After a long, stressful day of classes, the Exclusive Beauty Salon team, co-founded by Diarra Seck, BC ’22, Wilaynes González, BC ’22, Tonika Henry, BC ’22, and Shaniqua Davis, BC ’22, met up in their first-year dorms to massage each other’s scalps and practice braiding. This small effort kick-started their mission to create an affordable, accessible hair salon for Black students in the Columbia community.
“I’ve always had my own little doll … when I was younger and would braid hair [and] practice braiding, so I kind of taught myself, but I did have my sisters for inspiration,” Seck said. “When I got here and I met Wilaynes, Shaniqua, and Tonika, we really joined forces and we’re all interested in similar things, beauty-related. So it just kind of jump-started from there.”
This love for all-things-hair stemmed from the fact that throughout high school, they felt that they lacked the necessary information on how to maintain their hair, which they consider a common experience for many Black individuals.
“Braiding comes from such a rich history, especially within the Black culture [and] the Black community,” Seck said. “It’s really important for me to learn how to do different hairstyles and to make people feel much better based [on] those hairstyles.”
The Exclusive Beauty Salon co-founders have extended their self-taught talents to the Black community at Columbia. As low-income first-generation students, one of their primary goals is to create a less expensive alternative for students to get their hair done, in addition to fostering a service that accommodates fast-paced student lifestyles. Students can book appointments through a website linked in its Instagram account—which is transparent about fees–or through direct messages.
“[Not] everybody has $200 to drop on certain hairstyles, so we are like this other option for them ... It was like, ‘Why not help others around us … feel and look good by themselves?”’ Henry said.
Along with offering trims, sew in removals, and cornrow braiding, they have explored a variety of unique techniques, including passion twists, knotless braids, and crocheting. Additionally, they have begun manicure and wig services.
The co-founders of Exclusive Beauty have seen the vast impact of their work after every session and have instilled their mission of love and self-care in each client, hoping to give them the confidence to style and maintain their hair. They recognize the difficulty in finding trustworthy hair and beauty salons for the Black community and hope to be that for students all over campus and the greater Harlem area.
“I had a client, she never did anything to her hair. [It] has always just been curly. She was so excited and happy and just felt so different.” Davis said. “Also, have a good friend … Darielle [who] has never done anything to her hair, and she trusted me to do her braids for the first time. … She had a lot of insecurities while doing her hair. When I finished it, her reaction, the way she felt, she felt so confident. It was just beautiful to see that happen.”
Especially at schools as rigorous and stressful as Barnard and Columbia, the Exclusive Beauty founders recognize how important it is to find an outlet for students to relax. While theirs is styling and braiding hair, they hope their sessions will allow their clients to unwind as well.
“Doing hair is definitely therapeutic for us. The only reason I’m able to stand there for 12 hours doing someone’s hair is because I actually really enjoy doing it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just really stress-relieving, especially with everything that we go through as students in this school. I definitely need an outlet to disconnect like my mind from all this hard thinking that we do in a day.”
While the salon’s main goal is to help clients with their hair, Exclusive Beauty also hopes to spread history and information regarding haircare and beauty for the Black community.
“I feel like considering the history of hair salons, it’s really important to educate people about their hair as well,” Henry said. “As a little girl, my mom, of course, did the best that she could, but I feel like life was definitely different in the sense of how they promoted self beauty with Black girls.”
Through this venture, they have fostered a community that has allowed them to explore their talents and grow their knowledge in a safe space. They also recognize that this experience of self-care within the beauty and hair world isn’t limited to women.
“I know definitely one day we are definitely going to seek services to help people [including] Black males on campus,” Henry said. “We hope to extend to males, because we’re here definitely for our entire Black community overall.”
While the Exclusive Beauty Salon team works to gain traction on campus, it also has goals for increasing its reach in the future. Whether it be through getting underclassmen to join the team, opening a physical salon, or spreading the salon’s efforts throughout the greater New York City area, these four girls are dedicated to their craft, each other, and their community.