Rise of the knotless braids

Hair can be fussy, uncooperative, moody. When it doesn’t bend, curl, or sit on command, it can be frustrating. Hair can be a handful, a time, a money pit, a drag. Perhaps no one understands this better than Black women.

Step into, left stage: braids.

And not just any braids. Many black women are using a style that has become popular: the so-called buttonless braids, which are significantly different from the traditional box braids.

In the old-fashioned way – notably worn by Janet Jackson in the 1993 film “Poetic Justice”, which helped to define the style in American beauty culture – the hair was split into many discrete sections and synthetic strands. tied at the hairline. Hairstylists who create knotless braids also start by dividing the hair into separate sections, but then have a twist in the process: They braid an inch and a half or more of the natural hair itself, and then they eat the synthetic fibers little by little. into the braid you just created.

Since the hair extensions are not knotted at the roots, those who choose this style will feel very little tension on the scalp. The lack of knots also means that there is no bulkiness that can appear with box braids. And newer styles for flatter braids. The braids without buttons also feel lighter.

“It’s very easy to handle,” said Jamilla Dick-Quashie, 42, director of health and safety at the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Officer and mother of a 6-year-old. “When I put my hair up in a high bun or try to style my hair with knotless braids, it gets a lot easier. And I know that my scalp doesn’t feel tight – and that’s a big difference. “

Ms Fall, 37, from Senegal, said: ‘Initially, unknotted braids were more difficult for us, because it’s something we’re not used to doing. “Once we got used to it, we found that it was actually a bit easier than regular braids.”

Without bothering to make small knots at the base, stylists have found that they can braid them faster – which means more customers and more sales. At Aminata, box braids, unknotted or not, cost $140 for back-length hair and $180 for back-length hair.

New styles are also driving demand. In the days before knotless braids appeared on Instagram’s discovery page, a customer could go to an African braiding salon without a reservation. Currently, many hairdressers are asking customers to book an appointment online. Some require a $30 deposit for no-shows. (Aminata African braids are still first come, first served.)

For Meagan Louis, who braids her hair at her own salon, Soignée BK, in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush section, says unknotted braids are great for her business, which she started when new styles are in vogue.

She said she didn’t start braiding full time. After graduating from University at Albany in 2012 with a degree in biology, she worked as a technician in a medical lab and braided her hair after work to earn extra income.

“I’ll do 9 to 5 and then, when I get home, I’ll probably knock out two clients,” Ms. Louis said. “I’ll do it maybe every other day.”

She would tie a woman’s hair in knots, and that person would refer her to another client, and soon she had more clients than she could handle.

“Full-time jobs become full-time rather than actual full-time jobs,” says Ms. Louis.

But Ms. Louis was hesitant, partly because her parents, immigrants from the Grenadines, hoped that she would become a doctor.

“I was ready to apply to medical school,” said Ms. Louis, “and it was only at that point that you decided, “Is it worth going for another 11 years to become a surgeon, or are you just Need to braid this hair and can you create the same amount? ‘”

In the end, Ms. Louis quit her job at the lab. She said the ability to be able to schedule herself and spend more time with her daughter and son, aged 8 and 4, was at the heart of her decision.

“I make more money braiding my hair and get more creative,” says Ms. Louis. “Science is very rigorous. It works, or it doesn’t. It is science, it is mathematics. But here you can be creative, you can do what you want.”

Ms. Louis worked from home until she opened Soignée BK in February 2020. Then the pandemic hit her and she couldn’t see clients for months. During the early months of her isolation, she built her salon’s social media presence. She said that when she announced she was ready to see the client again, she booked an appointment a month in advance within two minutes.

Now, she starts taking new appointments on the 16th of every month at a sharp noon, and the month fills up almost immediately. Ms. Louis attributes her success to speed and neatness. The braids she creates appear uniform, almost machine-made.

A conscientious scientist, Ms. Louis is particular about ensuring that one side of a client’s head doesn’t have more braids than the other, a common pitfall. She also requires her clients to have at least 4-5 inches of hair and to have their hair freshly washed and blow-dried. (With older braids, there was almost no limit to how short a client’s hair was.) Originally, Mrs. Louis charged $150 for medium-sized braids per person. Now the price is $350 for the same service.

She says she prefers no-button braids, in part because the process is quicker. Another advantage of the new style is less damage to the hair, according to customer and stylist reviews. With the traditional box-style braids, tightly knotted and tight to the scalp, some women have experienced hair loss.

Ms. Dick-Quashie, of the medical examiner’s office, said she chose the knot because it is known to be gentle. She began meeting Xia Charles, 29, the owner of Braided, a salon in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Ms Charles, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, said she learned how to braid her hair from her grandmother starting at the age of 3. Her skills came in handy when she was a student majoring in economics at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill in Barbados.

“When I get tired of ramen, I will braid a few more heads just to make some money,” Ms. Charles said. “When I finished college, I returned home to Tobago and couldn’t find a job, so I started doing my hair in my sister’s clothing store on a slightly cooler chair.”

After immigrating to the United States in 2017, she began braiding her hair at a barber shop across the street from where she lived in Brooklyn.

After five months at the barbershop, she rented a booth at the salon. To establish a client base, she started posting photos of her work on social media. Customers come in to buy one of her specials – the stitched braid, which is a braid in which the hair is divided horizontally, below the spine of the braid. Like buttonless braids, stitched braids start with natural hair and involve synthetic hair being fed into the braid, causing less tension. Miss Charles’ method is unique, because she sews it back with her ring finger when she braids it down.

Ms Charles said: “Stitching the braid will take care of your hair. “Back in the day, they would start with a big clump of synthetic hair, and that would rip your hair follicles out of your scalp. Now you start with your own hair. Black hair, we tend to have a lot of hair loss; We have our problems. “

After some success in her rental stall, she began braiding her hair in her two-bedroom apartment. “I ran it as if it were a salon,” Ms. Charles said. In 2018, she got her breakthrough after braiding reality TV star Tanisha Thomas, who posted the results on Instagram and tagged Miss Charles. Before long, rapper Cardi B was among Charles’s Instagram followers – and later became a customer. Ms. Charles said she sometimes braids Cardi B’s hair.

Cardi B tends to have fish hair, usually just eyebrows with your natural hair, and then extensions,” Ms. Charles said. “It doesn’t pull your hair at all.”

In 2020, Miss Charles is part of Beyoncé’s . braiding team “Black Is King” photo album, in which the megastar wears box braids that are longer than her body.

“The biggest influencers are celebrities,” Ms. Charles said.

In September 2021, she opened Braided, a spacious salon with white paper walls and large bay windows. She also offers braiding classes and occasionally hires her students. With business booming, Mrs. Charles bought her first home – within five years of arriving in the United States, she noted.

As for those who say prices have gone too high, she says customers don’t need to bother, as long as the braids are done right.

“It can be more expensive,” said Ms. Charles, “but people are willing to pay, provided that when they get all their hair out, their hair is still intact. People want protection, they want ease, convenience – and that’s what buttonless braids do.”

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