Natural hair services limited, but growing, in Capital Region – Albany Times Union

TROY — When Eboni Edmundson rebranded her hair salon to a niche in natural hair last year, she was worried she’d be cutting herself off at the knees.
“I had no idea what I was doing was placing myself on stilts,” she said.
People came out of the woodwork when Edmundson changed her salon from So Beautiful Hair to Soul Beautiful: A Natural Hair Salon — driving from as far as Hudson, Hoosick Falls and Glens Falls.
“I realized how many people that have natural hair felt neglected, I realized that people did not feel they had a place to go,” Edmundson said.
That feeling of neglect is all too common in the Capital Region, where stories of having to make long treks to get natural hair done are abundant and only a handful of salons that serve natural hair appear to exist. But in recent years, that is slowly but surely changing as more such salons pop up.
When Crystal Mallett was growing up, going to the salon for her and many other Black girls meant getting her hair straightened. It wasn’t until the rise of YouTube that a movement to embrace natural texture arose, and tutorial videos inspired her to wear her hair naturally.
But when Mallett began training in cosmetology school and salons, she was shocked to see that many stylists had never been trained with coarser and curlier textures, often relying on straightening women’s hair. 
“It starts in school, at the root,” said Edmundson. “You’re never taught you’re going to make a lot of money doing curly hair. When you have a client that comes in school, the first thing you’re taught to ask is, ‘Would you like a relaxer?’ That’s ingrained in students.”
As Mallett learned to embrace her hair texture by wearing it naturally or with protective styles, such as blowouts and weaves, she knew that she wanted to help other women do the same. And after years of serving natural hair, Mallett eventually opened her own salon, Studio 23, with her sister on Albany’s State Street this summer — appearing to be the first natural hair salon to open up shop downtown.
“The main thing is taking care of other women and men that are like me, that didn’t have that natural hair stylist growing up, or have never experienced someone that is also there to take care of their hair,” Mallett said. “But at the same time, serving all textures and being very inclusive.”
Discovering Mallett was a godsend for Karen Basdeo, who in her late ’40s had yet to find stylist who would bring her curls to life.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Basdeo and her family were shocked when they immigrated to Albany and couldn’t find any natural hair salons. She often went to the lengths of driving over two hours to Manhattan to find someone who could style her hair, but eventually, like many other Black women, began doing her own hair with the help of YouTube videos.
“Albany wasn’t quite ready for the natural look yet,” Basdeo said. “It wasn’t really accepted, and young African Americans weren’t ready to showcase their natural beauty.”
It wasn’t until 10 to 15 years ago, Basdeo feels, that natural hair, afro textures and curls started to get embraced — coinciding with the rise of YouTube. But professional stylists have yet to keep up with the demand, especially in less racially diverse areas such as Upstate New York.
“I feel like I’m who I should be, I feel empowered,” Basdeo said of finding Mallett. “I feel beautiful. I just feel like it’s on a next level with my hair looking fabulous.”
While women’s natural hair can be more time-consuming, the challenge in finding natural hair services extends to men’s hair as well.
Growing up in Latham, Jason Ellis always had to go to Albany to get his hair cut — Black-owned barbershops were nonexistent in Albany’s northern suburb. So after a few years of working with Brick’s Barbershop on Central Avenue, Ellis decided to fill the void he saw growing up, opening up his own barbershop, Jay Allen Barber Studio, in Colonie in 2014.
“I felt that the same secret sauce that we’ve been giving people for over 20 years, I wanted to deliver it out in this demographic. There was a need,” Ellis said of the town that is 6 percent Black, though he serves all hair textures.
But for Ellis and other hair stylists, doing hair is about so much more than that — it’s about community.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re a therapist. Community outreach is definitely a major thing, helping kids out whether it’s free haircuts or backpacks, or mentorship,” Ellis said. “It’s a network, a gathering place.”
Massarah Mikati covers communities of color and breaking news for the Times Union. She was previously a state reporter for Johnson Newspaper Corp., covering the New York State Legislature for 10 counties in the Hudson Valley, Western New York and North Country. From 2017-2019, Massarah was a Hearst Fellow reporting on immigrants and refugees for the Times Union, then communities of color for the Houston Chronicle. Massarah graduated from The Ohio State University in 2017 with a B.A. in journalism, Middle East studies and Francophone studies. Follow her on Twitter and send tips to


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