Natural Hair Styling: The Only Industry Where You Expect Great Service Without Paying For It
Hi, my name is Simone (raises hand) and I am addicted to partings, braids, twists, combs, curls, waves, coils, kinks, accessories and all things Afro. This is one of the hardest pieces I have had to write because when it comes to Afro hair I can talk for days…seriously, I can but today I will spare you and try to be brief as we talk about the importance of RESPECT in this profession.
I have spent many years as a customer as well as a stylist, so whilst I agree and accept the complaints about unscrupulous stylists, I do think that it’s high time we also examine our own behaviour as customers. Don’t get me wrong, I have been left under a dryer for a ridiculous amount of time, I have had my appointment interrupted only to watch my stylist start someone else’s hair. I have had a stylist eat whilst doing my hair, I have had someone apply my perm and then go for lunch (yes, I got burnt) and above all showed no mercy when handling my poor head. I have encountered stylists that are just straight up rude and I too have left a salon after 9pm (having been there since 2pm)… Yes… I get it but for every hellish story we share about a bad styling experience, there are at least 100 more on men, women and children that have left their stylist feeling on top of the world. So shout out to all the Afro stylists currently representing!
Over the past few years (2017 in particular) with this insurgence of black features appreciation we have had more costumers eager to have the latest style or “woke” men and women wanting their hair to make a statement and among them all ‘bad customers’ – I have had clients turn up hours late, I have had clients not turn up at all. I have had clients haggle and negotiate my prices like we were at the fish market. I have had clients pay me later than agreed, I have had clients not pay me at all. I have encountered clients that are just rude and the pompous ones that know it all… You cannot imagine the amount of self-control I have had to muster in order to hold my tongue on some occasions. It is therefore a fair statement to say that clients and stylists sometime behave out of the professional boundaries of a normal business transaction, but why? Why is it that once we talk about natural hair we somehow do not see it as something serious? I have a few hypothesis and good practice suggestion that I would like to share with you, so let’s dive in.
“I do hair” VS “Hair Stylist”: dispelling negative tropes.
At this point people, we need to acknowledge that there is a difference between a stylist and ‘someone who does hair’. A stylist will dream about their last install, will be thinking of styles while cooking dinner, precise partings will excite them, they will not feel satisfied until you are happy, they will feel defeated if you are unhappy, they will take ownership, they will love your hair more than you do. It is their passion and mastery of the styling technique that will deliver you the great customer service that you deserve.
When I became an Afrocks stylist I had just returned to the profession after a 2-year hiatus away from unappreciative clients. Whilst I still loved doing hair I was totally frustrated and disillusioned. During a particularly spectacular tantrum over non-payment I declared ‘I AM NO LONGER DOING HAIR’ and packed away my rat tail combs.
When I was approached by Afrocks, I was happy that someone (finally) was taking steps to bridge that gap that had caused so many to take their hair into their own hands and caused many stylists to walk away from the profession. Yes, at Afrocks, the emphasis is on customer service and professionalism two key factors extremely refreshing in the world of natural hair but there is also a keen interest in the well-being of stylists. All stylists have to be interviewed and vetted to create a profile, I was (as the young ones would say) gassed! For me, it meant that all the other stylists on that platform had the same vision and high standards as myself.
“All of the stylists I have spoken to agreed that sometimes we feel our craft is not taken seriously and our skill set remains greatly unappreciated.”
Yes, I take what I do so seriously that I did not want to be connected to a business that did not share that sentiment. Knowing that I had a connection to other stylists who loved hair as much as I did was a great support for me (mobile styling is a lonely business). Rather than a directory or even a network, Afrocks felt like a stylist community. You will often see my work accompanied by #morethanjusthair and that’s because Afro styling is soooo much more (l will explain to you another day) and it is for this reason that I am proud to call myself an Afrocks stylist.
Respeck’ My Craft
As a lil knocked knee girl growing up in Harlesden, I was obsessed with hair – any length, any texture. lI remember playing in my aunt’s hair for hours (thanks aunt Shirl and sorry for the knots). From a young age, combing hair soothed me, kept me focused and in North West London, I saw the best of the best in styling. Having learnt the basic plaiting technique from one of my aunts, I kept on practicing on various family members. As my technique improved so did my emotional attachment to hair. I would see the difference in people once I had finished the style and came to love that feeling of making someone else happy and feeling beautiful. Back then, the majority of my clients were men. In the early 90’s, all the boys I knew thought they were members of Bone Thugs and had long hair. When I realised people liked what I was creating, I attempted to make it a business venture and discovered that the customer is not always right. By the time I got to University, I did not trust anyone to do my own hair and I did not trust some of my clients. It was a different world. Slogans like “Support Black Owned” were as unheard of as was leaving your house with your natural hair on show. Doing natural hair was not something professionally done, and having natural hair was not a professional look. As a result, whilst the narrative has changed nowadays, the old unprofessional habits are hard to kill on both sides.
