Learn how two salon owners are doing their part to help promote diversity and inclusion in the beauty industry, and how you can, too.
As many of us recognize, there is a lack of diversity in the professional beauty industry. However, we also need to understand where it stems from—a lack of textured hair education in beauty schools.
“When you come out of hair school, you have the basic knowledge of colour, cut, blow-dries, perms and highlights, but you know zero about curly hair,” says Nancy Falaise, owner of Salon Académie Nancy Falaise, a natural texture salon and academy in Montreal. “Hairstylists should come out of school with the basic knowledge of curly hair, just like they come out with the basic knowledge of colour.”
Dissecting the Divide
Falaise, who’s been working in the industry for more than 20 years, says she’s noticed the divide in the beauty community for quite some time. It was only nine years ago that she began embracing her own natural hair. “When I worked for other salons, I always wore my hair straight,” she remembers. “It was only after I was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago that I really fell in love with my curly hair, and it changed everything. It made me discover who I am.”
In 2017 she started her own salon and academy and is committed to helping educate both young hairstylists in and out of hair school, along with other hairstylists who are interested in learning. “It’s all about the mindset,” she says. “Some older hairstylists with more experience don’t want to learn about something different; they’re comfortable where they are. I choose my battles and now I’m focused on the people coming behind me—coming out of school. It’s important that we teach them in school while they’re fresh.”
Working in the beauty industry for 15 years, Solange Ashoori, owner of Ziba Style Bar, an inclusive salon in Toronto, noticed and experienced firsthand the challenges of being a woman of colour in the beauty industry. “Going into salons, I was often told that they couldn’t work with my hair. Some salons wouldn’t even know how to cut my hair while it was curly,” she recalls. “I also noticed that there are specific salons just for people with curly or textured hair, and that was something I never really understood. I appreciated those salons for being there, but I just didn’t understand why people with curly hair needed to be a niche. When I got into the beauty industry was when I really realized how marginalized it is.”
While she admits that not all her experiences were negative, she used the opportunity in 2018 to open her own salon. “Seeing everything that needed to be changed really helped me embrace my own hair and what I look like, and see the diversity that needs to be implemented,” she says. “I really wanted to shift that narrative as much as I could and I knew that it had to be engrained in the DNA of our business.”
Not only does Ashoori and her team at Ziba Style Bar offer a space that’s inclusive to all clientele, she’s made sure her staff’s skill set was diverse as well, specializing in everything from curly hair and braids to extensions, cuts, colour and more. “I made sure that I hired people that were well versed with curly hair, which was challenging at first. The stylists I hired had to go above and beyond what they already learned in hair school to learn curly hair textures,” she says. “From there, it was easy for me to find stylists when they saw the type of dynamic we have. They came to us because it was a salon that they felt they could also feel represented.”
“I think more inclusivity in salons is a first step—hiring or training stylists on curly hair education and making space for these types of stylists who are more versed on all hair types. Make it known to your clientele that you do advocate for those hair types and you’re able to execute these styles.” — Solange Ashoori, owner, Ziba Style Bar, Toronto
Putting a Stop to Stigmas
One of the most troubling concerns regarding the lack of diversity in salons is the stigmas surrounding curly hair, specifically type 3C to 4C hair.
“Some people think we have this coarse, dense and hard hair, but it’s actually the opposite; curly hair is very delicate, so you have to manipulate it with that extra love, and take your time and can’t use harsh chemicals or you’re going to kill it,” explains Falaise. “We need to demystify curly hair, because if you’ve never done curly hair or washed it, and someone like me walks in with a lot of hair, it might be scary because you think you’ll never be able to, but my hair is so soft and super easy. You just have to have the proper products and key points. It might take longer, but it’s not harder to do.”
“I know that hair stigma just gets worse the more textured your hair is,” adds Ashoori. “Some salons will straighten curly hair first just to cut it. Then, there are some women with curly hair who walk into salons and have been completely rejected.”
While education at beauty schools is only part of the problem, the other is with salons that refuse to cater to the curly hair market, which prevents them from being an inclusive space and impedes hairstylists from getting a full comprehension of working with all hair types.
