Several years ago I wrote an article for afro hairdressers site Afrocks on why I hate Black hairdressers. The piece covered my experiences of rude and late staff, burns from the hot comb and damaged hair and then having to pay for the service begrudgingly. But although a lot of my experiences, and those across the diaspora, have been painful – the beauty of Black hair salons is also something I have experienced on both sides of the chair. There needs to be more respect for the craft.
My “career” started back in secondary school charging £10 per head – yes a full head of extensions. But now I refuse to do them; mainly because of the strain on my body (years of bending in awkward positions and strained wrists) and also the price that I would now expect as a Trichologist. Because of my qualifications, my rate is higher so the price I would charge for braids would make your eyes water!
Why you might be underpaying your Black hairstylist
There are many stories online where Black women have expressed outrage at the price of particular styles, with comments on how they can get styled for much cheaper elsewhere or do it themselves.
Black Ballad wrote about how we should be paying stylists more, and as they explain, the problem is nuanced. On the one hand, Black women are often underpaid and can not always afford to spend large amounts on these services and on the other, not enough respect is given to the craft. Afro hair is a time-consuming service which requires care and understanding. However, as we are all used to paying well under value for styles we have a warped sense of what a good price is.
When I run braid classes, the most common feedback from clients, after the joy of learning a new skill, is how tired and in pain they are – especially their hands and back. Think about the braiders who are standing all day every day, working their magic on people’s afros. Black stylists and “IG hairdressers” are not given as much grace as they should.
Don’t get me wrong, when you pay a certain price there is an expectation that you will receive an adequate level of service, which doesn’t always come to pass. It seems that there is a difference between the quality of services given to influencers compared to common folk.
It’s led to the creation of services like Hair Advisor UK where people often share reviews on customer services. But laws and licensing, especially in the US, make it so that “braiders” are unable to offer any adjunct services – such as washing – which is often why you have to arrive with clean, blown-out hair.
On pricing, here are some things to take into consideration. In the UK, chair rent can range from £25-£150 a day and working on the basic eight hours, this equals an hourly rate of approximately £15. So a four-hour style can cost a stylist £60, not including amenities or products.
To get into specifics, let’s take a style like medium box braids – (bra strap length). I think this should be priced from £100. The hourly rate should be somewhere between £20-25 at minimum, as this allows for the stylist to pay expenses and earn a living wage.
Pricing is something that is very personal, I remember seeing a Black celebrity UK stylist charging £800 for shoulder-length box braids…but as Davido says “Omo, in this life have money…”
Ultimately, I think Black stylists need to be paid more but so do Black women in all industries. There is always someone cheaper but they are usually selling themselves short.
Should you be cleaning your braiding hair?
It is a right of passage for every young Black girl to go to the (normally Asian-owned) hair shop and buy a pack of X-pressions in colour 1B or (33 to get a golden highlight). Apart from the worrying trend of the packs getting thinner and more expensive, something else has become a concern for me and my clients.
Straight after installing, apart from the pain of sitting for eight hours and having your hair pulled in different directions – clients often experience a burning sensation or irritation on the scalp, back of the neck and face. Many of us have been wearing these styles from childhood, yet these extra symptoms seem to be quite new; as if the product has been changed in some way.
Some people have suggested braiding hair might be laced with some sort of chemical leading to a reaction. Although this has never been confirmed by the brands, Black women’s cosmetics regularly use harmful ingredients. The hair industry has always been shady so it is no surprise that yet again Black women are being harmed as the main target for this industry where regulation and accountability are nonexistent.
But we’re imaginative and resourceful so of course ways have been found to mitigate the itching – chemicals or no chemicals! Soaking braiding hair in diluted apple cider vinegar (ACV) has become an adjunct to the service, performed by the client or stylist. The hair leaves a film on the water which is thought to be the residue of whatever has been used to make it.
To clean braiding hair before use, soak for 30 mins – overnight in a plastic bowl of ACV and cold water. Avoid warm or hot water, as it will seal the hair and cause it to shrink. I don’t recommend shampoo as it may cause the hair to tangle, Dettol or antibacterials may leave a pungent smell, and essential oils irritate the skin. ACV seems to be the least offensive cleanser and can be easily rinsed off without causing further contact dermatitis.
Try not to tamper with the hair and then give it a good rinse with cold water and hang it up to dry until you are ready to style. This process is easier if you buy pre-stretched hair, as it always cuts down styling time.
This is part of the Afro Answers column. If there are any afro hair questions you would like answers to in a future column, email them to [email protected] with the subject line “Afro Answers”