“Sometimes, you have to improvise yourself as a counsellor or confidante, regardless of your own emotional state at that time. As a stylist, reading your client’s emotions, knowing when to stay quiet, when to engage is also an unrecognised skill. We must take specific cultural differences into account.”
Outside of the industry people may be are unaware of the sacrifices made by committed stylists; the injuries, time away from home, the managing of expectations. All of the stylists I have spoken to agreed that sometimes we feel our craft is not taken seriously and our skill set remains greatly unappreciated. Assuming that most Afro stylists are organic stylists, like me, this distrust or lack of respect may come from the fact that there is no formal training in styling and caring for natural Afro hair. What I know is what I have learnt from years of experience doing hair and listening to my elders. Not valuing our skills as stylist is akin to undermine our own movement. It is important to remember the magnitude of our business, which is worth billions. Treating stylists with respect should be the first step in expecting (and receiving) good customer service.
Where I come from, everyone knows someone who can do hair. Some clients aren’t bothered by your styling ethics, they just seem interested in lowering down your asking price. One of my biggest styling woes was feeling that people did not respect my craft or value my time. Clients cancelling 20 mins before their slot or even worse just not showing up. On top of this blatant disrespect, mobile stylists have to travel with their kit not knowing what baggage they will meet as they enter unknown environments. In a salon, even if you are renting a chair, you have the camaraderie and support of the other stylists. With mobile styling, it is just you! A client once said to me, “it takes a brave person to come to a stranger’s home and do their hair”, I had never considered it but yes it does.
As you enter your client’s home, it is so easy for boundaries to become blurred. When you take into account that some styles can take up to 6 hours or more, stylists tend to create a special bond with their clients as they often share personal stories with you. This can be emotionally draining. Sometimes we witness all sorts of awkward or downright dangerous situations that should be none of our business. Sometimes, you have to improvise yourself as a counsellor or confidante, regardless of your own emotional state at that time. As a stylist, reading your client’s emotions, knowing when to stay quiet, when to engage is also an unrecognised skill. We must take specific cultural differences into account (for example, I don’t take offence if a client does not say thank you as I know it is considered bad luck in some communities). This is definitely a physically and emotionally draining occupation. Even though managing the work atmosphere is something between you and the clients, Afrocks has actively sought to relieve much of the booking woes. All transactions are made online, I receive booking notifications via text that I am free to accept or decline. No more endless phone conversations. I know in advance what the client want and the client knows exactly what style I am here to do. This alleviate much of the stress of going to a stranger’s house.
Show Me the £££
Afro stylists, does this sound familiar to any of you, “thanks for doing my hair, I’m gonna have to pay you next week though” or “ohh you’re a bit expensive, my friends sisters mums niece does hair and she only charges….”
“I have always felt slightly uncomfortable waiting for payment. I don’t understand the feeling myself as a service has been provided and payment is expected but I often find a weird awkwardness in standing around, waiting for the “client/friend” to get their purse, wallet, bag, the kids piggy banks, especially after all the stories they shared and the impression that you are almost family by now…”
When I just started out as a Stylist, I got bumped, swindled, shafted, cheated out of payments sooo many times. As I mentioned earlier, spending so much time with a client can create a false sense of intimacy where it becomes extremely difficult remain firm on the first asking price. And before you all start tutting at me and reminding me that it’s my own fault, I take ownership of that! And I believe it’s a rod that we make for our own backs borne out of our desire to be the best. When I really got into styling specifically patterned canerows (yep I said it, canerows) I was so passionate about honing my skills that I would do hair for free just so I could practice. When you just start out you are so excited about what your hands are creating you just want to plait all the time and for me that sometime meant offering free styles. Then I got better and more people wanted to book appointments but by this point I had already had a reputation as being good and also cheap. I loved doing hair so much in those days that I would do styles for food #MrPattie and even more recently I did hair in exchange for childcare (true stories). It is so easy to take advantage of someone who loves what they do.
2 years ago, when I returned to the hair game I priced my work as I saw fit and some would always try to haggle and it was so disheartening. Consider, we see it perfectly normal to pay a stylist hundreds of pounds to install a weave but cry in dismay when a natural stylist charges what they see fit to install a 9-hours protective style. In those days my brother (who is very business minded) used to call me silly for accepting lower offers of payment. However, it is not as easy as it seems. Sticking to one’s price is the idea but in reality you accept to devalue your work because you have to provide for your family and a little is always better than nothing. I have always felt slightly uncomfortable waiting for payment. I don’t understand the feeling myself as a service has been provided and payment is expected but I often find a weird awkwardness in standing around, waiting for the “client/friend” to get their purse, wallet, bag, the kids piggy banks, especially after all the stories they shared and the impression that you are almost family by now…whatever it is I never liked it. Once again, this is an emotionally draining experience that leaves you defeated and frustrated. Now, I don’t even have to think about it as Afrocks receives the payment and puts it straight into my account #showmethemoney.
