There's a lack of Black hair services in Nova Scotia. This woman wants to change that
'Black beauty culture is not recognized at all in Nova Scotia, hardly across the country'
For 30 years, Samantha Dixon Slawter has wanted to open up a hair school in Nova Scotia that focuses on teaching stylists to work with Black and textured hair.
Dixon Slawter, who owns her own salon in Dartmouth, N.S., said cosmetology programs focus mostly on straight hair — and that puts people of colour at a disadvantage for finding services once those stylists begin working in the community.
She hopes that a new kind of program would lead to more salons knowing how to properly work with all types of hair.
But she said until now, racism and neglect in the cosmetology field have prevented the dream of a new kind of hair school from becoming a reality.
"Black beauty culture is not recognized at all in Nova Scotia, hardly across the country," Dixon Slawter said.
Now, amid calls from across the country for more inclusive cosmetology programs, she has an application in to the province to open a private career college with a focus on Black and textured hair.
"This is the first time I've actually been encouraged and I see a light at the end of the tunnel," she said.
Dixon Slawter wants to see more done to make sure that the public is cared for in the beauty field.
"I don't understand why Nova Scotia has not recognized Black beauty culture by now. It boggles me, it boggles my mind," she said.
It's a problem that Dana Sharkey, executive director with the Cosmetology Association of Nova Scotia, said she's been hearing about for years.
In recent months, she said she's received many emails pertaining "to the feeling that there is a lack of quality services for textured hair in Nova Scotia, which we do also agree with."
"Our goal is to make sure that every person in Nova Scotia can go into any salon or spa, anywhere in Nova Scotia and receive the service that they want — a quality service," Sharkey said.
She said they want to see a specific licensure put in place, such as textured hairstyling.
"We have submitted applications or requests to government for these specific licenses and we're ready to go. We've got the curriculum outlines for textured hairstyling, the textbooks required to go with it and we're hoping that we'll gain approval in the near future," she said.
But Labour and Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis said he has heard from the African Nova Scotian community that they are not in favour of formal regulations and would prefer shorter courses instead of a full program.
He said they have asked the Cosmetology Association to consult African Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaw communities on the type of styling and regulations needed.
"To date, we haven't been satisfied that they've reached out to enough people in the African Nova Scotian community who are not members of the Cosmetology Association," he told reporters.
In a statement from the department, the Apprenticeship Board says it received an application to designate Black Beauty Culture Hair Innovator as a trade in Nova Scotia.
In order to determine whether there is interest and support, the board is establishing a trade advisory committee and are seeking someone knowledgeable about Black culture and hair to consult with the industry and make recommendations to the board.
Apprenticeship pilot program
The Cosmetology Association also partnered with the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency two years ago for a pilot program with seven apprentices, which will finish up in the fall.
Sharkey said they will have another pilot program hopefully starting in October and 30 people have already registered.
Dixon Slawter said she has also applied, as she got her license through apprenticeship when it was previously available in the province. She said she's been calling for the return of the program for years.
"Everyone's not looking to go to hairdressing school. Some people want to be on the job. And in the community, people need work," she said.
Dixon Slawter is hosting an event, Black Hair Matters, through the Halifax Public Libraries on Aug. 17.
She hopes this will help teach the public about the history of Black hair in Nova Scotia, which includes work by civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond.
"It's deep, it's rich. The history is so unique," Dixon Slawter said, adding that the history also includes less well known names, such as Lena Blanche Halfkenny Lucas, who owned a salon in Amherst around 1905 and made her own wigs.
Dixon Slawter said she feels hopeful change can happen in the province — and soon.
"There was a lot of times that I actually wanted to give up this work, I wanted to sit down. And I'm still here, still standing," she said.
"I've been working on it for 30 years, so I'm hoping it won't be 30 years more."