For Nigerian women like Helen, leaving her family and home 15 years ago to become a hairstylist in Dublin was a good idea. If you walk by Moorse Street in the Dublin city centre, you might have seen Helen call you a pretty lady fondly and ask if you would love to make your hair. The African hair salons are almost always busy with customers going in and out as they either buy hair or get their hair done.
For many African women, regular hair plaiting is very important. In Nigeria, the hairdressing business is very competitive. It is also lucrative when you know your stuff. Many hairstylists would say that their secret does not lie in their hands (how well they style your hair) but in their mouths (how well they make you comfortable). The customers will always be right to hairstylists because they cannot afford to lose regular clients.
Hairdressers cut, colour, straighten and maintain their client’s hair. It is a long and rigorous learning process for Nigerians who choose this path. Hairdressing is a craft. Prospective hairdressers have first to find a person who is already an established hairdresser to ‘serve’. It is learning on the job. They would pay to learn while doing the job for some time, as agreed between the apprentice and master.
The apprentice must be respectful and diligent during the serving and learning period. The master teaches the apprentice all they know as time goes by. Many apprentices quit during this period because of how rigorous the job can be, especially during festive periods like Christmas, Easter and Ramadan. Many of the hairstyles are so complicated that they take hours to complete. You could walk into a salon at 6 am and leave at 10 pm, exhausted but still satisfied.
Many women aim to look different every month and get compliments from their families and strangers. There are many hairstyles a person can do to achieve this. Some of the common hairstyles that African hairdressers must know how to make include;
Sew-ins or fixing
This hairstyle involves sewing hair extensions unto the head. The hairdresser first makes cornrows with the client’s natural hair or with added synthetic hair. After which, the hairdresser takes a threaded needle and attaches the hair weave to the cornrows in layers to form the shape and style. The hairdresser can fix any parting the client prefers. A job well done is when the hairstyle looks as natural as possible.
Ghana weaving is one of the most uncomplicated and, simultaneously, most complicated hairstyles, depending on the style and hairstylist you choose. The possibilities are almost endless as people can be as creative as possible with this hairstyle. It is a form of cornrow where the faux hair is tucked into the natural hair as it is laid on the scalp. If you wonder what hair Beyonce had in her lemonade album videos, that is an example of Ghana weaving.
Box braids are three-stranded plaits. They are not braided to lay flat on the scalp like the Ghana weaving. The thickness of the hair is entirely up to the client. The beauty of box braids is that if you have short hair, you can add synthetic hair to make it longer. You can choose to make it short or long, depending on what you like. You can also add accessories, such as beads and little rings, to make it prettier.
Some people may argue about who should make these hairstyles; sometimes, people of other races and hair textures opt to try new styles and looks. Most of the time, celebrities like Kim Kardashian make box braids and cornrows amidst the backlash and accusations of appropriation. In 2018, she renamed “box braids” as “Bo Derek braids” and offended people.
Quick PSA: Cultural Appropriation is when an element of a specific culture is stolen and renamed without giving any recognition of or credit to its origins. An example of this is Fulani Braids being called “Bo Derek Braids”— Morgan Bullock (@Morrghan) July 23, 2020
Although, as with any other business, Helen says that there are challenges like people refusing to pay after services, she still has up to five clients in a day and charges €50 or more. With the probability of making €250 a day, more people might consider taking up the hairstyling business.