As I mentioned, I came back to hair with a new focus and mind set. I mean business and Afrocks helps me to set the bar. When I first created my profile, I had no idea how to price my services. Luckily there was a breakdown of services and although it does not cover everything (that would be impossible) it was great to be able to go through each service and price them as I saw fit. Gone are my haggling days, clients see my price for the service they want – if they don’t like the price they move onto another stylist and another profile without bothering my ears. In salons you are protected from non-payers, as a mobile stylist it is very difficult to recoup funds owed to you. So, no more jumping through hoops, no more cartwheels. Knowing that I will get paid and that the money goes directly to my account is an empowering knowledge, one that helps me to provide excellent customer service.
In re launching myself as a no-nonsense business woman, I had to be honest with myself. Afro hair has always been my craft. I just don’t have the knack for weaves and wigs. It became an issue having to constantly explain, I can do a weave but it will be basic with no cutting and you can forget that intricate closure. Moreover, I was stressing about logos and how to get my work and ideas out there. With a full time job and a young family, I just did not have the energy or resources to do the things I aspired to do. And then came Afrocks. Fully branded, all professional looking and the added bonus of doing all the marketing good stuff for me. With complete control over my profile, setting my own prices, choosing which styles I wanted to offer and felt confident doing, I realised I could use the platform to launch myself as a brand, as an Afrocks stylist… And it worked! I would ask people: “have you heard of Afrocks?” and whatever their response was, they would get a quick rundown and the link to my profile. I was able to share my personal Afrocks link on all my social media. All I need now is to focus on executing gorgeous styles and get raving reviews (we also work for the glory of the “5 stars” rating and reviews wink wink).
“What you see is what you get. With my own photos uploaded to my gallery, once they access my profile clients can see my own work choose what they want and even contact me with the messaging function. Being able to get pics of the styles they want, I am able to let a client know in advance if it’s viable or not, suggest different ideas.”
Managing Expectations: transparency.
Managing client expectations is a battle for us. Sadly, some clients do not know their own hair and may request styles that they don’t actually want or become confused by different techniques. The host of products, the multiple names given to the same styles in the Youtube tutorials have caused many clients to get completely lost. On Afrocks there is no confusion. What you see is what you get. With my own photos uploaded to my gallery, once they access my profile clients can see my own work choose what they want and even contact me with the messaging function. Being able to get pics of the styles they want, I am able to let a client know in advance if it’s viable or not, suggest different ideas. There is nothing worse than arranging to do jumbo box braids only for the client to realise: “nah that’s the wrong size”. Once everybody is happy with what they will get and what they will be doing, you receive a text with the client details and the appointment time and voilà!
The Future is Bright!
Finally (told you I could go on and on), by forcing me to address my capabilities and address my styling weaknesses. In providing a professional and stylish vehicle for me to continue my styling journey, Afrocks has also created something amazing and inclusive for the community. With the boost of social media, the opportunities are limitless. As mentioned, styling can be a lonely business and having this platform where where like-minded, dedicated stylists can engage and share ideas is a great feeling. With a much-needed injection of positivity in the representation of our industry and our Afros, I am genuinely excited about future prospects. With the foresight to branch out all over the UK I am confident that many communities outside of London will soon benefit from the camaraderie. The bigger picture, is that Afrocks offers a credible economic opportunity for lil knock kneed girls who love hair so much they will do it for patties.
Yes, to be sure, this article is biased. It’s a start up – things are not perfect. Systems get bugs, you forget to update your calendar, you may wait ages for a booking, you have to pay a 20% commission but in all honesty these things fade into the background when you receive that text saying, ‘you have been booked’ (even more so when the funds are released directly into your account). I guess it’s hard to be negative about something that has had such a positive impact on my life and my way of working. It gave me the visibility, and the support that I needed to put myself out there as an incredible stylist, proud of my skills. I now have the opportunity, to one day tell my son that ‘mummy did it’. It helped me to ask and get the prices that I deserved. By taking ourselves seriously, we are able to give you awesome costumer service, changing the narrative about styling natural hair. Tag an awesome stylist – better yet, tell them to join the Afrocks family in the fight to dispel clichés and create opportunity. It’s #morethanjusthair, it is our hair, our business, our community, let’s aim for excellence.
Hello! My name is Simone, I am a London-based self-taught natural hair stylist and braider. I am available for booking across London on Afrocks.com.
You can also review my work on my instagram page Hair Passion UK