I’ve always been fascinated by braids – never had them, but I think it’s such an interesting way to completely change a look. It’s obviously also part of a culture that we too rarely talk about on the blog, so I thought it was about time…
We went with our friend Saada to Khamit Kinks, a salon in Brooklyn, to see what the experience of braiding was like. It was incredible to see, from start to finish, such a transformative process. It’s so detailed, from the initial oiling of the hair to the weaving in of extensions, braiding and sealing of the braids (with boiling hot water!).
It’s long and tricky, to get the braids just right. The braiders are so precise, focused the entire time. It took over six hours, and we wanted to share with you what that looked like and what we learned along the way…
Interview with Anu Prestoria, owner of Khamit Kinks
Why did you start braiding?
My grandmother was a hair stylist, and she used to do my sister’s and my hair, so it came naturally to me. When I was in college, I started braiding my own hair. I went to a party, and this guy was like, “Who did your hair? The salon I work for is looking for a braider.” This is in Washington, D.C. in 1978.
How old were you?
19? I was at Howard University, then I moved back to New York.
Have braids become more popular over time?
Oh, way more popular. When I first began, the only people who were having their hair braided were students, people who were involved in African culture, or artists. When I first started, the styles were quite different from this. They were really, really, really tiny braids with beads; micro braids with beading. Then extensions came out and gave a look that was more acceptable in the corporate world.
It became more mainstream?
It was a very slow process — very, very slow. Back then, there was a push back. I know airline stewardesses who sued the airlines because they were told they couldn’t wear braids.
And you had braids?
Oh, I’ve worn every style. Every single one. I’ve had locks, all together, for 15 years. I’ve had every type of braid style.
How have braid styles changed?
They’ve changed, but we have a lot of perennial styles. What has changed a lot is that now that we have a lot of people interested in natural hair. Many of them don’t want to wear braids or twists or anything this structured, they want to wear their hair out. We’re not new to natural, we’re true to natural, we’ve been doing this. For us, it’s not just about the style, it’s whether or not your hair can support that style, whether or not your hair is healthy enough for that style, or strong enough for it.
What does maintenance involve, in between salon appointments?
Lubricate their scalp with our hair oils. They can also use leave-in conditioners. And they should shampoo once every two to three weeks.
Is it commonplace turn people away because their hair isn’t strong enough?
Oh, yeah. Certain salons, many salons, give you anything you want. We won’t do something that’s going to further damage their hair.
What are the dangers of applying braids to hair that isn’t strong enough?
They can lose their hair. It might not happen that first time but they’re gonna either weaken their hair or it’s just going to come out all together. Sometimes it won’t grow back, if you damage the follicles, it won’t grow back. The baldness is permanent.
Who were the people that were influential when braiding first became popular?
In that era, artists like Stevie Wonder, Cecily Tyson, Maya Angelou, you know, iconic people. A lot of celebrities were because it was a black power thing, afro and braids.
What are the effects of relaxing and perming in opposition to braiding?
Well, because of the chemicals, the hair is gonna thin out over time. I’ve met like women who had their hair relaxed for 20 or 30 years and, one day, they wake up and have no hair. It was thinning out all along, they just didn’t notice it.
And can you tell me a about the ANU products you developed?
I started making hair oils for my clients when I first started back over thirty-something years ago because people of African heritage tend to have a dry scalp and hair, especially in this cold environment. It was hard to lubricate the scalp with pomade with braids in, so I developed an oil. The secret ingredients are the botanicals that we set with the oils.
Interview with Saada
Have you had braids before?
It’s not my first time getting braids, but it’s the first time I’ve had these kind of braids. When I was a kid, I had single braids but without extensions. I also had cornrows, but that was 10 years ago.
What does it mean to you, culturally, to have braids?
It’s an important part of my heritage. I see it as a sign of beauty.
Who braided your hair growing up?
My mom. But then if I wanted to get like a specific type of braids, I would go with my aunt to the salon
And how does it feel having extension braids?
It feels good. I whip my hair back and forth!