When hairstylist Ediri Okurame immigrated to Regina a few years ago from Nigeria, she wanted to get braids done.
“I called, like, six salons and they don’t do that service,” she said. “I’m just like, ‘So how do I get my hair done?'”
Her husband, Lucky Okurame, owner of Lucky Hair and Beauty Studio on Quance Street, said he has no shortage of clients who have faced similar situations.
“At the end of the day, we have a lot of certified hairstylists rejecting clients,” he said. “It’s not because they’re being racist or they want to be discriminatory. It’s just because they don’t have the confidence to accept such clients. And the only want to give them that confidence is by teaching them what to do.”
The Okurames are pleased that the 2019 updates to the national Red Seal Occupational Standard (RSOS) for hairstylists emphasize diversity in Canada, and potentially “further specialization in ethnic specific services,” according to the document. The Red Seal exam reflecting the changes was developed in 2020 and is being rolled out this spring.
The Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission (SATCC) said the issue was on the hairstylists’ trade board’s Monday meeting agenda.
“When we meet with our trade boards and curriculum exam development boards, we use that standard to say, ‘Are we meeting the needs?’ If we’re not, then what we can do is have an industry conversation to make sure that the training providers are informed what changes need to be made,” said Chris Stubbs, the SATCC’s director of innovation and inclusion.
“This is an inclusivity issue,” he said, adding that a facilitator of hairstylists’ talks flagged to him that the needs of diverse hair needed to be explicit in the standard.
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“I think that’s our goal as the face of Canada changes,” Stubbs said.
The Okurames, who both trained in hairstyling in Nigeria and work at the Quance Street salon, said the increased attention on hair texture is good, but there are still a few things missing.
While Lucky Okurame, who cuts hair, was required to recertify in Saskatchewan, Ediri Okurame, who specializes in weaves, wigs and braiding, among other complicated techniques, was not.
“I think you need to be certified to do the kind of job I do,” Ediri Okurame said. “You need to know how to work with the extensions. You need to know how to work with glue for the weave installations, for the wig installations.”
The SATCC said that while hairstylists are expected to understand how to perform those services, doing them exclusively is not counted as a journeyperson in Saskatchewan.
“The reason people performing only wig or braiding services are not required to certify is these services do not cover the full scope of the trade,” the SATCC said in an email to Global News. “Exposure to the full scope of the trade helps ensure success on the Red Seal journeyperson certification exam.”
Ediri Okurame undertook an entire year of study of the techniques in Nigeria and has found a high demand for her expertise, “especially braids” in Canada among people of various races and cultural backgrounds.
Her husband agrees that the skill needs more emphasis because there are people, disproportionately members of the Black community, who rely on the service.
“That only tells us that the attention for our type of hair is really, really, really, really low,” he said.