The recession has hit home for many Americans who find themselves out of work, struggling to make ends meet, or stuck in jobs they’d rather trade. But there’s also been one unlikely group that’s been deeply affected, Black hair salons.
Hair salons have been some of the most segregated spaces in our society. Rarely do you see a “Black” or “White” hair salon that caters to both ethnicities. Furthermore, Black hair salons have been a bastion of candid talk for Black women about everything from race to relationships. Many of us wouldn’t dare go to a “White” salon to have our hair done, but the economy could be changing that.
A recent Washington Post article highlights some of the changes taking place at hair salons across Philadelphia. It noted that the recession is causing several Black salons to close their doors, and their stylists to flock to chairs in other, more diverse, salons.
“African American salons suffered a lot during the last couple of years due to the troubled economy,” Geri Duncan Jones, executive director of the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute, told The Washington Post.
“There has also been decreased business due to drastic changes in hairstyle trends [as more black women opt for] virgin hair weaves, braids, natural hair and wigs.”
Many of these changes—swapping chemical processes like relaxers for weaves and lace-front wigs—means Black salons no longer corner the market on Black hair, because many of these looks can be achieved at other salons.
Although the recession has hit all of us hard, Black women still find some room in their budget for their hair. Ethnic hair-care products are expected to rake in $154 million this year, and Black women still schedule regular appointments, even though these days they tend to stretch them farther apart.
One stylist, Seline Braswell, owned a salon in Philadelphia that catered to Black hair for nearly 12 years. However, when the recession hit, she was forced to close her doors and seek employment at Saks Fifth Avenue. And she wasn’t the first. The infusion of Black stylists to Saks brought nearly 1,000 new clients to the salon.
While some see the influx of Black stylists to White salons as a move to improve diversity and the skills of both White and Black hair stylists, others see it as a loss of a cultural institution.
“You are erasing culture, you are erasing history and you are erasing a way African Americans have socialized with each other for decades,” said Charles Gallagher, a White professor of sociology, criminal justice and social work at La Salle University.
“These J.C. Penneys and Saks are culturally spaceless. You don’t learn about culture, gender or experience, and the lessons about the politics of the community, that’s all gone.”
No matter what side of the debate you fall on, one thing is sure, Black women are finding new, more economical options when it comes to their hair.