When black women move to Spokane, often one of the first questions they have is, “Where can I get my hair done?”
(The first question is, “Where are all the black people?”)
Parents of children, especially girls, who are biracial – in this case that’s sugarspeak for a mix of black and white – have to go on the same quest.
Let’s be honest, in places like Spokane where there are only splinters of cultural diversity, finding ethnic stylists, ethnic cosmetic products – ethnic anything – is like stumbling upon a relic from Atlantis.
“If you’re white and you have kids that aren’t, it’s a big issue,” said Tiffany Husband, who is raising biracial children. “We had a terrible time with stylists who think they are experts on both sides. (My daughter) doesn’t have black hair, she doesn’t have white hair. Her hair is unique. Once she got too strong of a relaxer and we had to cut 10 inches off.”
For years Husband took her daughter, Chantel, 9, to different salons and got similar discouraging results, until she finally found Strands on the Boulevard, 1028 W. Shannon, near Northwest Boulevard.
Strands isn’t segregated; it’s not a black salon or a white salon. It’s at the same time both and neither.
When you walk in on any given day, you don’t know what to expect, said Chalaine Jones, one of Strands’ loyal clients.
“Some days it’s just girls as white as me; other days it’s girls as dark as you can think of. It’s very culturally diverse. They don’t make you think they cater to one group,” Jones said.
Strands has a hip, relaxed vibe that attracts women and men of all age groups and ethnicities, from the oh-so Spokane middle-age white guys with mullets to brothers from Fairchild Air Force Base looking to get a tight fade. They keep things mellow for customers 21 and older by offering a glass of wine while waiting for a do.
The radio is tuned to Wild 103.9, but the CD player often is sounding Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and occasionally country music when lead stylist Christine Williams is the first one in the door.
There’s also a cool playroom with toys and a TV and VCR.
The salon has four full-time stylists, two women who specialize in braiding, a masseuse, nail stylists, a woman who does permanent cosmetics, and a tanning bed.
Most of the stylists are trained, and they’ve all got years of experience doing what Williams called “kitchen hair” at home.
One of the braiders, Crysta White, 18, who is Arab, learned using herself and her cousin as guinea pigs, because she didn’t know of any place to have her hair braided in town.
Owner Quincy McDonald, 35, decided to open her salon after feeling too constricted while working at cookie-cutter mall salons that refused to offer ethnic products.
McDonald, who is biracial, is from Tacoma, but she went to beauty school in Moscow, which oddly enough is where she got her real experience in styling black people’s hair when she would cut for college athletes left – ahem – stranded.
It’s Williams who has perhaps the most experience styling African-American hair. But often when black people see that she is white, they’re hesitant.
“They ask, ‘How does she know how to do black people’s hair?’ And I say ‘Her daughter is biracial, and she grew up in California.’ “
Williams said she has been doing “kitchen hair” for mostly black women since she was 16.
She and the other stylists joked that beauty schools in town only taught three things about black hair styles: small Afros, medium Afros, and large Afros.
“I was told I didn’t need to learn how to do black hair because I wouldn’t have any black clientele in Spokane,” she scoffed.
Zanie McMillan, a junior at North Central High School, is just one of many who frequent the salon for its comfortable setting and camaraderie.
But Husband said ultimately it’s all about the end result.
“A lot of salons have great atmosphere, but if you don’t want to go home and cry for days, you have to go to someone who knows what they’re doing,” she said.