From braids, twist-outs and weaves to crochet extensions, haircare is an integral aspect of Black identity. Black women use these hairstyles not just to protect our natural hair, but as a marker of heritage.
Nova Scotia plays an important role in Black hair history. In the 1940s, civil rights icon Viola Desmond opened the first Nova Scotia school of hairdressing that specifically catered to African Nova Scotian women. Desmond started the college after being rejected from other local beauty schools due to her race. Desmond’s school was also the first beautician school in Halifax to enrol Black students.
Despite past strides, getting Black hair done in Halifax today is still a complicated story.
Black haircare and accessibility
Living in a small city that is predominantly white, word of mouth remains the best modus operandi for Black students to learn where to get haircare. This means access to proper haircare can be a significant problem for many Black students.
Many salons and barbershops in the Halifax Regional Municipality can be too expensive for students. Additionally, the lack of Black hair business not only forces students to go the extra mile to find stylists, but also robs students of the community and processes of identity these spaces centred around Black hair provide.
Faidat Olatubosun, a fourth-year psychology major at Dalhousie says her experience with Black haircare in Halifax has been costly.
“I find that the products and services I need to get my hair done here are so expensive,” she says.
When asked whether Black haircare is accessible in Halifax, Olatubosun says, “They are not even worth the quality, compared to what I am used to back home [in Nigeria].”
Selam Abdella, the Dalhousie Student Union Equity and Accessibility Office coordinator, echoes the same sentiments.
“Finding Black haircare is not easy in Halifax, especially to newcomers. As a student, I have relied on other Black friends to navigate haircare in this city,” Abdella says.
What can only be described as a community built on recommendations, Black students in Halifax are often relegated to asking around instead of having one direct source or shop.
Samantha Dixon Slawter owns Styles by SD, a hair salon in Dartmouth, N.S., that caters to Black Nova Scotians. In a recent interview with CBC, Dixon Slawter called on the Cosmetology Association of Nova Scotia to allow hairdressing students to get in-salon training. This would allow Black students to learn from Black hairdressers, which is often not the case in pre-existing hairdressing programs. Dixon Slawter also noted the lack of local Black beauty services are linked to the lack of education in cosmetology schools about Black hair. Because of this, she hopes to open her own school for Black hairdressing.
It was the lack of available Black haircare that led Olatubosun, like other students, to start her own hair business selling Kanekalon braids and crochet hair at affordable prices, rather than pay exorbitant shipping fees to get these products from the United States.
Student stylists (who are often kitchen beauticians — people who do haircare out of their own homes) for Black students are a saving grace. Affordable and nearby, student-run haircare businesses fill the gap in local Black haircare.
“I think student hair businesses are doing their best to make it more accessible and affordable,” Olatubosun says. For these student stylists, hairstyling has become a viable avenue for financial freedom and stability.
Haircare is a booming business, especially for Black consumers. (In 2018, market research firm Mintel estimated the Black haircare industry was worth more than $2.5 billion.) However, the student-kitchen-beautician model we currently have in Halifax isn’t perfect: Scheduling conflicts, lack of communication and lower-quality work remain a problem.
“I still think though that some mediocre hair services use this opportunity and give crazy prices because they know Black students don’t have a lot of options for hair services,” Olatubosun says.
Furthermore, the lack of Black hair salons leave many students who don’t wear protective styles (attachments or extensions like braids that protect kinky hair from damage) out in the cold. Another issue with student haircare businesses, which are often largely run on social media, is they aren’t as easy to find.
“Black student hair businesses, often ran by students, have been a great resource to find affordable and protective hairstyles. However, it takes some time for Black students to become familiar with how to find these businesses,” Abdella says. “There should be more support and exposure for these local businesses because they provide a much-needed accessible service to Black students.”
Until a Halifax university steps up and provides a space for an affordable Black hair salon, local students looking for some midterm braids may just have to keep waiting to hear a stranger say, “I know someone!”