“First we measure the rows… now we’ve passed the occipital area and reached the crown… we are close to the temple now, this is where we can make our part…” Contrary to beliefs, this is not a conversation between a surgical team. This was my hairstylist explaining techniques for parting my hair to one of her many trainees at DSimone Artistry in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. I’ve always considered hairdressers as magicians, mystics, and mathematical geniuses, and Dianelle McAllister makes sure this cultural wisdom is imparted to her employees and customers through on the job training and educational workshops.
Black hair care is a million dollar industry and Black women are the primary consumers. Black women invest a lot into caring for their tresses with good reason. Afrocentric hairstyles are highly regulated and demeaned in Western society. Enslaved women were not allowed to show their hair in some states, leading to the iconic bandana that popularized caricatures of Black women. More recently, a 25-year study linked the use of chemical relaxers to straighten natural hair with higher risks of breast cancer. Black women feel pressure to straighten their hair because those who wear natural hairstyles such as braids and afros are considered unprofessional, angry, and incompetent. Dove’s research in partnership with the CROWN Act found Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair, making Black hair care a health, political and economic issue.
Despite regulations and discriminatory experiences, Black hairstyles continue to drive culture and trends. Cultural icons are increasingly sporting their natural hair, and Black hair stylists deserve credit for creating this beauty aesthetic. DSimone Artistry is part of this culture having recently styled the Williams sisters and members of this year’s NBA Draft class.
D.Simone Artistry Salon and Spa supports clients who are “transitioning from chemical services to embracing their natural hair, some for the first time in their 30s and 40s.” New customers are given a hair analysis where the stylist assesses a strand of hair and explains your surface texture, density, why there might be breakage, and solve that problem through different treatment options.
“The mission at DSimone Artistry is that beauty lies in appreciation and understanding,” says Dianelle. “We [often] look to celebrities as hair goals, but we do not believe our own hair will look that way unless we enhance it [with weaves, wigs, etc]. By educating our clients, our goal is to help them see the beauty they naturally have, start to appreciate it and understand what your hair needs to grow and thrive.”
Their mission reflects a growing collective of hair experts educating Black women on kinky hair care and styling. DSimone Artistry is a member of Black Girl Curls–a movement to encourage daily care for natural curls. Increased focus on holistic health in Black communities gives rise to more natural salons and styling.
Dianelle credits her professional background in nursing with fueling her passion for working in hair care. “I’ve realized that I am a healer. I feel called to help people heal by helping them become their best selves. This comes from my nursing background where I did a lot of educating with patients to help them make best decision for their health, which informs how I see hair and how I want our clients to see their hair.” She insists that her work, “is not just about styling hair. We want to show clients how to recognize and correct any issues in their hair.”
DSimone Artistry begins educating clients from a young age, filling a gap in salon care. “A lot of salons don’t want to serve children, but we welcome them,” shares Dianelle. “I am a mother and I would never want a caregiver to be unknowledgeable on how to care for their children’s hair.” The salon regularly offers workshops and classes for parents of young curlfriends and tweens on ways to style and care for their own hair, building esteem and confidence in future generations of naturalistas.
The salon and spa combines their educational experience with a relaxing, plant filled environment that centers and celebrates Blackness with its music and decor. “I wanted to mix luxury with comfort… I fell in love with plants and thought about ways that our hair needs similar nourishment. We need to water and wash our hair and not leave it in protective styles for too long without moisture.”
In addition to haircare, DSimone Artistry offers facials, massages and innovative healing services, reflecting Dianelle’s healthcare background, “I feel like I’m still caring for clients like I did as a nurse and I wanted to use my healthcare skills in this space. We just rolled out our sister company Wellness Drips which is an IV vitamin infusion. This stemmed from me noticing vitamin deficiencies in clients experiencing hair thinning and hair loss in younger ages. Skin, hair, and nails are non essential organs, so your bodies will pull from those organs to meet an essential need. Rather than metabolizing vitamins through our gut, these infusions give you a fuller dose of vitamins and minerals. I offer these wellness drips to our clients as part of our holistic health approach to bridge the vitamin deficiency gap. Although natural textures are strong, everything has a breaking point and needs support.”
Black hair salon experiences have recently come under fire for their unprofessionalism and outrageous costs. Some stylists impose strict rules for tardiness and charge clients extra for styling “coarse” hair. Black women share ‘hair raising’ tales on social media from paying over $500 for braids to 12 hour long appointments. Not to mention racist experiences in salons that are unfamiliar with Afrocentric hair textures. This was not surprising to Dianelle. “[Some stylists] are not business savvy because our families did not own businesses for us to work in and learn from.”
Business basics are critical to the longevity of service-based companies, but may still elude Black business owners who do not have a safety net and similar financial backing compared to entrepreneurs from other groups. Similar to her approach to haircare, Dianelle approached the growth of her business from an education standpoint.
“I sought out tools and offerings from different organizations. One of them was Rising Tide Capital that offered weekly classes, simulations, on balancing a budget and hiring employees. This was my foundation to owning a business. Stylists need to structure salons like a business instead of a hobby. We need to educate ourselves on policies and profits. Booth rentals, for example, are illegal in New Jersey, but many salons continue to offer commission splits. If the split is not providing the stylist with the legal weekly minimum wage, then the salon owner would have to make up the difference,” generating a lot of stress and pressure on stylists and salon owners.
DSimone Artistry offers different working conditions to retain their stylists. “I want to create an environment where people want to work and stay here. We offer hourly wage for stylists, paid time off every quarter, mental health breaks to disconnect and recharge. We are looking into offering insurance and other benefits, too, which is uncommon in Black owned hair salons. This allows us to be consistent with the services we offer clients and provide continuity in the stylist-client relationship. It also allows our team to have a sense of fulfillment as they continue to serve others.”
Dianelle’s vision for Black hair care is to create accessible and inclusive salon and spa experiences for her clients. “One of the main struggles Black women face when they move is finding where they will get their hair done. I noticed clients were driving over two hours for high quality service. My goal is to create access to luxury Black hair care where it is normal for stylists to be cordial, offer refreshments, educate clients about their hair, and ensure a satisfactory experience.”
Dianelle has plans to franchise the salon throughout New Jersey in the next few years and then expand across the country. The combination of the education, ambiance, and business savvy at DSimone Artistry is sure to revolutionize Black hair salon experiences for the better.