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Recession or Not, Black Women's Hair a Priority

Louisiana Weekly, News Feature, Nicole Hardesty Posted: Feb 19, 2009

We all saw her at the Inauguration, and even on Election Day, Michelle Obama's healthy flowing locks have inspired black women across the country to step their hair care game up. Since the days of Madam C.J Walker, black hair care has been a priority among African-American women and a lot of consideration has gone into choosing the right hair care experts. According to a survey conducted by Design Essentials, majority of African-American women base their salon and stylist choice on trust, cost and time consumption. With the recent state of the economy, affordable hair care is harder to find but women have stayed committed to their hair regimen.

Johnny Wright, Mrs. Obama's hairstylist has been taming the first lady's locks for a little over a year now, but became her full-time stylist just in time for the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver. Wright's services keep Michelle's hair the envy of African American women everywhere; but by no means are they cheap.

Black hair care has always managed to fit into the budget and while some may think it would be the first to go, studies have shown that despite the present economic state of America and the price spike at most salons, Black women are still flocking to their hairdressers to keep up with routine maintenance.

"Some weekly clients have changed to every other week. But the majority of clients have been keeping up with their appointments," said Britney Adams, a stylist at New Image Salon in Harvey, Louisiana.

Shalonda Armstrong, Director of Marketing at Design Essentials, has found in the recent Design Essential Mane Attraction Survey that 36 percent African-American respondents have decreased visits to the salon, and have admitted going only when they can afford it.

Many women have resorted to going to the salon less or doing their own hair as much as possible to cut back on costs, but even then, they have come to find out that the cost of salon-like products have been steep.

"As a company we have seen single-digit growth, and many of our products are flat or slightly down. However, retail products sold to consumers have shown a significant increase," said Armstrong. "This tells me that many African-American women are opting to save money by doing their hair at home sometimes. Ultimately, a vacation may no longer be in the budget, but there is still room for the occasional trip to the salon."

While women have seen a difference from cutting back on salon prices and increasing home products, others are finding that it is more economical to purchase recommended products from beauty supply stores instead of directly from their stylist.

"When I decided to stop going to my hair stylist so much, I asked her to suggest some products that I could use at home to get salon quality," said Beth Lewis, 27. "She sold me the products that she uses at her shop, they ended up costing me a couple of months worth of going to the salon."

However, Lewis, a social worker, says after purchasing the products from her stylist, she has been able to maintain desirable hairstyles while cutting down her weekly appointments to once a month.

Hair type has also been a deciding factor in a customer's ability to cut back salon visits. Women with hair needing more attention tend to faithfully keep appointments with their stylist to receive the proper hair treatment. Those with more manageable hair conditions don't mind cutting back on salon services to take on the job at home.

"I can do my own hair at home, and I have done it a lot more recently. But I still go to the beauty shop as regularly as possible. No matter how broke I am, I will always go get my hair done," said Raven Hodges, a Tulane University student.

Michelle Obama may have the money and the social need to keep up with routine hairstyling, but the women who, despite their lack of means, still desire the look are continuously willing to spend the money, either in the salons or on the expensive products.

"Every woman wants to be beautiful no matter what color, but Black women have a special pride that includes taking care of their hair," said Adams. "Even if times are hard, a good hairstyle can do a lot for an individual."

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