Black Hair Spot - HerStory - Asha McLeod


Asha is an award winning hair stylist whose style work has graced the pages of Vogue, Essence, Passion, Modern Salon, American Salon, and Shop Talk. Asha's story of how she opened her salon, Jazma Salon, is start studded and filled with obstacles.

Check out the Jazma Salon Profile here

I grew up in Trinidad and was working in my mother's hairdressing school and salon. At five years old I was scraping scabs off of my aunt's scalp because they got so burnt from pressing combs, hot oils, and relaxers. I was traumatized.

I came to Canada when I was 13 years old and after school I started working in white, Jewish salons. I was surprised that no one's scalp was burnt and no hair was breaking off. I decided I would never do black hair again. It made no sense to me why people were in pain.

After hairdressing school my mom kidnapped me and took me to Brooklyn. She left me in New York until I was able to do black hair and not be afraid of the trauma I went through as a kid.

When I was in New York I worked with the top artists but I realized that even the biggest celebrities were getting their scalp burnt. Everyone was getting their scalp burnt. What my mother had been doing back home wasn't that different from what I learnt working with the best artists in the world in New York. I couldn't understand why no one was coming up with a solution.

My mom was very famous. She knew people like Paul Mitchell and all of the top artists in the world. So of course—she wanted me to take over her business. One day I met a lady on the plane while I was on a trip. She was a black lady and she said to me, "You're a stylist? I have a salon in Yorkville." And I thought to myself there are black people in Yorkville? She invited me to come and work with her, so I did. I was so excited.

My boss—who eventually owned and created MAC Cosmetics — wanted me to introduce black hair products to his community. But I didn't want to introduce anything that didn't have the proper research behind it. However, I was still doing all my black friend's hair on the side.

I decided that I was going to figure out black hair. Then I realized: the less you do with it, the stronger it is. So I started to talk to different chemists and visited different labs. Then I met my husband Ron, who is Canadian black. My husband was always very interested in the black hair I was doing in my basement. My entire network started to pressure me to open my own salon.

But I was still doubtful. How could I open up my own salon when I didn't have all the answers? Ron had a degree in chemistry and decided to research the questions I had. So I wrote out some questions for him to answer.
  Why does relaxer burn the scalp?
  Why are shampoos dehydrating instead of hydrating?
  Why does black hair break?
  How can we handle our hair on a daily basis like other races?
  What is the growth potential of black hair?

Ron discovered that in the 50s when they invented the chemical relaxer, they called it a hair straightener. The reason why they changed it to relaxer is because when you straighten the hair you take all of the strength out of it and the chemical makes it break. Instead of educating the consumer, they just changed the name so they couldn't be sued. Nobody read the jar. I realized that no one was paying attention.

So I learned:
  When you relax black hair you take all the strength out of it
  If you take the salt out of shampoo it helps hair retain moisture

Almost thirty years ago when we started Jazma we were the first to create a shampoo without salt. Ron sent me to a lab to see how products are made. I understood for the first time what moisture was. Moisture has nothing to do with oils and silicones. Moisture comes from water and sealing those water molecules.

When I told clients they had to shampoo more often and hydrate with water I had people telling me I was crazy. It was a struggle. But I didn't open up a salon just to do hair or to make money. I was on a mission to educate my consumers on the fact that kinky/coily/curly hair is beautiful.

At the time I was also doing seminars for about twenty years at the Bronner Brothers and Proud Lady. The name of my class was: "Kinky/Coily/Curly Hair is Beautiful".

Many people would come to these seminars but there would always be a fight. People would always argue that it's impossible to grow black hair long and strong. So I provided slides and photographs of my own clients (Canadian Blacks) who didn't want their hair processed and didn't want their hair straight—and their hair was halfway down their back.

Then we came up with the wash 'n' wear relaxer. We loosened the curls 50%--just enough that clients could wake up, shake it, and go. As years went by we also created more products.

When people say to me "I don't want chemicals in my hair" I think to myself everything is a chemical. When you think about it even sugar and salt are chemicals. My older brother is a chemist and my husband has a degree in chemistry and this is the way I think. I can only think about things in a factual way.

Would you take a cup of salt or a cup of sugar and put it in your food? No. You would use a pinch. And that is how we should be handling a chemical when we're using it to relax our hair by degrees. When you use a pinch you are enhancing the hair just like we enhance our food. We came up with a product to gently relax the hair.

When people say that they don't want a chemical in their hair I have to point out the fact that many of us put braids and extensions in our hair. These plastics bleed out chemicals onto our hair. Every time you shampoo your hair with salt, you're putting in a chemical. Everything in a jar is preserved with chemicals. I believe that if you're going to use a chemical, use it to enhance. Don't use it to destroy.

I was sort of forced to open the salon. Once I had all of this knowledge I went out on the road to provide education to other salons about what I learnt about the power of water and moisture and hydration. They basically kicked me out. I didn't know what do to, so I finally opened up my own place. My boss wanted to go into cosmetics so he sold me the salon.

But then my white clients kept leaving. The more I got into black hair the more they left. Because I was young I didn't know it was racism. And then I decided that I was going to open up a salon and show them that we can create a safe place for black people to come and have their hair serviced. It was because of the racism that I finally decided yes, I'm going to do this.



"It was such a freeing experience, I realized that I was not bound anymore by anyone's expectations for me"

I was able to love my hair because I followed these techniques and my hair grew healthy and strong. How do you keep your hair healthy and strong?

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