PORTLAND, Maine — Maine has a shortage of stylists who know how to work on and style hair for Black women, men, and children. Rafiki Shop in Portland aims to change that.
The staff hopes to boost the number of stylists able to work with Black hair and bring more Black-owned businesses to our state.
So on a snowy Saturday night in Portland, dozens of people came to a Black hair show.
"I was really excited to hear we were having another hair show and to learn about the hair school as well," Nicole Mokeme, a model at the event, said.
She had her hair styled by one of the students at Rafiki Academy.
"These are called Bantu knots," Mokeme said, pointing to her hair. "And that was her idea for the Bantu knots to do a bunch, and I had already had a similar style saved in my phone like, someday I want to do that."
Rafiki Academy has been open for about two months and specializes in teaching how to style Black hair because not all schools teach it.
"Black hair comes in many textures. It comes in something as loose as mine to something super kinky as you can imagine afro texture hair," Rosa Barboza, founder of Black Owned Maine, said.
Barboza said hair is important in African culture because it is a way for people to express themselves.
"We're like, 'Why don't we provide an opportunity to learn not only your braiding skills but also entrepreneurship as well, so you can open your own business, and we can really have more Black-owned businesses,'" she said.
Models, event organizers, and people in the crowd all agree this is about more than just hair. It's culture.
"I just like changing things with my mood or my character. I feel like I'm a different person every seven years, so I just like to switch things up," Mokeme said.
"I feel like it makes me different or kind of like I'm growing up, like changing," Jonathan Sendama, another model in the show, said.
Hair is a huge part of African culture, but it can be costly and timely.
"This, it took like one or two hours. They put like weave and then braid it into your natural hair," one young woman in the crowd said about her hair.
"The Black community spends $72 billion on hair care alone every year," Barboza said.
Barboza added she hopes community members see what Black Owned Maine is doing and take the opportunity to learn about African culture and invest in more Black-owned businesses in Maine.