Hair Salon Blues There are about 100,000 hair follicles on the average human head, tended by an 80,000-strong army of hair salons and barbershops in the US. African Americans, though just 12 percent of the population, account for 80 percent of this multi-billion dollar industry, according to Chris Rock’s recent documentary “Good Hair.” So I headed to 125th Street – Harlem – to see how hair salons were doing in the economic downturn.
At Oumou Express, a rental space for freelance hairdressers, most of the booths were empty. A slim man in a sharp jean jacket and suede shoes laughed and swept his hand across the space when I asked how business was going. “I work every day,” Henry Mars said, “but Friday and Saturday are the only days I do work.”
And the work needs to last. That was the message heard by Freddie Decaldeell at Barber Lounge on Premise, who said her business was "low but constant." She recently hired three articifial hair operators to handle the demand for wigs, weaves and braids, which customers opt for to cut costs. "Braids cut down on the salon business (for real hair)," Decaldeell said.
As customer Kim was getting her black and gold braids done at Super Barber Hair Braiding & Barbershop, she told me, “Usually I’d wear my braids for maximum two months, but I leave them in at least a month longer if it’s going to cost me $100 every time.”
Despite the empty chairs at the salons, Henry Mars remains hopeful. "The days of spending are over," he said. "Even if times are tough we don't have to look like it. Things are going to get better. They can't stay down forever.”
- Oli Foster