When you walk through downtown, it’s easy to find a hair salon that’s right for you. That is, if you’re not a person of color with hair classified as “coarse.” For us, the search for a salon can be tiresome and disappointing.
When I moved to Columbia in 2014, I arrived with a gym bag full of products to style my thick and coily afro. I didn’t know then that my previously easy hair regimen would become such a stressor. When I ran out of my coil-friendly conditioners, custards and creams, I scoured nearby stores in vain for suitable replacements.
Frustrated and tired, I eventually quit looking and purchased a bottle of clear hair gel. Less than a week later, my hair was a dry, matted, itchy mess. That launched a second frustration — the fruitless search for a salon that knew how to deal with my mane.
Having a salon within walking distance to style my hair would have saved me a lot of tears and Friday nights at home binge-watching Lost. Black people are the second-largest racial group in Columbia, composing 10 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So why do we feel invisible when looking through the glass windows of many salons? The answer isn’t simple, but the experiences of local salon owners and stylists describe multiple factors, such as location and lack of client communication, that contribute to the problem.
Roy Lovelady, the current owner of 360 Star Styling Studio on Business Loop 70 East, says the high cost of commercial real estate downtown limits the number of black salon owners. “Most of the (black) salons are on the outskirts of town,” he says. “The downtown salons cost more. All the buildings downtown cost a lot more.” Setting up shop outside of downtown cuts some salon owners off from clients who depend on walking to get where they need to go.
Daniel Lewis, a barber at Hudson Hawk Barber & Shop and an alumnus of the Academy of Hair Design in Springfield, Missouri, says clients often hesitate to cross racial lines with their barbers. He says his black clients were initially nervous about his skills. “A lot of black clients are raised in a black barber shop, so they’re not used to a white barber being able to give them what they want,” Lewis says.
Despite these issues, stylist education signals positive development. At the Paul Mitchell School in Columbia, where Lovelady worked, students go through a seven-week CORE training when they start at the school. This part of the 11-month cosmetology program includes a week of instruction solely dedicated to textured hair, says Mac Maupin, the school’s admissions leader. At the Springfield hair academy, education on styling different hair types is built into the curriculum and the school invests in diverse mannequins for students to practice on, Superintendent Linda Daugherty says.
Sascha Leuridan is a licensed hairstylist at the Chrystal L. Hair & Makeup salon, the black-owned salon on Columbia’s south side where I get my hair done by owner Chrystal L. Graves. When I first met Leuridan, I was shocked to watch her wash, detangle and cornrow the long, thick, curly hair of her young, black client with ease.
I’d never seen a stylist with her hair type style a client with Afro-textured hair like mine. But to Leuridan, stylists should never turn someone away just because they don’t know how to work with that hair type. “When you go into a shop as a customer, don’t be nervous about someone who doesn’t look like you doing your hair,” Leuridan says.
Whether you’re a stylist with straight strands or a client with kinky coils, try to think beyond skin color during your next hair appointment. You’ll only know if you give someone a chance, and that goes for both stylists and clients.