Black beauty - Janae McKenzie

Janae McKenzie styles her own hair most of the time. "I started my natural hair journey in March 2018, and haven't looked back since," she says. 

While some people wait two weeks, others can go a couple of months before it’s time to get their hair done. The stress-inducing task of hair maintenance is heightened for Black men and women because there aren’t many outlets to find hair care products in a mid-size town like Columbia.

I moved from southern California to Columbia in August 2018 and have scrounged around in search of my scalp safe haven: a Black beauty supply store. Usually small in size, beauty supply shops are places where Black women can walk in with their hair in shambles, because this destination is going to provide them with fixes. Eco-styling gel, hair extensions, crochet twists, wigs, hot oil treatments and a plethora of other products can all be found in one place. In Columbia, there are only two beauty supply stores, specifically for Black hair care: Super Sami’s Beauty Supply and AQ Beauty Supply. These two stores share the load of catering to hairstylists and the everyday person, like me.

From locs to coils, braids to weaves, lace front wigs to wash-and-go, Super Sami’s Beauty Supply and AQ Beauty stock the products for many types of hairstyles.

Mary Moss, hairstylist and owner of Tootsie’s Hair Design in the Columbia and Fulton areas, has been a loyal customer at Sami’s since she started doing hair. Moss has been weaving and attaching hair for 36 years and has been immersed in Black hair care culture since she was a young girl. Just like her mother, Mary Smith, an 80-year-old hairstylist herself, Moss frequents Sami’s in search of products for her clients’ hairdos.

“I get this call almost every day: ‘I’m wearing my hair natural, and I’m needing to know what to buy to make my curls pop in,’” Moss says. “The answer is: We are so unique because everybody has a different curl pattern. You may have your dad’s hair, your mom’s hair, you may reach back and get your grandmother’s hair, so whatever is going to work on you is not going to work on me.”

Black beauty photo - (Katelynn McIlwain)

Katelynn McIlwain says she used to be insecure about her natural hair, which she has been wearing with no added chemicals since October 2018. But having the right products and practicing with the right styles has been essential.

Annelle Whitt, a natural hair newbie and district coordinator of the Columbia Public Schools Minority Achievement Committee, has spent her time during quarantine trying to find the best product for her hair type. “I’m 63 years old now, and I’m just very comfortable with myself,” Whitt says. “When I started to let my perm grow out, there was freedom of not worrying about my hair. It took me a moment to get comfortable with it because I would automatically start explaining to people about my hair.” After spending close to 40 years getting her hair straightened to mimic the hairstyles of her white coworkers, Whitt now relies on beauty supply shops to grow her confidence to wear her natural hair. She has also decided to stop explaining the way she wears her hair.

The variety of Black hair keeps Super Sami’s Beauty Supply owner Peter Yoon constantly restocking, and on some occasions, even delivering products to stylists like Moss. Despite ordering Black hair care products on a consistent basis, Sami’s and AQ Beauty sometimes don’t have exactly what customers are looking for. “I went to Sami’s on Monday, and everybody had gotten their stimulus check, so there were literally no lace front wigs,” Moss says. “The only wigs left were the ones on the walls.”

For Yoon and Adam Shim, owner of AQ Beauty, owning these businesses is more than just having desired products, it’s about connecting people with ways to care for their hair — people like Missourian student reporter Joel Lorenzi. He spent six to seven years growing out his hair before recently cutting it off. “When I was trying to save my hair, like salvage it, I got leave-in conditioner from [Sami’s],” Lorenzi says. “It has everything you could think of, and places like those are important in Columbia because you will not find a selection like that anywhere else.”

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