Shanghai’s First Black Hair Salon, Back A Yard Music

Black hair specialist, Studio opening its doors for the first time.

It’s official. Shanghai has its very first salon catering exclusively for African Caribbean hair. Other Chinese first tier cities like Beijing and Guangzhou already have established locations where you can walk in and get your hair treated just like back home.

But, surprisingly, in Shanghai it has long been the same old story of hunting down that number from a friend for that recommended person who can do black hair privately. The brainchild of two Jamaican entrepreneurs, Studio recently opened its doors to a first full weekend’s worth of clients all eager to try out their new service.

“We’ve been planning for this for over two years and this summer, all the plans seemed to fall into place for us to open our black hair salon,” said co-founder Byronie Richards. The salon had back-to-back appointments on its first day where, inside, everyone was in a celebratory mood as both staff and clients all had welcoming glasses of champagne to mark its grand opening.

Studio’s co-founders, Jamaican business women (left to right) Camille Lindo and Byronie Richards.

“Thank you for coming out to support us today. You’ll get nothing but the best from us. It’s a place where you’ll come out looking good and empowered,” proclaimed Studio’s other co-founder Camille Lindo during her toast speech.

From weaves and braiding to locking, relaxing and shape ups for men, Studio seeks to position itself as a pioneering leader for all things Afro hair related. Located centrally down a Former French Concession lane, it was late afternoon and walking up to the two huge wooden doors I had to take a moment to realise this was history-in-the-making. Yes, that sounded dramatic. But, for such an advanced city like Shanghai where Western influence is most evident in mainland China – it was hard to believe that only in 2012 was a black hair salon finally kicking into gear.

If you’ve ever seen some of the outlandish styles Chinese hair salons put out – there’s certainly no issues with creativity. Where it goes wrong is understanding the texture and growth of non-Asian hair. Even with my Caucasian Latino floppy strands I’ve had my fair share of Chinese haircut mishaps. To the point where I took over a year to test trail various places finally settling with a salon owned by a Hong Kong hairdresser who had spent over ten years in Manchester (UK) working his hair business there.

Sabrina, from Tottenham in London (UK), having braids put in.

Sabrina, sitting comfortably with an iPad on her lap, was having long braids put in and chatting with her, she too had experienced the wrong side of Chinese hairstyling. “I’ve been living in Shanghai now for six years and at the beginning I did try some Chinese salons. The worst experience I had was when I wanted to colour my hair with blond strands and ended up coming out with a bright orange colour,” the British native recounted. The new salon was a huge relief to her not only for the decent styling. “Normally I go to the UK once a year and on my return I have to pack so many hair products to try and last me the eleven months in Shanghai. Now, I know I can get my hair treated properly with just one phone call,” she said.

At the opposite end of the salon sat Latoya, an English teacher from Ohio (U.S.). She had heard about the salon through a friend. She said: “For too long I’ve been doing my own hair. I could get by with it but it’s not the same as someone doing it for you. The whole experience of having my hair washed, trimmed and styled was excellent.”

Studio and its five stylists have a combined 35 years of experience backed also with all their hair products imported in from the States.

Vaughn, Studio’s in-house barber, shaving Belgian-American Karel’s hair.

Vaughn was the only barber and, that day, his chair had a line up of people waiting for razor sharp finishes to their new look. And they weren’t all men either. First up was French-Chinese Sylvie who owns a bar in Shanghai. She went with a more radical left-side close shave with tram lines plus one cornrow to contrast against the rest of her long loose hair. She had barely left the chair and in sat Karel, a Belgian-American.

“I guess (black) men don’t have such big hair issues as maybe the ladies. I would go to a Chinese barber’s and they would shave my hair no problems. But the big difference is in the finish. A black barber knows how the hairline should be shaped and it’s that attention to detail that is missing in Shanghai’s hair places,” said Karel. “Also, it’s about the conversation. I know that somewhere like Studio, I can chat about things that, because of language or cultural stand points, I couldn’t really do at a Chinese hair salon.”

And I think Karel hit the nail on the head. The expertise displayed at Studio was what you’d find in any decent overseas black hair salon. There was even a happening selection of Caribbean tunes playing in the background which set a more ‘back a yard’ feel. Yet, it was the sense of family that really made it feel like you were truly part of a local community. And that’s something that comes from people and from culture which is impossible to replicate.

Packets of quality hair ready for use.

Evidence of this was in the entrance waiting area with its chairs dotted about. People were enjoying some drinks along with complimentary nibbles like handmade Brazilian chocolates and homemade Caribbean banana bread. It was alive with upbeat banter and it’s those added touches that will see a new business like Studio go a long way.

At the moment Studio is in its soft opening stage operating only on Sundays and Mondays. Judging by the initial demand I think it won’t be long before those days increase. So, no longer is there the worry of having to run the Chinese hair salon gauntlet. There’s now somewhere that’ll ensure you feel all-that, plus supporting the growth of our vibrant African Caribbean community right here in Shanghai.

Visit: Studio, House 11, 133 Maoming Nan Lu, near Huai Hai Lu, Shanghai
Opening Times: 9:30am – 7:30pm (Sunday and Monday)
Tel: 1381 690 7454 or 1381 783 3451
Metro: Shaanxi Nan Lu (Line 1, exit 4 / Line 10)

Studio Sample Price List
Individual Braids (medium) RMB 650
Weave RMB 400
Cornrow RMB 400
Perm & Treat RMB 700
Color & Cut RMB 400
Men’s Cut RMB 200
(all hair additional cost)

Chinese-French Sylvie and her creative side-shaved with cornrow look.

Studio stylist Indira James (right) preparing strands of hair for braiding.

Karel’s son looks on as his daddy’s shave and shape up is finished.

(left to right) Studio barber Vaughn (Jamaica) with Karel and his son.

Happy customer, African-American Latoya and her new trimmed and styled finish.

Byronie and Camille’s opening toast speech.

With some of the Studio stylist team. (left to right) Indira, Camille, me, Byronie, Melanie.