Could You Be Doing More to Diversify Your Salon Services?
The hair industry has made huge strides over the past decade to become more inclusive. Prior to the 2010s many people of colour struggled to buy hair care in mainstream stores. There are still big strides to be made, but in the consumer market there is now more choice than ever so the professional hairdressing industry can’t risk lagging behind.
The diversity of the population in big cities such as London, Manchester and Birmingham mean there are afro-specific salons available to meet textured hair’s needs. However, there is limited choice for care and styling for clients living in more rural areas.
In 2019, the training and knowledge for textured hair is still lacking. “We now live in a more multi-cultural society and afro hair is mainstream,” says award-winning hairdresser Anne Veck. “If you don’t cater for clients with curly hair it’s like saying you don’t cater for clients with red hair.”
No qualifications necessary?
Until recently students could receive NVQ qualifications without having to train in cutting or styling afro hair. Consequently, many hairdressers have gone through their entire careers too scared to delve into the curly unknown.
Today, NVQ courses such as the VTCT NVQ Level 3 Diploma in Hairdressing (Combined Hair Types) teaches students to style afro hair as part of the course at each stage. This is a step in the right direction, but change will be slow because it is not compulsory to have these qualifications to be a hairdresser.
Many stylists working in afro salons have learned their skills through working their way up in the salon and shadowing more experienced team members as opposed to taking a traditional training qualification.
Working with black hair day in and day out means hairdressers working in afro salons will develop a specialism in textured hair quickly. This also means clients trust stylists at afro hair salons because they are consistently working with different hair types. “If you haven’t been trained in afro hair cutting and styling, you are likely to be lacking confidence as well as the right skills when a client with afro hair walks through the salon door,” warns Anne. “You might avoid afro hair clients and by doing this you have a vicious circle.”
If you haven’t been trained in afro hair cutting and styling, you are likely to be lacking confidence as well as the right skills when a client with afro hair walks through the salon door.
Anne combats the initial lack of texture knowledge young stylists might have by constantly training her staff at her salons in Bicester and Oxford. “We have invested in training team members in cutting, styling and relaxing very curly hair and we benefit from an informal coaching arrangement with a friend of mine who runs a top African-Caribbean salon in Birmingham.”
Lack of Skills
Larger salon groups that are based in cities are more likely to have a stylist who is an afro or textured hair specialist. However, if that person leaves, the salon can no longer cater for the textured hair market.
It’s important for salons to arm stylists with at least a basic knowledge of caring for afro hair behind the chair to prevent a potential client being turned away due to lack of knowledge.
In the age of social media and cancel culture, you could be one disgruntled customer away from a social media showdown. Former editor of Blackhair Magazine, Keysha Davis has found herself in this position. Her afro wasn’t catered for by larger salons and the issue wasn’t addressed prior to her sitting in the chair. “As someone with coarse natural hair, I’ve been in a position where I was assured that quite a big and well-known salon would be able to style my hair but as my appointment progressed it was clear the stylist wasn’t confident in her abilities.” She adds: “It’s really important to be honest with clients about your limitations.” It’s essential to be upfront about your shortfalls and address these before the industry moves ahead without you and potential clients are put off by your stylists’ lack of skills in the salon.
Brushing up on your textural knowledge can easily be done with training from professional black hair brands. For example, Avlon Affirm, KeraCare and Design Essentials hold annual courses and events to teach and talk about afro hair care and styling.
If your salon does cater to all hair types, it’s important to shout about it. A scan of many salon groups’ Instagram pages shows very few images of clients of colour and some don’t have any from this year at all.
Do the campaigns in your windows showcase the breadth of the services you offer, or would a potential new customer walk past because they don’t think you cater to them? It’s these considerations that will propel you into being a truly inclusive salon.
Anne suggests aligning your salon with hair influencers to become au fait with new trends and styles. “Clients are now really savvy when it comes to looking after their hair,” she says. “There are some brilliant Instagrammers you can follow who give great advice on products and techniques. If clients can train themselves about how to look after their curly hair so can we!”
With the shift towards natural hair very much in full throttle (hair relaxer sales plummeted by 36% between 2012 and 2017 according to market analyst Mintel), kinks and coils in all their glory are set to be the way forward for black women. Straightening textured hair post-wash was the failsafe styling option chosen by many salons but now being well versed in finishing curly and coiled texture is the only way to cater to all hair types.
Increasing your knowledge, awareness and having an emphasis on training could be the ticket to elevate our industry and bring us in line with many other aspects of the beauty world and a step closer to true inclusivity.