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One Woman's Complicated History With Black Hair Shops

Before the days of online orders and figuring out that I could get most of what I wanted for my hair from Tesco’s, it was imperative that I find a good black hair shop that stocked the necessary items for all my hair requirements. Growing up, I was always reminded that only certain products could ‘work’ on hair like mine and that even in a city as diverse as London, none of these could be found in mainstream supermarkets.

Instead, I would have to find shops that exclusively catered to black hair care. From the smaller standalone stores on high streets to the mega stores dotted around London’s multi-cultural hotspots, I would walk around in these shops with dizzying fascination at the range of products on display. The variety of brands was both astounding and confusing.

However, one thing that I always found disconcerting was that none of these shops were ever owned by people who looked like the demographic they were serving. Somehow, the black haircare market seemed to be wholly operated by Asians. This wasn’t just an issue I’d noticed in London. It was the same everywhere I went, whether it be Germany, France, Belgium or the US.

In and of itself this wouldn’t have been a problem other than for the constant feeling that the shopkeepers were not only oblivious to their main client base, they also treated them as little more than a nuisance. Aside from experiencing some issues myself, I listened to friends and acquaintances as they recounted their own horror stories of being followed around the shops, accused of stealing or just completely ignored by the staff and we all bemoaned the fact that when it came to hair products we had no other options than to go to places that barely acknowledged us.

With widely touted figures of the black haircare industry being worth billions of pounds globally, it is unsurprising that anyone would try to profit from it and I have no issue with that. Where I did feel cheated and resentful was being robbed of a comfortable and informed customer experience. Rebelling by not frequenting these establishments was not an option either because the products I depended on couldn’t be found elsewhere. I couldn’t muster the strength to pull away and found myself stuck funding a system that I disapproved of.