
That’s really dope!
We’re hoping that these mistakes don’t happen anymore because it is a problem we’re acknowledging and we want to speak to everyone instead of occasionally shitting on some GM who fucked up, being like “this is our set of standards and if you can’t meet them you need to leave.” We’re [also] coming up with a system of how to do that: how we work with warnings and what a serious offense counts as because we haven’t had that formally put down how to deal with issues when they arise because we’re not sure what to but something has to be done!
I like that! I like the fact that you’re putting things down for people, like, “here are the standards, welcome to 2019…”
We’re also planning to have workshops to explain why these are our standards and people need to be aware of these and accept that. It’s especially difficult because CLAWS has an incredibly strong alumni which is mainly white men, and that’s why our Games Nights look so different to our conventions. Because that’s where a lot of our alumni come through and especially this year because it was our 30th anniversary DragonFire. It was great but it was considerably less diverse than CLAWS is becoming.
Maybe it was sort of a reality check…
Yeah it was! It was quite shocking to sit there because I’d become used to a better looking CLAWS, and now I was like, “Oh, still got issues, still not great.” I said I was always into LARPing from first year and the reason wasn’t because I had more experience or knowledge about it than RPGs, it was literally because the alumni who were helping with it were womxn. And all of the RPG men were horrible! I want to give people role models when they come into CLAWS.
Like the option to choose what they wanna do?
Exactly. And you can see people in whatever you’re doing that are great and amazing, and you can be like, “Ja that’s cool.” I think previously it was a disservice; I want people to come into CLAWS knowing NOTHING, and being like, “That’s what I want to do because I feel like it, not because I’m terrified of the others.”
It also decreases the gatekeeping.
Gatekeeping is horrible! I am so tired of big scary white men being like, “Uuuhhhh do you know this and blah blah blah…”
Like you have to prove yourself.
And that’s so silly! A lot of my friends starting GMing really early on and it took me a long time to get the courage to start running my own games. I think it was partially because people kept questioning me and made me feel like I didn’t know enough to even begin running my own games. It took me a long time to get over this block and it was quite a big deal for me to get over that. I hate to think that we’re bringing people in to make them feel bad about themselves. That’s terrible. I want people to come in, play one game and be like, “Yep, I’m writing a whole new setting lets go!” – it’s all about the creativity. We want a CLAWS collective where people are writing their own games and getting rid of the trashy racist, sexist old systems that we don’t wanna play. That’s the reality; they have cool mechanics or cool setting descriptions, but not any of the other things that have been put in there. It’s really all about guiding people. Like, “Look at this, look at how pretty this future is, let’s head that way”, instead of letting people muddle forward which is what we’ve been doing for like 30 years.
Okay, the all-important-final question, ready: Who would win in a fight between Brendon Urie and Gerard Way?
[gasp] OH MY GOD! You see, there’s Brendon Urie who’s high energy, but there’s the complete power of emo-gothness from Gerard Way… I think if you pegged up Danger Days Gerard Way with the bright red hair, he would win anything. Literally any fight ever.
I think emo Gerard Way would just fully lie down and be like “kill me, bye.”
If you are thinking about dying your hair and have nowhere to turn, just check out Yula Dye on Instagram. Slide into their DMs for prices and advice.