The Secret Life Of A Nigerian Hairdresser*

May 6, 2019

Hairdressers get a lot of flak. Even I don’t cut them any slack. And we all have the same preconceived notions about them. About why they are always tardy or why they never seem to be truthful. But I got curious about what really goes down in their lives.

So I had a conversation with my longtime hairdresser (who only lets me down 4 out of 10 times) about her life and everything in between. And it was humorous and fascinating at the same time.

I don’t sleep.

I live in Berger but my shop is on UNILAG road. I’m at my shop at 7 am and I close the shop at 9 pm. So that means I have to wake up at 4. There’s no time to sleep.

We are not the worst liars.

People are always saying that hairdressers like to lie. But it’s customers that lie the most. If it’s not lying that the packet hair they bought is Brazilian hair they will lie about how much they bought the hair.

Sometimes they’ll know the hair I made for them isn’t bad, but because they don’t want to pay they’ll start making noise. One time, one girl brought one nonsense hair for me to make into a wig and dye. When she came to collect it, she started shouting that it was not her weave. That her weave cost a hundred and something thousand naira. And that I should bring out the real weave or give her her money back. After begging for over one hour I told her if she likes she should go and bring police. She carried the wig and left.

I don’t always mean to disappoint. 

I don’t like to disappoint my customers. In fact, it’s the one thing I hate the most. It’s just circumstance. I know its bad to keep customers waiting or cancel without notice, but I wish they’ll understand that I’m not doing it for fun. I do home service a lot. If I say I’ll be back at my shop at 2 pm, it’s not as if I’m lying. Maybe the customer I was doing home service for delayed me after I give that time, or Lagos traffic showed itself. It’s not as if I’m lying.

But I lie sometimes.

See ehn there are some hairstyles that are not just worth my time. Like if someone calls me on Saturday morning that they want to do 1 million braids. I tell them I’m not in shop or that I’m sick. If I tell them I don’t want to do it for them, then they won’t call me to make their hair another time. Sometimes if I have like 6 customers waiting and you want to loosen braids, I can’t chase you away but I’ll just keep you there on pending. By the time you wait for an hour plus, you’ll either leave or start loosening the hair by yourself.

Four months is too much.

Character illustration of people with traffic sign icons

One time one of my customers came to remove weave that had been in her hair for at least four months. Four months o, not four weeks. The smell alone almost made me faint. As I finished removing the weave and washing her hair she started shouting that I cut all her hair. In my mind, I was like something I was supposed to help you barb.

Get your own shop.

I started off renting a chair in someone else’s salon. Apart from the money you pay for your chair every year, the owner still collected a cut from us every week. No matter how many customers you had, that week.

When I was still working there, I used to have a lot of customers so the madam kept accusing me of duping her. Because she wanted to collect more money for me. One day I said enough is enough, I started saving all my money. For months I didn’t eat well, I lost so much weight until I got one small cubicle on Abule Oja road. Within 1 year I was able to get a bigger place. I was at the other place for 4 and a half years. 

There are no days off. 

There was one month like that I had a very bad accident. I fell off a bike. My hand swole up by like times two of its original size and the doctor advised me to rest it. But I couldn’t because man must chop. For months that hand pained me, but I used it to work like that. I didn’t sha die.

Natural hair is great but…

Sometimes I don’t accept natural hair customers because they don’t comb their hair. The time I’ll have used to fix for three customers is the same time I’ll use to wash and do all back for one natural hair customer. It’s usually not worth it.

Nothing worse than an ITK.

I hate ITK customers. You’ve already shown me the style and I’ve told you I can do it but you’ll still be chooking mouth. I won’t say I can do something I don’t know how to do. I’m not that kind of hairdresser.

I won’t have even put comb near their hair before they start telling me no, no, no, that’s not how to do it. Watch this youtube video. Cut this place like this. Plait this place like this. By the time I finish and the hair doesn’t turn out well it’ll be my fault. They’ll forget that they were the ones instructing me.

Unfriendly competition? Always.

There is no friendship in this business. Don’t let anyone deceive you. I used to have a friend I was very close to when I was still working for my former madam. It was both of us that used to talk about leaving and getting our own shop. That’s how one day she just stopped coming. One week, two weeks, three weeks. I’ll call her but she won’t pick up. Or she’ll say she’s busy that she’ll call me back before I have a chance to say anything. Next thing I heard was that she had opened her own shop.

The day I opened my first shop it was even on the same road as hers. She was one of the first to come and congratulate me. She didn’t know that I had heard she had been telling people not to come to my shop even before it opened. I just smiled and hugged her. But it’s 4 eyes I use to watch her. 

A tale of two sugar babies. 

A lot of my customers are runz girls, but I don’t judge. Because me too if I could find sugar daddy I’ll find. But I have a daughter and children spoil market. Anyway, these two girls were very close, then one day they fought. One person stole another person’s sugar daddy. It was in my shop that the original owner of the sugar daddy came to confront the one that stole. There’s nothing I didn’t hear that day. One used ritual to steal someone’s husband, another one did bum bum with one doctor in Lekki. It was when they wanted to start scattering my shop that I helped them settle the fight.

Scammers abound.

People are always trying to steal from me. The person that delivers hair to me increases the prices every month. But I can’t do anything about it because I don’t have time to go to the market. I’ll finish training girls, they’ll leave and carry my customers. No notice, nothing. Sometimes they’ll even steal my money on top. And when they see me outside they’ll act like they don’t know me again. No matter how careful you are, you’ll lose money to all these people. But if your hand is good and God is on your side you’ll make that money back in twofold. 

And one hustle is never enough.

I like hairdressing o, It’s my calling. But everything in this Lagos is cost. Up to water. If I tell you how much I spend on water every week you won’t believe it. That’s why I started mixing cream to sell. But I don’t mix nonsense chemicals, I only use natural ingredients. I also sell makeup and weave. Now I’m learning how to make braids wig. I used to buy and resell before, but I’ll make more money from it if I make them myself.

In this life you can’t have only one handwork. It’s not enough.

*dialogue has been edited for clarity.

Toketemu Ohwovoriole

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