The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting piece about the competition black hair salons are experiencing from Dominican salons.
Armed with a blow dryer and brush, deft wrist action and shrewd promotional tactics, immigrants from the Dominican Republic are snipping away market share from African-American stylists whose mastery of black women’s hair ensured for generations that their customers wouldn’t, or couldn’t, leave them. Promises of seemingly healthier hair, swifter service and far lower prices are wooing away a growing number of black women.
The defections have infuriated African-American stylists who insist that their methods are safe and that they are more highly trained than the Dominicans are. “It’s hard enough in these times, but they are undercutting our prices, even passing out fliers to our own clients,” complains Atlanta hairdresser Jannifer Jackson, whose cancellations and no-shows began piling up once a Dominican salon opened about a mile away last summer.
Many traditional black stylists accuse Dominicans of misrepresenting their services as “natural” because nearly all Dominican salons perform relaxer touch-ups. Traditionalists say the “Dominican blowout” technique can cause severe hair breakage. Both sorts of stylists wash, set hair in rollers and seat customers under big dryers.
African-American stylists typically use a curling iron to unfurl the hair, while Dominicans use a two-handed method of unraveling the strands with a round brush, followed by a blow dryer in the other hand to smooth the curl to a straight finish. Dominicans do so by pulling from the hair root, often forcefully. That, along with applying the second round of intense heat, leads to breakage, say black stylists and some customers.
Dominican stylists deny the accusations. The majority of Dominicans are themselves black, and like African-Americans, they developed their skills by styling their own hair. “We have stylists—black stylists—all the time calling and asking to come and train with us,” boasts Alfredo Rhoden, co-owner of Dominican Hair Salon by Massiel in suburban Atlanta.
The financial impact of the Dominican incursion on black American salons is hard to gauge. Sales volume isn’t tracked by the race or ethnicity of salon owners. But industry experts, salon owners and stylists say the impact is indisputable. A fixture in New York City since the 1980s, Dominicans now are rapidly expanding to other U.S. cities.
New Jersey stylist and barber Gina Brydie formed the National Black Cosmetology Association last year to help salon owners strengthen their businesses against the recession and the increasing Dominican competition.
“We have Asians coming in with the beauty supplies and Dominicans coming in and taking over our industry,” says Ms. Brydie, 39 years old and 20 years in the business. Salons and barber shops are a proud touchstone for blacks in part because they were among the earliest black-owned businesses, providing one of few paths to economic advancement after slavery. By the early 1900s, black entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker had become a self-made millionaire by making hair and beauty products for blacks.
Now, rather than trying to beat the Dominicans, some African-American business owners are joining them. Jennifer Drew started RoundBrushHair.com in 2007 to help Dominican salons market to blacks after she switched to the blowout and saw curiosity budding among black women.
The RoundBrushHair.com database has grown to include several hundred Dominican salons, from Sun Valley, Calif., to Chicago to Boston. Almost all opened in the past five years, Ms. Drew says. It includes 80 salons in metropolitan Washington, 95 in Georgia, 15 in Charlotte, N.C., and seven in Houston.
We can see why the black hair care providers are up in arms about losing customers, especially in this economy, but at the same time the competition is GREAT for the clients. It’s hard walking in a black salon without losing your purse — so it’s good to know there is a less expensive alternative. Plus, we’ve experienced how much faster you can get in and out of a Dominican salon. At the same time, is there anything that can compare to that old familiar feeling of slipping into the chair of the stylist who has been doing your hair for years? The community feel of a black salon is another bonus that can’t be matched elsewhere.
Have you abandoned your regular stylist for a Dominican spot? Do you think that the Dominican blowout is less damaging than a curling iron or flat iron? Please leave a comment!