How This Self-Taught Hairstylist Turned Braiding Into Her Main Hustle

In 2014, self-taught braiding guru Taiba Akhuetie turned her side project into her main hustle when she launched KEASH BRAIDS with her friend Jessy Linton.
Following the success of their first-ever pop-up at Butchers Salon in London, British luxury department store Harvey Nichols contacted them to host a four-day stint in-store, with everyone from WAH Nails to Urban Outfitters and Missguided wanting a piece of the brand.
Since then, KEASH has transitioned from a pop-up braids-and-blow-dry bar to a big-name brand, offering everything from wig workshops to tooth gems, alongside other beauty services. So it was a total no-brainer for Akhuetie and Linton to open their first brick-and-mortar salon in Peckham, southeast London, in collaboration with Chanice Copeman of BAMBROWS.
We caught up with Akhuetie to talk Mary J. Blige, the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation, and more...
Photo: Courtesy of KEASH.
Taiba Akhuetie of KEASH.
What was the hardest part about starting a business as a young woman?
I believe in myself a lot but deciding to finally quit my job and focus 100% on KEASH was hard. I waved goodbye to stability and that was scary. I don’t have rich parents to chuck me money whenever I want, so I took it very seriously and I hustled my ass off to build up clients. It’s still early days for me; I have many more things I want to do, and sometimes I still worry about what the future may hold, but that’s what being a boss is all about.

I waved goodbye to stability and that was scary. I don’t have rich parents to chuck me money whenever I want, so I took it very seriously and I hustled my ass off to build up clients.

Is KEASH your main hustle or do you have other jobs?
KEASH is my main hustle. Now and again I do a bit of modeling and I’ve got into DJing, which I really love. Before KEASH, I was working as a quality control operator for a media company, then I moved on to assist a fashion stylist and work part-time at Matches Fashion. I worked seven days a week for three months, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I’ve always been my own boss and I knew I had to be.
Photo: Courtesy of KEASH.
What was the turning point in your brand becoming what it is today?
The fact that I've worked with some of my favorite brands and celebrities is incredible. Social media was a huge stepping stone for KEASH to become what it is today. In the same breath, though, Instagram can be very deceiving because it’s not just about followers. I’m still growing, but being paid to do something I love is something I’m proud of.
Were you a braiding pro before you started?
Not at all. I started braiding when KEASH began. I used to watch my mum and her friends do it so I had some insight into different techniques. Braiding was a huge part of my childhood; Black people braid their hair to maintain and tame it. Afro hair is extremely high-maintenance and requires a lot of care. Braids were always and continue to be an important part of my grooming process.
Photo: Courtesy of KEASH.
Where should we draw the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation when it comes to braids as a Black cultural tradition?
It is important that culture is shared and appreciated, but it has to come from the right place. When fashion brands take braided styles and use them on the catwalk with an all-white lineup and all of a sudden it becomes a trend, then that's a problem. We need to consider the struggles Black people have had over the years with their hair not being accepted — it’s a sore subject. I love that more people are wanting to wear braids and I am one of the people educating them and sharing my culture. I get people from all over asking me about KEASH and truly showing appreciation for styles that I have introduced them to. I believe that Black people should be in charge, ensuring Black hair culture is shared by them.
Photo: Courtesy of KEASH.
Who are some of your favorite hair icons?
Mary J. Blige is a don when it comes to hair. I’m sure she probably has a walk-in wig wardrobe. Obviously, I’m obsessed with Solange. She has inspired many Black women to appreciate their hair and to see the beauty of it!
Now you're expanding from WAH Nails and launching your first ever salon in Peckham. What can we expect from that space?
Our new salon is located in Holdrons Arcade on Rye Lane. I share the unit with BAMBROWS and both Chanice (founder of BAMBROWS) and I designed the space completely by ourselves. We can only do one client at a time, which makes it very personal. But you can come down with your friends or family and hang out around the arcade — you won’t be disappointed. KEASH is all about keeping it real. I believe the environment allows our clients to feel relaxed and not afraid to ask questions. I want my staff and my clients to feel like they can be themselves.
We've joined a lovely community in the neighborhood. It’s great to be in the mix with a vintage designer store, vegan café, radio station, and many more incredible independent businesses that maintain their own personality, culture, and aesthetic. Some people may think our prices are high for braids, but it is an art that takes time, and I want to move away from Afro-Caribbean salons being associated with being cheap and dirty. We need to know our worth. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to have services that are affordable for everyone in the community. We respect the braiding community and we are not here to step on anyone’s toes. If you want bespoke braids and a high-quality service, expect bespoke prices.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.

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