Like many Black women, I learned the hard way that not all salons cater to textured hair. Prior to finding my perfect hairstylist, I salon-hopped. I would arrive at the salon hopeful and ready to be transformed into my style of choice, only to be disappointed by hairstylists inaccurately claiming they knew what they were doing, or a receptionist turning me away for never mentioning I had “ethnic” hair.
According to Neilsen, Black consumers spend $473 million on their hair, both on products and salon services. But for way too many naturals, simply walking into any salon to get serviced, seems out of the question. When more than 65% of the population has textured hair—whether curls, coils, waves, or Afro texture—salons not servicing this demographic is highly problematic.
With the Black Lives Matter movement continuing to gain momentum, my hope is that 2021 will have a lot more hairstylists interested in textured hair. I believe salon owners should share a bit of the responsibility in righting this wrong. To gauge the industry’s thought, I checked in with celebrity hairstylist, Geo Brian Hennings; Kauilani Goodwyn, co-founder of The Texpert Collective; and Diane Da Costa, author of Textured Tresses.
Why Are There So Few Texture-Experienced Hair Stylists?
“There are huge gaps in our education,” Hennings says, recalling his time in beauty school. Beauty schools around the country have historically designed curriculum around two main textbooks: Milady and Pivot Point. Both books have been around for more than a decade, and before their update in 2013, they failed to mention any natural hairstyling techniques or characteristics. “We had a day or two on textured hair, but [schools] need to not offer a week or a month on textured hair; it needs to be in the curriculum the whole way through,” Hennings continues, “when you’re learning about color, styling, cutting—[texture] needs to be normalized in the curriculum, not taken on as a decided specialty.”
Hennings is not the only stylist who had this experience. In fact, there are students all over the country receiving straight-haired white mannequins for practice, even though mannequins with 3A-4C texture are readily available for use. So why aren’t they being used? “Until recently, textured hair has been an afterthought,” Goodwyn says, “the concept of textured hair education as a part of cosmetology school curriculum (with the exception of relaxer services) has been nonexistent—and is still making its way to becoming a standard.”
The greatest barrier keeping textured-stylists from flourishing is the cosmetology exams students have to pass to get their license. The state board composes a test made of theory and practicals where students perform tasks in front of a board to prove their hair knowledge. Out of 150 total questions per exam, only one question asks about natural hair: “What type of hair is the MOST difficult to press?”—which, arguably, further stereotypes Black hair into an unmanageable category, making it unappealing to stylists.
Failure to have untrained stylists work on textured hair can debilitate natural hair. “Stylists that are not familiar with the nuances of textured hair have the potential to compromise the integrity of the hair if they do not understand the fundamentals of it,” Goodwyn says, “Put simply, hair is fabric. You wouldn’t use a clothes iron on the same setting for silk as you would linen.”
What Role Can Salon Owners Play to Encourage More Texture-Experienced Stylists?
Hennings wants salon owners to close the education gap by teaching on textured hair when training new stylists. “What people don’t realize is, most salons have two-year training programs for new stylists,” he tells Byrdie, “it’s up to the owners to make sure the trainees practice on models with textured hair so when they get on the floor, and a girl walks in with natural hair, they are already set up for success by the salon.” Also, salon owners should constantly be working at their trade: reading new approaches, products, trends, and getting trained in new techniques to report back to their staff.
In-person courses haven’t been available over the last year, but digital education has served as a great alternative. “My suggestion would be to seek out textured-hair education that is readily available in the digital space right now,” Goodwyn says, “[Salon] owners should also adjust service menus to reflect textured hair services, train front desk and stylists on verbiage when consulting, and not to miss out on any guests that are in their community.”
Instagram and Facebook are great places to learn as well; our experts suggest Redken, Hairbrained, Behind the Chair, Tippi Shorter, Vernon Francois, Nikki Nelms, and Lacy Redway. Salon owners can bring in experts from texture-trained academies like CurlyTextured Academy, The Textpert Collective, and Mizani Textpert Academy, which teach students and professional stylists with beginner-level skills styling and cutting textured hair. On a larger scale, salon owners can sign mandates for states to include fundamentals and styling techniques for textured hair on exams. Diane Da Costa is currently advocating with the change.org campaign to teach texture education in the cosmetology schools and update the state board exam.
Hair salons can no longer say they are inclusive without providing services for textured hair. Enrolling stylists in textured training programs and encouraging further individual education could be steps in the right direction to hair salon equality.