The thrills and frustrations of male hair stylists

Date: 2013-06-29

‘What a man can do a woman can do better.’ So goes the popular saying. For effect, one can add that in today’s world, a woman can easily do what a man is best at it. This saying is necessitated by the fact that there were divisions of trade and craft in the pre-colonial African communities and villages; and some years after. Though it has been reduced with the influence of westernization, the stereotype still looms large in much of Africa.

Hair making and hair-styling are crafts and techniques that is peculiar to women and mothers. It is, however, something of a shifting trend that some males and men are daring and taking bold steps to become great stylists and hair makers in Nigeria. It is a common knowledge that males give haircuts and shaves to men while women plait, do washing and setting of female hair. However, in popular cities and towns across Nigeria, you will sometimes be amazed that a neatly opened and equipped salon is managed and manned by a male instead of a female.

But it’s not all a bed of roses for male stylists. They are often faced with myriad of issues, which, sometimes, can shake them off their feet. These include competition with women stylists, inappropriate advances by female clients, struggling between business and pleasure, and how to respond to people who brand them as gay, and a whole lot of others.

Simon Ayanda, a 20-year-old male hair stylist, who currently works for Lady Star Weave-on Company, recounts his experience while he working for his proprietress at Festac Town, Lagos. “One day, while there,” he recalls, “I was making hair for a 60-year-old woman, and she starred at me through the mirror and blinked her eyes. I asked her if anything was wrong with her eyes and if something fell into it. She said nothing like that happened.

“Strangely, she went to my boss, also a woman, and told her that I did not understand the signs she gave. My boss called me outside and said the client complained that she was communicating with me and I didn’t understand. I said I did not understand that her blinking of eyes meant something. My boss yelled at me before ordering me to give the woman my number and play along. My boss didn’t stop there. She warned me to ‘comport’ well or she would sack me because ‘it is through these customers that I get money to pay my rent and pay you people’s salaries.’

Drawing from that, I asked Ayanda, rather casually: ‘What are the danger signs to look for when you, as a male, operates in a female salon?’

His response tumbled out automatically. “When you get to female salons manned by male stylists,” he said, “some women would loosen up the buttons of their tops while others prefer to remain with only armless tops inside the salon just to intimidate us.”

Indeed, it has not been an easy road for Ayanda, the first man to become a stylist in the community. After practicing for six years, his family and friends discouraged from continuing with styling. In fact, he said his parents kicked vehemently against his decision to go into the profession. “They were shocked,” he said. “They said they had never seen such a thing before. In fact, they called it an abomination. But I didn’t relent in convincing them that it was what I really wanted to do. Eventually, they left me alone. When they saw my firmness on the job, they began to support me.”

So, how does he survive temptations from desperate women? His key to that, he says, is to hold tenaciously to this principle: Never put pleasure before business.

As a male stylist, you ask Ayanda, what is his competitive edge in a world dominated by women? “The level of competition is very high in this industry,’ he begins. “Because we have female stylists spending money on their salons just to entice women to patronize their salons. We, the males, always have an edge in two ways. First,  some females just naturally want the guys to make their hair especially the good ones while other women want extra things attached to the making of their hair. So, because of these, the male stylists are hot cake. They have more customers than their female counterpart. They have a 70:30 advantage.”

For Chris Okopie, an Abuja-based male stylist, and owner of Hair Republic and Spa., practice has been a pot-pourri of experience. On one occasion, he recounts, rather bitterly, he got a dirty slap from a female client. On another, he got his shirt torn by a recalcitrant female customer who flew up because of the price she was charged. Unlike Ayanda, Okopie says he doesn’t get advances from women customers; yet, he is naturally blessed with women liking him a lot. Because of this, he says, blushing, a lot of them share confidential matters with him. A few, still, have expressed their feelings for him but he says: “I have never buckled.”

So, how does he feel in a world dominated by women?

“I have never seen myself competing with any stylist, especially the female ones,” he says firmly. “Neither do I see any female stylist as a threat to me because even with my very busy schedules, female clients still prefer to wait for me to make their hair for them.”

Please, don’t ask Okopie what he grosses from sales per month. He won’t tell you. But if you ask him how he got into the profession, he would open up. He would readily intimate you with how his mum initiated him into being a stylist, though she had planned for him to travel abroad for further studies.  He would also tell you how strong his customers’ base is in Abuja. “It’s very strong and powerful,” he would enthuse.

Like Ayanda, Okopie also believes in putting business before pleasure, hinting that the hairstyling industry is big enough for Nigerian male practitioners, as well as for those aspiring to come in. “Men are among the big names in the industry,” he says. “in fact, many of them are doing so well that female stylists can’t even compete with them. Presently, I have female apprentices under me.”

For Olalere Femi, an Ilorin-based stylist, also Director of Elfem Zignature Hair Salon, life as a male hairstylist is both fun and stressful because you have to convince the ladies that you can make their hair better. The 29-year-old stylist who holds a National Diploma in Mass Communication from the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin, reveals that though many women makes advances at him and obviously want more than just making their hair, he never mixes business with pleasure.

“For me, it is strictly business,” he says, boasting that, “female stylists cannot compete with us, male stylists, because for somebody like me, I put in that extra effort to show that I am better off than my female colleagues. And it has paid off. Even ladies now frequently abandon female stylists and flood to my salon for me to make their hair.”

Olatunji Kayode Samuel, a Marketing graduate of Lagos State University, LASU, is the winner of the Best Hair Dresser in Nigeria in 2009. He reveals that while some women have other motives for coming to male stylists to make their hair, others don’t. “I have come across a lot of ladies on this job,” he begins. “I have encountered unimaginable temptations. I have been lured sexually by three different ones and got involved in sarcastic romance with five other ladies. I must confess that it was fun but believe me, despite the pressure, I was able to exercise self-control.”

Having been brought up by a single parent, he says he had no problems convincing his mum about his desire to become a male stylist. And since joining the profession, he has had no encumbrances. He says he tries to make friends with female hair stylists so that there won’t be unnecessary beefs between them “but definitely, they cannot compete with us, male stylists.” “Being a male hair stylist,” Olatunji continues, “I used to feel on top of the world. But recently, I have thinking about the professional elasticity of the job, and decided to cut off the commercial aspect of hair-making. Now, I only do private jobs. I am now in the labour market looking for a good job that would pay me well. The job just helps you to get by. You can imagine that after 11 years on the job, I’m still struggling to have a strong financial base. One needs a good capital base as a male hair stylist. Despite everything, there is a bright future for male hair stylists in Nigeria.”

Despite the rosy pictures painted by some of the respondents, male stylists in Nigeria still grapple with a stigma: the suspicion by some people that many male stylists are gay.  But Chris Okopie rubbishes the gay claim, declaring that such suggestion stands logic on its head, judging from the way women flood them male stylists. However, while Olatunji Samuel does not accept or deny the existence of this particular group in his profession, he says even male stylists perceived to be gay tend to be more serious and diligent with their clients than the so-called straight because they are not carried away by beauty or the shenanigans of seductive female clients.

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