From Atlanta to D.C. to New York to Miami, the Black hair salon in America is adapting to the fact that its regular clients want to wean themselves off of permanent hair relaxers and sew-in weaves. What’s been the catalyst for this drastic hair decision? Well, it’s an entire movement that is well-documented in online videos, blogs and celeb pictures of those who are going or have gone natural and actually look fabulous doing it.
We are looking to the Solange Knowleses, the Traci Ellis Rosses and the Viola Davises of the entertainment world. We’re looking to the Curly Nikkis and the Mahogany Curls of the blogosphere. We are inspired more than we have ever been. But, this inspiration is costing the salon their regulars. Black woman are so inspired that they are slowly abandoning a $150 per month habit of perming, straightening, washing and styling.
According to the Wall Street Journal, most “black salons are independently owned, with self-employed stylists who rent booths from shop owners.” Industry research firm Professional Consultants & Resources says that U.S. salon services generated $50.3 billion in 2009 revenue, mostly from small, independently owned shops. In fact, Black women actually outnumber other consumers of "ethnic" hair products, which recorded a 3.2% sales increase in 2009, to $1.5 billion.
As has been depicted in many a Hollywood movie, Black hair salons and barbershops have been the central meeting place in the African-American community: “a safe space for socializing, organizing politically and grapevine information-sharing,” said Lori Tharps, a Temple University assistant professor who is co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. Now, in 2014, what is keeping the Black woman from flocking back to that oasis in her community?
1. The naturalista can do it herself
According to Professor of English at College of New Jersey Cassandra Jackson in a Huffington Post column, “natural hair allows for a certain amount of freedom from salons, which is good because many natural salons cost significantly more than traditional ones.”
She cites the focal point for learning to treat, care and style natural hair is YouTube and online message boards rather than salons. Women will spend hours on the web searching for their favorite black natural hairstyles and the accompanying tutorial for how to do it themselves. They’re also searching on their own for products to help their hair grow long and healthy. Some may even be so inspired to whip up their own treatments of coconut oil, shea butter and avocado.
2. The Black hair salon doesn’t do natural styles.
Many Black hair salons have made no effort to educate themselves about the burgeoning natural hair movement. The question is: do they have to? Well, according to a web poll done by Naturally Curly asking if the U.S. was ready for a first lady with naturally kinky hair, 56% of respondents said no. Still, this statistic is slowly sliding in favor of the naturalista.
While there are regions in the U.S. where natural hair salons are few and far between, salons like Locks N Chops in New York and Honeecomb Natural Hair Salon in Altanta are two that are most successful at capturing clients who need a helping hand in transitioning to a natural head of hair.
Still, Jackson cites the costs of getting styled at some of these natural hair salons as prohibitive.
Kelli Brown-Daniels, natural hair stylist and trainer and owner of Created N His Image salon in Brooklyn, NY, claims that the traditional black hair salon has the luxury to charge less. Natural hair salons do not.
“We have to charge more than a normal salon because the time it takes to slap a perm on someone while another client is under a dryer and while another one is waiting to be styled does not compare to the work that we’re doing and the time it takes,” she said.
Brown-Daniels’ salon specializes in styles that require the stylist to remain committed to one client for hours at a time, having a greater impact on the stylists’ hands, wrists, neck and back.
Styles like sisterlocks, a trademarked method of locking hair that uses a special tool and a precise parting grid to crochet hair into very small, uniform locks, can take about 18 hours to complete. This style costs $600-$800 to install and $150 to maintain every 4-6 weeks.
So, what can the black salon do to keep the interest of the changing Black woman?
According to Black Enterprise, “just because Black hair (and our pockets) are going through a major transformation doesn’t mean that our salons can’t be a part of the process.”
Here are a few methods that they mentioned can be used to galvanize the Black naturalista:
1. Black salons can offer consulting services to those thinking about transitioning. Many women who are thinking about it but have not yet done “the big chop” and women who are new to the natural hair community are feverishly searching for information about how to care their new natural hair. While there are many supportive websites and blogs, these women would much rather visit a professional for assistance with the transition. That’s what they’re used to doing. Salons can offer this service and in their consultations can gain new clients for two-strand twists, curly natural styles and locking services.
2. Salons can offer treatments that benefit hair before, during and after transition. How about add to the regular menu of services a bi-weekly deep conditioning treatment, a protein treatment or a hot oil treatment that benefit and aid natural hair. This will position your salon as one that supports naturalistas, which will help in customer retention and growth.
3. Become a one man or woman show by offering services to a private clientele. Some stylists have switched from a 20-30 client portfolio to just 1-3 high end clients who are extremely loyal. They may be public figures or celebrities who need their hair braided, twisted, locked or styled in an updo on a regular basis because of photo shoots, interviews, TV appearances and public addresses. If a stylist can find a handful of these clients, then they will pay top dollar for personalized attention.
Beauty shop culture is still kicking, but Black salons just need to know how to capitalize on the new natural hair movement before they flatline.