The drive to make Afro hair training mandatory
The death of George Floyd, an African American man, at the hands of a white officer from the Minneapolis Police Department has sparked demonstrations and protests across the globe. And alongside the outcry over longstanding police brutality against the black population, a greater awareness of the institutionalised racism and discrimination across many business and sectors has been brought to the fore. Our hair industry included.
At Creative HEAD, we recognise these short-fallings and have pledged to be anti-racist. To do more, and to do better across our events, pages and feeds. And we are pleased to see the UK hair community stepping up to try and facilitate change.
Jemima Bradley, a recently qualified junior stylist from Blue Tit London salon, has started a petition to make Afro hair experience (styling, cutting, care and colouring) mandatory at all levels of the NVQ syllabus and in Apprenticeships Standards education. As a white woman, she wants to help ensure that in the near future, all trainees are equipped with a working knowledge of Afro hair, and so are capable of giving the very best service to any individual who sits in their chair.
“I think we can all agree that for a long time there’s been huge segregation in our industry,” Jemima told Creative HEAD. “The lack of education when it comes to Afro hair is shocking. My own personal journey with my apprenticeship – and constant education since being on the salon floor – has meant my training in styling, cutting, colouring and caring for Afro hair has been very little to none.
“I completed a Hairdressing NVQ at level 2, and as I didn’t go on to do the level 3, Afro hairdressing on a practical level was not covered,” she added. “We need to get Afro hair out of the fringes of education and make it compulsory. I completed my NVQ a year ago – this was a problem in 2019 and from what I’m aware of, nothing has changed in 2020.”
Since qualifying, the Afro hair experience Jemima has picked up has been informal and sporadic. “I am fortunate that one of the apprentices I worked with while I was an assistant was black,” she explained. “Without her being in the salon and generously volunteering to help me improve my knowledge, I would not have learned anything about black hair. She taught me how to do a straight blow-dry and how to braid, both on her own hair and on a Caucasian block head. I asked questions, but definitely not enough, and it shouldn’t have fallen on her to educate me and field my queries. Any other small pieces of information I have picked up have been self-taught, not demonstrated nor outlined by an educator.
“The goal of the petition is to get Afro hairdressing taught equally in the curriculum – to be practiced and assessed alongside Caucasian cutting, styling and colouring,” she continued. “This would ensure everyone has a working knowledge and cannot qualify without having been educated in all hair types – and I will not stop until it is compulsory. I created the petition not to take the spotlight away from the black and Afro stylists in our industry, but so black clients feel safe, comfortable and confident if they choose to sit in a white hairstylist’s chair.
Among the many high-profile hairdressers to support the petition is session stylist Aaron Carlo.
“When I was training 18 years ago, I don’t even remember textured hair training being available,” he explained. “I was lucky my sister had textured hair and she was always my practice model so I kind of learnt it hand in hand. But I don’t think any hairstylist I worked with in those days would say they were confident with textured hair. ”
“This is why I believe that not only should Afro hair sessions be mandatory in the NVQ and equivalent training, but also that in salon training needs to be provided more widely to address the lack of knowledge amongst white stylists (something I haven’t received),” Jemima continued. “I’m sure there are a lot of white stylists that can stand with me to say their experience has been the same and they are equally desperate to rectify the situation. We all collectively must do better. I will do better. We as an industry have to educate ourselves for our black clients.”
“At the end of the day, no one should have to disclose their race to be able to book an appointment in a salon,” Aaron agreed. “And the people really suffering with this complete lack of training are the hairstylists themselves. They’re closing themselves off to a whole market of clients. I would have lost out on so much work if I wasn’t able to style textured hair. ”
Jemima highlighted that the buck does not stop at education providers. “As a white hairstylist I’m holding my hands up to say I haven’t done enough. I’ve taken on bits of knowledge, watched a number of videos, and I learned more about curly textures, but did I actively educate myself in Afro styling and push for more to be done as soon as I noticed gaps in my knowledge? No. And that has to change.
“And outside the salon, we are not doing enough until we see the same number of black stylists on stage at major hair events as we do white stylists,” she added. “We are not doing enough until black models are in our shoots because their hair is beautiful, not because they are a token used to show diversity. We are not doing enough until we are employing black stylists because of their overall talent, not just because we need them to braid. This is what this petition is about. Restarting our industry. Taking the first very issue and correcting it, so the generation of hairstylists to come have no excuse.”
“Not everyone is gonna be an expert at textured hair, that’s fair,” Aaron agreed. “I learnt how to perm but would certainly not call myself an expert! We all have our own areas we excel in, but at the very least you should be able to advise, consult, care and style textured hair.
“And there are plenty of courses available out there,” he added. “Or take it upon yourself to go to your local salon where they specialise, and ask to assist. There’s no shame in learning new skills.”
Watch back a live chat with Jem, Lisa Farrall and former Creative HEAD cover model Sofia Elhaj all about textured hair education HERE >
Conscious that your Afro hair knowledge and experience is lacking? Here are some resources to help white stylists in particular educate themselves.
WIG London Academy (wiglondon.com)
Founded by award-winning stylist and educator Lisa Farrall, WIG London’s education is proudly ‘texture neutral’, meaning all teaching is carried out on all hair types (including Afro Caribbean, European and Asian hair). From single day sessions to week-long series of workshops, you can also request tailored tuition to tackle your skills gaps.
City & Guilds top-up courses in Combined Hair Types (cityandguilds.com)
City & Guilds have reassured us that following work in conjunction with HABIA, their current NVQ qualifications do include education in multiple textures of hair, with training focusing on a spectrum of cuticle shapes and thickness rather than ethnicity. For anyone who did not receive training in afro textures, they also now offer a Level 2 Certificate in Combined Hair Types Techniques, which can be delivered as a short course.
SliderCuts training (slidercuts.com)
Social media sensation Mark Maciver, better known as the Slider of SliderCuts, has risen to recognition shaping up a list of leading clients from Stormzy and Tinie Tempah to Anthony Joshua and Marvin Humes. He offers both hands on and observational training in groups and one-to-one sessions, with a particular focus on Afro hair barbering techniques.
Barber MK Mucktaru Kargbo is an ambassador for Andis and worked with City & Guilds to improve their NVQ course content. Independently, he offers barbering training at his own academy, which caters for both European and Afro hair.
Away from the classroom, one of the easiest first steps to take is diversifying your Instagram feed and following both Afro hair stylists and educators. It mustn’t stop there, but daily inspiration from your peers and tips from experts can help expand your knowledge beyond a certificate. Emma Diamond is just one of many stylists who’ve shared their must-follow accounts (check out her Stories highlight here), but open your eyes, explore the talent you’ve overlooked and work to make yourself a better hairdresser, for every client.