Aug 7, 2020

Curly Hair Specialists: What's Up With The Shortage?

Why don't we have more stylists trained in curly hair?

One of our curly-haired customers, Ellie, recently went to see a curl specialist. "I read online that they could actually give me a better haircut, so I decided to give it a try."

Ellie had never been to a curl specialist before; she'd always gotten haircuts from stylists who were generalists. The stylists she saw weren't cheap, but the results had never knocked her socks off. She'd bounced from salon to salon, never finding her perfect match.

It wasn't until she moved to Manhattan for a new job that she decided to bite the bullet and find a stylist who specialized in her hair type. She knew she'd found an expert as soon as she sat down. "Right away, I could tell a difference. She cut my hair in a way where she washed it, then somehow knew where my individual curls were, and she carefully cut each curl at an angle. It took almost an hour and a half."

Ellie says that this stylist gave her the best cut she'd ever received. "I'm totally going back to her. She's amazing."

Curly hair heroes.

Stories like Ellie's come by the dozens: people with curls bounce from stylist to stylist, never knowing why they can't get a great cut. Many curlies and naturals spend years, even decades, believing that they'll never really get anything better than a mediocre cut that's prone to frizz. This is why meeting a curl expert for the first time can feel like a complete revelation: finally, someone who understands me and what I need!

Curly hair experts have a profound impact on their client's lives, and for good reason, too. Being a curl specialist means that you have expert knowledge in an area of cosmetology that's widely ignored, despite the enormous number of curly-haired individuals looking for flattering cuts.

But finding a specialist when you don't live in a big city like Ellie can be hard. Really really hard. So hard that a common tip for finding a stylist is to ask any curly-haired stranger in a grocery store who cuts their hair, and if they know if that stylist has any openings. If you don't believe us, just look at Reddit: nearly every subreddit for a town, city, or locality within the United States has at least one thread dedicated to referring curl specialists. The problem is so bad that it's not uncommon for a person with curly hair to have to drive several hours to find a stylist who knows the basics of curly and natural hair care. Not only is this a huge time-suck, but it's also expensive as heck -- if you add the price of gas for a four hour round trip to an already pricey curly hair cut, the bill could easily top $250.

So what's up with the shortage of curl specialists, and why is it so hard to get a good cut?

Cosmetology schools don't provide adequate curl education

The problem starts early: the majority of American cosmetology schools have curriculums that focus only on the mastery of straight hair textures, leaving graduates unprepared to cut curls. Some stylists say that this reflects a larger problem in cosmetology schools in general: they teach students how to pass an archaic licensing exam that doesn't focus on real-life skills. If textured hair is discussed at all, it's only in the context of learning to relax said textured hair.

Real-life experience often isn't enough

After graduation, it's up to stylists to educate themselves on haircare, and this is where the gap in curly hair knowledge widens. It's long been acknowledged in cosmetology that the best way to learn is through practice, but many stylists fear the risk of mangling a curly haircut. It's kind of a sad joke in salons at this point -- the moment a curly-haired walk-in comes through the door, certain stylists always bolt for the bathroom (and yes, the client notices). Some high-end salons will deny type 3 and 4 curls altogether, saying that they're "too difficult" for the stylists to work with. Curls, especially afro-textured curls, aren't described in the industry as an exciting, interesting challenge-- instead, stylists are taught to avoid them at all costs.

Of course, we're by no means saying that stylists who have zero experience in curly hair should masquerade as experts. No one wants a client to leave in tears because of a terrible hair-don't, this would be just as problematic. The lack of formal education on curly hair in schools needs to be addressed ASAP to fix the root of this issue. But that still doesn't make the current problem go away; how do you learn to cut curly hair if your school didn't teach you?

The most common answer is curly-hair continuing education classes, which aren't cheap, common, or particularly easy. According to Versus, Virginia Beach's first curl based salon, mastering curly hair can be a several thousand dollar investment. During training, stylists must "unlearn-and-relearn the techniques that they have become proficient in when working with straight hair," and the process takes well over a year. Considering that the average salary for a hairstylist in the United States is only $25,174 per year, it's no surprise that a lot of hairdressers don't see curl education as worth the time and money.

Curly hair expertise is worth its weight in gold

The thing is, an education in curly hair is absolutely worth the initial investment. More and more customers are choosing to embrace their natural curls, causing the demand for curl experts to expand yearly. Not only does an education in curly hair nearly guarantee clients through basic principles of supply and demand, it can also increase job satisfaction and stability.

For example, Glenn Charles, a curly hair expert in Dallas, performed a mini-experient by asking both straight-haired clients and curly-haired clients to write reviews. The results were astonishing: 90% of his curly clients wrote long, detailed reviews, while only 10% of his straight-haired clients wrote any review at all. Other curl stylists have reported similar benefits -- it's common for curl experts to be booked out months in advance since their clients genuinely treasure their expertise.

And let's not ignore the elephant in the room: curly haircuts aren't cheap. Stylists who specialize in curly hair have the ability to charge significantly more for a cut, and their customers will actually thank them for it. Ask nearly any curly, and they'll tell you: a good cut is worth paying extra for.

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