HomieLoverFriend made a comment the other day that made me look at this “natural hair movement” in a new light. As he watched me twist my hair one night, he said “It’s good that you can do your hair on your own for the most part, but your hairdresser must hate that.”
A lightbulb went off.
Compared to when I was relaxed, my schedule for patronizing salons has gotten less and less frequent. When I was relaxed, I wisely left complex chemical treatments to the pros, but also relied much more on the skill of my favourite stylist to keep me looking good. After I transitioned and started wearing my hair naturally, a lack of competent stylists plus a desire to learn for myself led me to do more at home. Many naturals have echoed the same motivation to become reacquainted with their own hair, and to save money that was spent more regularly at salons – but what does this mean for salons catering to natural Black hair?
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HLF’s comment inspired me to speak with the owners and stylists at a few salons that cater to natural – or more commonly termed “curly” – hair salons. There were some common themes. Because stylists and owners saw more and more Black women returning to their natural textures, and because they heard the complaints that traditional salons were not skilled in natural hair, they were driven to fill that niche. In doing so, they worked to create salons that were open and knowledgeable, giving an alternative to salons that saw you walk in with kinks and expected you wanted to walk out with a perm.
The reality for many of these salons is that Black women who’ve become self-sufficient rarely frequent their salons, and usually choose to only do so for complex or special occasion styles. To avoid being too narrow in niche, many salons have branded themselves towards “curly hair” versus the specific “natural hair” label – and this has widened the net of clientele. One stylist told me “We opened this salon for Black women, but they don’t come because they can do their hair on their own now.” Another explained that women of other races make more regular hair appointments, therefore they ensure that their marketing is inclusive of all kinds of curly hair. Could I necessarily blame them? When asked what I love about wearing my hair naturally, one of my top answers is the fact that now I can do my hair on my own (for the most part). Multiply that emotion by the number of women who have also transitioned and feel similarly, and it’s clear that natural/curly hair salons might be feeling the pinch.
Now, I’d clearly be lying if I attempted to act like I didn’t need the pros. There are simply certain things that I can’t (and likely never will) do on my own. A good stylist also knows the science of hair, and can help my hair health in a way that even the best blog post or YouTube video may not be able to. Hell, my scalp massages NEVER feel as good as when my stylist does it! Besides – I miss the community of the Black salon. I remember when I got to go to the salon with my mother, and it felt like a rite of passage. I was allowed to hear women talk about things in a way I had never heard before, saw how different women defined beauty, and learned a ton about relationships, friendship, entrepreneurship, and hair. Those regular appointments were something I looked forward to, and most times I didn’t even mind the long wait for my turn in the chair.
What a funny conundrum. An influx of women returning to their natural texture struggle to find professionals who know how to care for their hair. They become as self-sufficient as possible with the help of other mediums. Professionals recognize this neglected consumer base and create environments to service them and their specific needs. Those professionals then realize that the self-sufficient women don’t maintain the same frequency of visits that may have been expected or assumed in the past.
Do I have any answers? Not particularly. While I will always love the ability to care for my hair on my own, I still recognize and respect the knowledge and talent that professional stylists have. Frankly, I love the influx of “curly” hair salons cropping up around me. It’s comforting to know that when I need a professional, I’ll be able to find one who is adept at managing my hair with as much care as I do for myself. While many have had to become more inclusive than their original plans may have held, I thank them for reaching out and providing a space for those of us who want more options for our natural hair. To show my gratitude, let me go ahead and book an appointment – ain’t nothin’ like a good scalp massage.