For Nadia Wera, African-style braiding is a passion that developed into a career over the years.
“I’ve been braiding hair since I was in high school, it was sort of like my side hustle,” Wera laughed.
Wera moved to Canada from Kenya in her early high school years. She said options for African-style braiding in Winnipeg were limited.
“When I came here I had a hard time figuring out what to do with my own hair,” Wera told Global News.
“Back home it was literally a weekend thing, you go to the side of the street and someone can do your hair. But here there was a scarcity, so I decided to just kind of figure out how to do it on my own. That’s basically where it really started for me, was more of a need to keep myself up and just take care of myself.”
That self-care process eventually became a career. Wera left her corporate job to become a hairstylist full-time, opening Hairbru on Corydon Avenue in 2019.
“I just wanted to change the journey that I was on and do a full career swing into what I love to do and what I’m passionate about,” she said. “And I also feel like this community needed a place like this.”
Jassiel Gomez agrees.
“You actually have to look, you have to look. And it’s not just to find anybody, you have to find the right person,” Gomez said.
Gomez has been a client of Wera’s since she first started styling hair.
“When we started, I was getting my hair twisted, braids, and then she said, ‘Why don’t we do something permanent? Why don’t we do locks instead?” he said.
“It is very meaningful. It keeps a little bit of that culture integration. It’s not only for the African descent and the Black community, she’s offering a service for everybody — everybody wants to get locks.”
Wera says Hairbru specializes in numerous styles, including African-style braiding, dreadlocks, cornrows, wigs and other hairstyles.
“Braids is such a very large term because braiding includes cornrows, it includes braids with extensions, it includes styling. Sometimes just a regular twist out can be a braid,” Wera said.
Clarissa Dela Cruz, a stylist at Hairbru, initially started by colouring wigs, and is now expanding to learn African-style braiding and dreadlocks as well.
“When I was going to school, we didn’t learn too much about textured hair, we didn’t learn anything about curly hair or anything like that,” Dela Cruz said.
“So a really big thing for me coming into this salon was I get to learn, I get to learn different textures and different types, I get to learn about dreadlocks and braiding.”
“As a stylist, you want to be able to help everyone that comes to you,” she added. “I want to be able to look at somebody’s hair, feel their texture and know exactly what to do, where to start.”
For Wera, African-style braiding is not only a passion and part of her career, but it is also an art form, is part of self-care, and plays a significant role in cultural identity.
“Moving to this side of the world, I felt like it was lacking for myself and that showed out into my confidence and the things that I did and how I portrayed myself to the world,” Wera said.
“And culturally also, Africans, we do have a connection to our hair. It all started with how you wore your hair is how you identified yourself. Within the first five seconds (of meeting) someone (you) can know, ‘Oh, so that’s how that person is this way,’ based on how they’ve done their hair, based on how they’ve dressed.”
Wera says she is encouraged to see more stylists offering African-style braiding in Winnipeg and opening salons.
“Offering the service for dreadlocks, for braids, those are kind of special services that are not easily available in Winnipeg. In fact, when I was growing up here, they weren’t here at all. But over time there is also other people starting their own business because there is a void for people of colour, for people with textured hair,” she said.
“So, it’s nice to see it grow now. But I shouldn’t be the only one. So the more I see other entrepreneurs in the same space, it makes (me) happy, because Canada is diverse. Manitoba has people from everywhere, and I feel there should be room for each and every one of us to have a place to come and take care of themselves.”