British Columbia

Building a business for Black hair in northern B.C.

Sanya Stephens is helping Black and biracial residents of Prince George find a hairstyle that feels authentic to who they are.

A self-taught stylist is serving a growing community in Prince George

A college student from Jamaica is finding success with her side gig as a stylist specializing in Black hair in the city of Prince George, B.C. (Merritt Decloux/CBC)

Eighteen-year-old Aicha Sall has witnessed first hand the growing need in Prince George for salons that offer affordable options for Black hairstyles.

She says she and her friends have had a hard time finding people in the northern B.C. city who have been trained to work with Black and textured hairstyles — and when they can find someone, they are often paying extra for the service.

"I feel like it is unfair that you have to pay double or triple the amount just because someone can't braid because they think it's difficult," she said of the higher prices they are asked to shell out.

That's a gap 22-year-old Sanya Stephens hopes to fill with her new business, Braided Crowns, which specializes in styling Black hair at more affordable prices.

Stephens saw the need when she moved to Prince George from Jamaica in 2018 and had difficulty finding products and people to help style her own hair.

"I realized Prince George actually needed me to do hair because there's not many people here that can do it," she said.

A self-taught stylist serving a growing population

As she studies for a business degree at the local College of New Caledonia, Stephens is finding success in her side gig as a stylist, attracting clients who've been unable to find someone with the knowledge to properly look after their hair in northern B.C. — even though she doesn't have any formal training.

"I learned everything by myself," said Stephens of how she taught herself to work with cornrows, box braids, weaves and more. "I love doing hair."

Though the greater Prince George area has more than 85,000 people, fewer than one per cent are Black, according to the latest Statistics Canada data.

But that number is growing as more people come from overseas or other parts of Canada to study or work.

'Your hair is your crown'

She's also catering to people who grew up in the city but haven't had someone with her knowledge do their hair before.

"I realized that a lot of biracial kids here, mixed race kids, and the moms don't know how to do their hair, because the texture is different from their parents, that are Caucasian," she said.

Stephens is amazed by the positive contributions she can make to the Black community in Prince George, one hair style at a time.

And she's happy to see other stylists taking a more active interest in learning to style different types of hair, which she believes is a central part of expressing who you are.

"Your hair is your crown," she said. "It's a part of your identity. Protect it."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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