CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to add more context to Walker’s remarks on why she started doing her hair and how much time services at N Natural Hair Studio take.
As A’Dia Gaskins sat in the spacious salon filled with gospel music and decorated with neutral pinks and earth tones, she reflected on how long she had been an N Natural Hair Studio client.
“We’ve been in this relationship for two-and-a-half-years — it feels like forever,” said salon manager and textured hair specialist Carissa Bernard.
It’s not simply going to a person to get your hair done, she said.
“It’s a stylist-client relationship,” Bernard added. “It’s a relationship that’s built on trust. Because at the end of the day, this is their hair and your hair is your crown.”
N Natural Hair Studio was launched by University of Maryland alum Angela Walker in 2012 to serve people who wear their hair in its textured state, including those aspiring to go natural.
Although she has always enjoyed doing hair, she doesn’t know whether it was because it was fun for her or if she learned because her mother didn’t know how to do her hair.
“My mom was really, really bad at it — and I have a lot of hair,” Walker said. “So I would say when I was growing up being dark skinned with hair that is considered ‘extremely nappy,’ and the hair isn’t done — all of that was just not good. So I feel like I almost learned how to do hair out of necessity.”
Walker said the studio — which has two locations in Silver Spring — has an Afrocentric aesthetic.
Tonia Butler, a textured hair specialist at N Natural Hair Studio, said the services focus on Afro-textured hair but she has also done services for other curly-hair communities, such as clients who are Latino or multi-ethnic.
The salon does not straighten hair or “create any styles that give a European look,” and most services are completed within two hours while even extension services, such as knotless braids, are completed within four hours, Walker said.
“They really focus on natural hair,” said Shay Ojeifo, who has been going to N Natural Hair Studio since she did “the big chop” in 2016. “It’s been good to be able to grow my hair naturally without perms and all the other products I was using prior”
Everyone is very sweet and at the same time efficient, she said. In other salons sometimes she would have to be there all day, and here she likes that she knows when her appointment starts and ends.
Channae Manning, also a client at N Natural Hair Studio, said it was always easy for her to come back to the business because of the tranquility in the salon and people always having conversations with each other and laughing.
“It feels very intimate,” Manning said.
Manning, who recently went to N Natural Hair Studio to have her locs refreshed and retwisted, said that getting her hair done is definitely part of her self-care.
“One time I actually got my hair shampooed, I almost fell asleep. It was that relaxing,” she said.
For a good salon experience, being able to trust that a stylist knows how curly hair works and over-communicates is important for some clients, such as Kayla Malone.
Malone, a senior finance and information systems major, goes to New York to get a haircut because “they know how to cut the curly hair.”
For people looking for a place to get a curly cut closer to campus, there are salons along Route 1 that cater to natural hair.
Hair and Space Blowdry and Beauty Bar, a salon located above the Starbucks in College Park Shopping Center, also services all hair types, including natural hair care and protective styling options.
Owner and founder Regina Holbert, also a University of Maryland alum, said it’s been a roller coaster with the community because of COVID-19.
Hair and Space opened in October 2019, so as it began to grow and as the pandemic hit, the staff weren’t able to interact with the community on campus and market their business as easily as before the pandemic.
“For me, as a salon owner, you can have the best product in the world, but if I do not see diversity on your social media page, it’s a no for me,” Holbert said.
Holbert opened Hair and Space because she wanted to provide more affordable hair services for all types. After the Prince George’s County native ventured into different parts of the region, such as Montgomery County, she learned that some people were calling certain hair types “thick” and charging extra for having “natural” or longer hair.
“There was just all this language and fees and pricing associated with having hair that was not fine,” she said. “That became alienating and disappointing.”
That’s why she not only focused on having relatively affordable prices, but she also made sure all her stylists went through a training on natural, textured hair.
The salon’s prices range from $25 for a dry cut and $66 for a signature blowout up to $150 for a “High Flyer Pony” with a natural, detachable ponytail.
They also do wash-and-go styling and use DevaCurl products. She said that she pays attention to the diversity in advertising when choosing a product for her salon.
“I think if you have experience with working with all different types of hair, then you have an opportunity to really become an expert,” Holbert said.
Many who have natural, textured hair also go to Dominican salons. Elsa Grant, the owner of Bethel Dominican Blowout Boutique in College Park, said blowouts, the main service of her salon, are perfect for those who want to maintain their natural hair but would like to straighten their hair every now and then.
The blowout does require heat and using a flat iron, but she said they also use roller sets for those who would prefer less heat on their hair.
“For people that really care about [not losing] the curl pattern, a blowout is not for them to go all the time. They can do [it] once or twice a year,” Grant said.
She said they make sure they use a lot of products that are moisturizing to prevent damage and breakage.
They also provide services, such as deep conditioning, for people who want to style their natural hair and have products and oils that help people grow out their natural hair, such as coconut oil and avocado oil.
Even though they provide services that straighten hair or loosen curls, Grant said they still fully support the natural hair movement and that she loves seeing more and more people wearing their hair naturally.
“In the Dominican Republic, we don’t do a lot of relaxing either,” Grant said.
She also added that they encourage their clients to stay away from relaxers.
“We try to hold their hand to do it, to stay away from relaxer,” she said. “It’s a process and a lot of people are not able to do it because of a job or different things.”
But at the end of the day she said that her salon cares most about her clients wants and needs, especially clients who have parents that either do not have the time or skills to do their child’s hair.
“We’re not just hairdressers, we’re [hair] doctors, we’re friends … we have to listen to our customers,” Grant said.