When I picked up and moved to Sydney, Australia last fall, I had very few concerns. I’d only heard great things about this place. I’d met a handful of co-workers and knew I liked them and that we worked well together. Plus, I love to travel and experience other cultures so this opportunity to live and work here for two years felt like a gift.
When I say I had very few concerns, I really mean I had only one: who was going to do my hair? I’m pretty low maintenance when it comes to my hair. I wear my hair natural because I don’t like fussy hair that requires a lot of attention. I normally visit a hair salon 2- 3 times/year for color, a trim, and sometimes a keratin treatment to help with the frizzies in the humidity. Yet I was still concerned about my hair because, though I don’t want much done to it, I want it done well.
There are not a lot of black women in Sydney. (See chart).
So it would follow, of course, that there are not a lot of hair stylists who know how to do my hair; there’s just not enough women wearing naturally kinky hair for a hair stylist to be able to gain much experience. But I’m a researcher by trade, and so I set out to do research.
· I “interviewed” 8-10 hair stylists by phone or going into their shops. There were a few who admitted to never having done hair like mine and being unsure as to whether they could do it well. I appreciated them. There were a few others who gave some version of “of course I can do it; hair is hair”. I stayed away from them. I didn’t want someone who was cocky enough to assume they’d be good at something they’d never done. I wanted someone who was willing to admit what s/he didn’t know.
· There’s a section of Sydney called Newtown, which has a funky, hip vibe. I was happy to discover a few salons with African stylists. I thought “yes!”. But the few I spoke to wanted to do something way fancier than what I needed. They were doing weaves and relaxers and extensions and braids and beautifully intricate styles that were the opposite of what I wanted. So I said “maybe not.” I had this fear of going in for a trim and being talked into something else that I didn’t really want but allowed myself to be sold on.
· Of course, a recommendation based on experience is the best way to go. Whenever I see a black woman with kinky hair (which is not that often), I stop her and ask “who does your hair”? This often is the beginning of a much longer conversation. The majority said “I do it myself” as we lamented together our lack of options in this otherwise wonderful city. Most had more “don’t go here” responses than recommendations. I did find a woman who strongly recommended her hair stylist who she has used for years. He is American and very familiar with hair with my texture. Unfortunately, he had chosen to spend several months back at home in the US and wasn’t going to be back for awhile.
· So I settled on a hair salon that has quite a nice reputation and is 5 minutes from where I live. We chatted for 15-20 minutes about what I want and what they do. They have a stylist from London who has worked on hair like mine and could give me a trim. They also do keratin treatments. I liked that the stylist admitted she had no experience on kinky hair but would learn what she could through her relationship with Goldwell, a manufacturer of keratin treatment products. She and I spoke 2-3 times before my appointment, with her updating me on what she had learned. I felt confident that this should be a good (enough) hair experience.
It did not go well. Turns out the stylist kinda knew what she was doing, but not really. She used much too much heat, stripping the color and texture from my hair, leaving it a lot like straw. I was horrified…of course. So were the owner, manager, and other stylists at the salon. I must say they couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating in the way they handled it. They offered me unlimited visits at no cost for whatever I needed to make it better. I took them up on their offer for a few visits, but it was clear that nothing was really helping. They even brought in a rep from Goldwell who confirmed that there was no way to reverse what the stylist had done.
So…I went in looking something like this…
… and came out looking like this.
I looked like this for a few days while trying to figure out what to do:
Now I look like this:
I don’t hate the new cut, but I’m not happy about it. My hair will grow back. Slowly. My hair grows very slowly. And my search for someone in Sydney to do my hair continues.