a magical visit to susy's brooklyn braiding salon
i-D penciled in an appointment with Hair by Susy, located in Brooklyn's East New York neighborhood. The owner talked us through her unique, intricate takes on styles like bantu knots and the mambo.
"I don't want you to be comfortable when you sit in my chair," Susy, owner of Hair by Susy, boasts as she touches up a girl's auburn braids. "I want you to be awake! When I speak to you, I want you be to like, 'Yo, I'm about to figure out my life!'" Perhaps Susy has made this her mission because she has figured out so much of her own life through hair. Since the age of 16 she has been doing hair professionally, using the money she earned as a high schooler to buy herself costly Remy hair extensions. "I went into this business as a creative," Susy says with a pridefully raised chin. "I just wanted to create dope art." She then pauses, looks at me with squinted eyes, and says what kind of art she would create with my curly high-top (some faux-dreads with aqua-blue hair braided into them).
Susy had to fight like hell to buy her salon that's located in Brooklyn's East New York neighborhood (which remains untouched by gentrification). She rented out rooms in her house for hair stylists to do their work, spent time in a homeless shelter (doing people's hair for free when they had interviews), and masterfully convinced the previous owner of her salon building to sell it to her.
"I realized I had to start thinking bigger," she says. "If you're not confident in your business, no one is going to take you seriously! I couldn't be like, 'Oh, I'm still braiding hair in my house.'"
Susy has created a safe space out of her salon. Deep feelings are spilled, wisecracks are ping-ponged, and life's struggles are shared. When you enter, you feel like you are stepping into a warm hug. There Susy stands with her waist-length braids (some of them platinum blonde, some of them lime green), her nimble fingers working away as she laughs and chats with her customers. Her voice is large and melodic, filled with a sincerity that keeps you on your toes as she casually grills you about things like your purpose in life and how you want to change the world.
The gang is a mix of customers and people who live nearby, simply hanging out and bathing in the exquisite air conditioning. Everyone throws in their two cents as The Wendy Williams Show plays. "Those Kardashians love to think they're black!" someone yells. When I came to Susy's, I expected to find people who were insecure about their hair, aware there's people with firmly entrenched biases and prejudices towards styles like cornrows and dreadlocks. But I didn't.
"Do you ever feel self-conscious about your braids," I asked one teen boy with a smile splattered across his face (obviously enjoying a confidence boost from his freshly done hair).
He looked at me, bewildered as to how and why I could ever think of this question. "Nope."
"This is called the mambo. It's an African hairstyle — with the beads, and the cornrows going into a hoop. The model herself is very queen-like so I wanted to give her a hairstyle that represents her. I decided to do an up-do that's kind of like a crown. I love beads right now, so I wanted to incorporate them with the cornrows. Beads and cornrows created in different shapes is something that black people have been doing for years. When I looked at her hair, I just imagined the infinity circle. Because to me, her hair is ever-growing." - Susy
"The model is very fair-skinned and usually wears blonde, so I wanted to do something with red tones that would bring out her face color. I love red because it represents passion and fire. With each hairstyle everything depends on the color and the tones and what I'm thinking about at that time. For her, I wanted a fiery, sexy hairstyle to bring out her face. With the triangle, I was inspired by the pyramid on the dollar bill. I just love shapes and textures with hair!" - Susy
"I always love bantu knots because if you want to do a quick hairstyle and just leave, then it's the go-to hairstyle. Bantu means "people," so it represents the world. While people across Africa wear it, the hairstyle originated from the Zulu tribe. It's so easy: you just braid your hair and twist it into knots." - Susy"I love colors! They make me so happy. I love to play around with different colors, but violet is my favorite to wear. With this one I thought, 'I've never seen a black girl with yellow hair, so let me do it!' Kids usually love my hair and some people are like 'Ew!'— but that's fine! The colors make me happy. When I wear my hair black, I'm just like, 'Okay….' but when I have color it just makes me happy and other people around me happy too."- Susy
Text André-Naquian Wheeler
Photography Christine Hahn