New Brunswick

Push for N.B. stylists to be trained to work with Black and textured hair

Felomena Deogratsias remembers walking into the hair salon located on the University of New Brunswick campus and asking them to shave her head.

'I was never taught,' says Annie Parker, a Rothesay hairstylist

A woman gets her hair cut at Curly Hair Designs in Ottawa. A Rothesay hairstylist has asked the Cosmetology Association of New Brunswick to consider training new stylists to work with Black and textured hair. (Merritt Decloux/CBC)

Felomena Deogratsias remembers walking into the hair salon located on the University of New Brunswick campus and asking them to shave her head.

Not because she wanted her head shaved but because she was tired of looking for products and stylists in New Brunswick that were meant for Black hair. 

She said growing up in Montreal, finding products and getting her hair done wasn't an issue, but when she moved to Fredericton that changed.

"I don't have the hair products that I need. I can't style it the way that I wanted and I didn't want to be going outside and not feeling confident and not feeling representing who I want to be."

Now, after dealing with many negative experiences, Deogratsias has bonded with a friend who worked to learn how to properly style Black hair.

She said she's had hairstylists who pretend they know how to cut Black hair, but they lacked experience and ended up making it worse.

"If I wanted a pixie cut or if I wanted something a little bit more different, they didn't have that knowledge on how to process and cut and style my kind of hair."

Felomena Deogratsias said growing up in Montreal, products for Black hair and capable stylists were much more available. (Submitted by Felomena Deogratsias)

After participating in Black Lives Matter rallies, a hairstylist in Rothesay said she took time to reflect and realized her own industry was lacking education around how to style and cut Black, textured and curly hair. 

Annie Parker said she's had to turn away clients because she doesn't have the skills necessary to cut their hair and she's heard of Black people having to travel as far as Halifax to get their hair dyed. 

"That is something a white client might take for granted and it's a pure example of privilege to be able to go into almost every salon around and be able to expect a basic service and not be turned away." 

Parker has launched a petition asking the Cosmetology Association of New Brunswick to include comprehensive training on Black and textured hair in the school curriculum. 

She said throughout her education, dealing with Black hair was "glossed over."

"When it comes to Black, textured, kinky and curly hair, what's mostly talked about is a chemical relaxer to relax that curl formation and get rid of the curl." 

The demand 

Gaye Cail, executive director of the Cosmetology Association of New Brunswick, said the ask is being reviewed and has to go through a number of steps before approval. 

She said implementing changes could be difficult because of practice time.

"Statistically New Brunswick doesn't have a large population of ethnic hair to work on. It's important, it's just the amount of practice."

She said purchasing mannequins with textured hair could be part of the solution, but that wouldn't be helpful after graduation. 

"Once you get out into the industry, if there isn't a clientele to be able to practice that on, sometimes that's the difficult part."

Deogratsias said she thinks there is a big enough population to be able to train stylists to do Black hair. 

"There is a growing and booming community of black people here."

"I would encourage cosmetology schools and directors to think about the communities they are serving and what it means to be Canadian," she said. "If the answer is just white then there is something significantly problematic and definitely racially biased."

'A lot of people stare'

Kathy Young grew up in Saint John and didn't have a place to get her hair done. Her mother used to use a hot plate and a comb to get the curls out of her hair.

"It looked great when it was done but that process had an affect on me." 

"[My mother]  wanted our hair to be taken care of and maintained but I think for women it's a condition that we have to straighten our hair so that we look more acceptable, so we look more whitened down."

Young said she went to get her hair styled by someone who said she had experience with her hair type but was overwhelmed when Young sat down.

Kathy Young runs a group called Conversations With Women of Colour that allows all women to discuss a variety of topics. (CBC New Brunswick)

"She was a mixed race women, she said she had experience with my type of hair but when I went in she got all overwhelmed and didn't know what to do because I had really big hair at the time."

Young decided to stop styling her hair and she still experiences mixed reactions.

"I just wanted to feel free and comfortable in my own skin and hair is a big part of that for me."

She's had people laugh and stare at her hair. She's even had problems applying for jobs.

Deogratsias said this isn't the first time people have tried to make care for Black hair more accessible. She mentioned Viola Desmond's School of Beauty Culture.

After applying and being rejected from multiple beauty schools in Nova Scotia, Desmond sought training elsewhere and then opened her own beauty school in Halifax in 1930.

"It's important to note there was a history of people who were trying to create these spaces to avoid the issues that we're facing many years later."

With files from Information Morning Saint John