Hair braiding business grows during COVID-19 pandemic in Georgia

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Stylists Taniesa Taylor and Jamie Scott work on clients’ hair at Locs, Twists, Braids and Crochets on February 10, 2021 in Columbus, Ga.

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Standing out in the Columbus hair braiding industry became even more important during the pandemic when spending hours in close contact with customers risked exposure to COVID-19.

Hair braiding boutique owner Taniesa Taylor and her fellow stylists are continually learning more about their craft to grow their businesses in Columbus while keeping themselves and their customers safe.

Taylor opened her boutique, Locs, Twists, Braids & Crochets, last June at 5870 Veterans Parkway.

At the start of the pandemic, Taylor worked as a mobile stylist. She wasn’t following the news and didn’t realize COVID-19 was serious until her family started urging her to shut down.

Taylor closed her business, not knowing when she might reopen. She remained optimistic and spent time with her family doing household projects.

But his stream of income has stopped.

Fortunately, people who were self-employed were eligible for pandemic unemployment assistance, she said.

“It allowed me to be OK,” Taylor said. “Because otherwise I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t qualified for the unemployment that we were granted during that time.”

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Stylists Taniesa Taylor and Jamie Scott work on clients’ hair at Locs, Twists, Braids and Crochets on February 10, 2021 in Columbus, Ga. Madeleine Cook [email protected]

Occasionally, the business was shut down for about 9 to 12 months during the pandemic, she said. Whenever there is exposure to COVID-19, it must shut down and quarantine for two weeks.

“A few weeks ago my daughter was exposed to COVID at her daycare,” Taylor said. “His daycare is closing. I closed because now we have to get tested.

When she opened the store in June, concern about the spread of the virus was a high priority for her.

Signs are posted asking people entering the braid shop to wear a mask, and a clear container of hand sanitizer sits outside the door on a table with various business cards.

Strategically placed white barriers separate the three workstations six feet apart. Despite the barriers, the conversation flows easily between the women.

Sanitation policies are strictly enforced by Taylor and the three other stylists who work for her. She structures her appointments to have a 15-minute gap in between, so there’s time for cleaning between clients.

When the vaccine became available, Taylor didn’t think it was necessary to get vaccinated, as she felt she was immune to the virus. That changed when a 70-year-old customer called to cancel his appointment to have microlocs installed.

The client’s husband had health issues and the woman didn’t feel comfortable sitting with Taylor for eight hours if she wasn’t vaccinated.

Taylor received her first dose of the vaccine later that day, she said.

Stylists who work for her aren’t asked to be vaccinated, Taylor said, but those who aren’t vaccinated must keep their masks on when serving a client.

“My goal is to make sure my clients are protected at all times,” Taylor said.

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Owner Taniesa Taylor styles microlocs on a customer at Locs, Twists, Braids and Crochets on Feb. 10, 2021, in Columbus, Ga. Madeleine Cook [email protected]

“I laugh when I’m here”

Taylor worked in disability claims at Lincoln Financial Group in Atlanta before starting her own company.

She was pregnant with her now 4-year-old daughter when she decided to quit her job. Taylor last styled about 20 years ago, she said, but starting over without a strong following was a risk worth taking.

“I laugh when I’m here,” she said. “I listen to music and talk to amazing people all day and do something that I’ve been doing since I was 3 or 4.”

Taylor now has an extensive network of people in Columbus who make up her clientele, including members of historically black sororities and other professionals.

The women’s network shares information and supports other people’s businesses, she said, which is an experience she has never had working in a company.

Despite her growing network, Taylor and the other stylists at her boutique know they need to do more to stand out among the many other braiders competing for clients.

“We became obsessed with getting better at our craft,” Taylor said.

Stylists are still taking online courses and taking opportunities to learn from other stylists. A woman in Atlanta gave people with long hair protective styles in a bob without cutting her hair, Taylor said, and she’s determined to learn how to do it.

Jamie Scott, another stylist at the store, was setting up knotless braids for a new client with a custom mix of braided hair. Each strand had been separated into small pieces and hung meticulously on a wooden thread holder beside her.

Scott, who is mixed-race, has been braiding since he was 8 years old. She had to learn, she says, because her mother didn’t know how to do her hair when she was growing up.

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Inside Locs, Twists, Braids and Crochets on February 10, 2021 in Columbus, Ga. Madeleine Cook [email protected]

“She tried,” Scott said. “But the torture was what it was. So one day I just took the brush and the comb.

She learned to weave using a mannequin head doll.

Scott previously worked as a phlebotomist for 10 years and was in nursing school. But when the pandemic started, she felt exhausted and realized healthcare was not her passion.

Building a customer base during a pandemic is tough, Scott said, and she’s had to learn to charge what she’s worth during this time. She initially felt less experienced than other stylists, which motivated her to focus on improving her craft.

Scott stayed up all night at first, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning, practicing on a model head. She has also signed up for online classes to learn more, wanting to avoid anything in person during the pandemic because she is a cancer survivor.

Despite the challenges, the relationships Scott has built with clients confirm that things are working.

“Journey of self-acceptance”

Taylor is looking forward to growing her business and sharing her craft with her 25 and 4 year old daughters.

Her eldest daughter, Tanasia Tinzie, is currently in school and also works with Taylor at the store. She helps with surplus clients. Taylor hopes to integrate her more fully into the business once she graduates.

But braiding, twisting and installing locs aren’t just Taylor’s business. It’s part of black culture, she says, and the styles protect hair and help it grow.

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Owner Taniesa Taylor twists a microloc at Locs, Twists, Braids and Crochets on February 10, 2021 in Columbus, Ga. Madeleine Cook [email protected]

Blowouts and chemical relaxers or perms are commonly used to straighten textured hair, but the practice damages the hair, Taylor said.

Her clients can take a “journey of self-acceptance” from relaxed hair to natural hair, and from natural hair to locs, she said.

There are days when women struggle with their natural hair and growing locs, Taylor said, and they don’t feel as pretty. As a stylist, she likes to go through this process with her clients to find styles that they will be happy with.

“There’s a morphing phase that you go through,” Taylor said. “It’s as if the caterpillar has turned into a butterfly, and you feel so much more beautiful when you’ve gone through this transformation process.”

Brittany McGee is a member of the Report for America body that covers local COVID-19 recovery. She is originally from Arkansas and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This story is financially supported by Report for America/GroundTruth Project and the Local News and Information Fund of the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley. The Ledger-Enquirer retains full editorial control of the work.