Black women and our beauty, from our hair to our nails, is something that we heavily identify with from childhood; getting our hair braided, sitting in the salon for hours, our first full set. It’s also d something that the world continuously tries to use against us; from not being hired for jobs because of the way our hair or nails look to those same styles being worn and praised by women who don’t look like us. It was only in 2019 that the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) was passed in California and New York, a law that prevents workplace discrimination against natural and protective hairstyles. This means that up until two years ago, Black people could be discriminated against simply because of the way we wore our hair.
It’s exactly why Black women found safe spaces in places like the beauty salon, where you can be your full self with other women who look like you and walk out feeling like a million bucks. In other spaces like beauty supply stores and nail salons, there has often been deep-rooted tension and anti-blackness amongst the owners of the shops and their Black customers, with few Black women having ownership in the spaces. And, while many black women wear protective styles such as braids or weaves, there aren’t many that own the hair that’s used to create the look.
Teen Vogue spoke with three black women looking to change that by owning their own shops and brands. Paris McKenzie became the youngest owner of a beauty supply store, opening one at just 16-years-old in Brooklyn. Ryan Baker is the youngest Black owner of a luxury nail salon in North Carolina. Ciara Imani May is the first person to start a plant-based braiding hair company. These are three game changers and beauty bosses creating more safe spaces for other Black women.
Teen Vogue: When did your passion for beauty start?
Paris McKenzie: My mom owned a beauty salon and I was in there basically my whole life. If I didn’t grow up in a salon, I probably would have never learned how to actually do hair or to do nails. I was never a sit-at-home and do chores type of kid, I was a sit in the salon, wipe the chairs down, type of kid. One day I was in there and my mom had a wig and made me color it and it came out really well. I’ve been doing hair since.
TV: How did you pivot from doing hair to having your own beauty supply store?
PM: I knew the impact it would have. I [was] only 16 years old, and the impact of a Black 16-year-old girl opening up a beauty supply store changes everything. And that’s exactly what it did. The previous store was stocked as a regular beauty supply store, so my main priority is to stock the shelves for the community because that’s who is shopping in there, the community.