The Great British Braid Off

It might be 'cultural appropriation' but it's still a good deal!

I decided to find one of these new braid bars which are considered trendy but also criticised for causing gentrification and cultural appropriation. I planned to try out the services myself and also to sneak an interview with the owners.

The first braid bar to catch my eye was Keash Braids created two years ago by best friends Jessy and Taiba.

The Keash Braids price list begins at £15 and ranges to £25. They have an impressive 12.2k Instagram followers, and they have plaited the locks of some high profile clients including Millie Mackintosh, Lily Allen, Becca Dudley (MTV) and Katy B.

Their pop up unit was situated within a self-proclaimed ‘luxury outlet district’, home to high end stores such as Henry Holland and Nike. It’s geographically in Hackney but not what you’d call Hackneyed. Less than a two minute walk away you can find dark, dim and downright depressing tower blocks; but that’s pretty much another planet.

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Jessy and Taiba were both in the shop when I opened the door. They seemed polite, welcoming and friendly so, armed with the recording device on my iPhone I decided to ask them a few questions: surrounding my thoughts on the company’s location and the pricing.

Why did you choose East London as the place to base your pop ups?

J: I live round here. It’s easier to do it near where one of us is based.

T: In East London there are so many different places to do a pop-up such as clubs and warehouses like this. They’re all so varied, so it makes a nice to change in environment, east enables us to do this.

Have you had any kind of backlash, seeing as Hackney is one of the most deprived boroughs of London – can the people of Hackney afford to pay £10 for a single plait?

T: No, we don’t get backlash about prices because prices are good – in comparison to other places that offer a thirty pound blow dry which lasts a day. Whereas hair braiding lasts a few weeks if cared for properly. We don’t get backlash about prices.

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How about cultural appropriation?

T: We have had negative backlash about cultural appropriation. Most of our clientele are white and some people take that in a negative way, what they don’t understand is the whole reason we started it was because we wanted to make braids accessible to everyone.

So what is ‘cultural appropriation’ and why are some people so upset about it. Braiding hair has a very extensive history, dating back at least 5000 years. It has been a big part of many cultures all around the world including the cultures Asia, Africa, the Americas, Egypt and even Europe. African hair braiding can be traced back as far as 3500 B.C.

Ever since the famous (or infamous) Kardashian Klan decided to adopt braids as an essential part of their hair style range, there has been much speculation with regards to cultural appropriation, defined as the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.

When Zendaya, the child Disney star, was asked about what she considers cultural appropriation, she answered:  “Well, first of all, braids are not new. Black women have been wearing braids for a very long time, and that’s another part of the frustration… Another problem is it became new and fresh and fun, because it was on someone else other than a black woman.”

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After speaking to the two owners of the braiding business, I was called over and I sat down in front of the mirror and explained what braid I wanted to the hair stylist. I also showed her pictures on my phone of braids I liked. After looking at these for a minute she began to plait my hair. She quickly finished the job and I was very pleased with the results.

The braiding cost me £14 in total: £10 for the braid and £4 for the rings that I chose to go within the braid. All in all I was happy with my hair and the fast effective service, and I can completely understand why people use these pop up braid stands. Within minutes I went from normal girl to feeling like a member of the Kardashian crew. I understand that this is an example of cultural appropriation, because if I hadn’t see photos of non-BAME women wearing the braids I can guarantee I would have shown not an ounce of interest in the style.

I admit this annoys me somewhat as I believe if anyone is going to bring a black hair style into fashion it should be a black person. However it could be argued that cultural appropriation has beneficial effects, because this style might never have come into global fashion without someone else bringing it to public attention.

So should I be thanking these “culture vulture” celebrities, or cursing them for stealing what really belongs to someone else?