“There definitely needs to be more representation in the beauty industry, which I see is shifting a little bit, but it could definitely diversify a lot more,” says Ashoori. “And really focusing on why we have this stigma around textured hair and switching that stigma over to embracing textured hair, rather than trying to tame it or relax it or make it look more professional as we’ve been stigmatized to think.”
“I think consultations are one of the most important things when you’re establishing a relationship with the client, especially the first time you meet them. The idea is to get them comfortable and to also understand exactly what their needs are,” adds Ashoori. “Asking questions like, ‘What’s your mission with your hair? Are you trying to go back to curly after relaxing or straightening your hair for years? Or have you just come from different salons and you don’t feel like they have really embraced your curls?’ We have to see what the client wants and then we execute from that. Just knowing that there’s a salon that actually helps them, instead of trying to change their hair, is making them more confident to come in. Once they get past a certain point, they’ll trust you. Developing that sort of relationship is really important with your clients.”
One thing we’ve all learned from the pandemic is how critical each and every client is to the success of your business. As some salons have been temporarily closed for nearly six months, reopening your doors with a new perspective can be beneficial for both your clients and business.
“Women with curly hair, specifically black women, spend more money yet we don’t have a market,” says Falaise. “My average haircut is 65 dollars, including a wash and no style, and my average ticket is about 120 dollars. We have such a love/hate relationship with our hair that most women will try anything and everything. And when you sell products, it’s passive income. They will buy it for sure, especially if you use it at the sink and they smell it, feel it and see how it makes their hair look. And we come to the salon religiously—if you are a woman of colour and it’s difficult for you to do your hair at home. I have clients who come in every two weeks without fail—some don’t even wash their hair at home.”
“When you look at the amount of money that women of colour spend and the amount of representation you see, it doesn’t align at all,” adds Ashoori. “I take this opportunity as a woman of colour who was able to open up a business to represent us collectively and try to shift the narrative to be more inclusive and include everyone.”
While there’s a big concern over how many clients will be returning to salons after the lockdowns are over—especially if they’ve grown accustomed to DIY at-home colour—Falaise says it’s a far less concern with curly-haired clients.
“I did have some of my clients that went to the drugstore to get their colour, but it was a very small amount. With curly hair, they won’t venture too much because their hair is so fragile and they know it. They’re very particular about what they put in their hair,” she says. “If salons [are at risk of permanently closing due to the pandemic], maybe it’s because your business wasn’t doing that great to begin with, and maybe you didn’t get the diversity of clientele that you needed that would help you be solid right now.”
As for the demand for hairstylists that know how to work with textured hair? “I opened a second salon during a pandemic so I must be doing something right,” adds Falaise. “If I wanted to, I could open 10 salons in Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa, but the problem is I don’t have enough hairstylists. It takes time for me to get them ready; I need a good six months after they come out of school, or three and six months, depending on their skills.”
Standing Up for Change
To help new hairstylists be equipped from the time they leave hair school, Falaise started a petition to promote the inclusion of education for 3C and 4C hair in Quebec beauty schools.
“In the past, I’ve approached some schools about curly hair, and I had one lady respond to me that they are learning how to braid. I said that’s nice, but what about how to cut, care and colour curly hair? I’m going to approach all the [education ministries and schools] in Canada and present them with my project. It’s a two-to-three-week program for me to teach the teachers, so that they can teach their students. I have people [across Canada and the United States] asking me to come teach them. People want to learn, and it should be mandatory to learn the basic skills of curly hair in school.”
Ashoori also started her own petition to include 3C to 4C education in Ontario. “It’s still a petition that’s growing every day. We just hit 10,000 signatures a couple weeks ago,” she says. “The idea behind the petition is to mandate the curriculum in hair schools to include all textures. At this point, we’re going to keep pushing and contacting the ministry to set up a meeting and see how we can help them diversify the curriculum. If the ministry doesn’t do something, I’m sure people are going to start doing something; maybe opening up hair schools that include all textures. It’s not about tipping the scale to one side, it’s more like just balancing the scale at this point.”