Australians with African hair have been turned away from salons, but a new movement is pushing for change

Taylor Morgan has modelled in Australia and the United States for 20 years, but during that time she’s only had one shoot with a hair stylist that knew how to do her hair. 

Despite being hired to shoot campaigns for international brands, the 29-year-old model-turned-actor, who is of African descent, told SBS News she has often been expected to style her own hair on set.

But the struggle to find a hairdresser that knew how to work with African hair started before she stepped foot in front of a camera. 

“I was definitely more afraid of going to the hairdresser than the dentist by far,” she said.

Sydney-based stylist and educator Chrissy Zemura wants to see more hairdressers trained in cutting and treating Afro hair.

Maani Truu/SBS News

“I’ve done TV commercials for the biggest brands in the world, and I am doing my own hair.

“You go to a casting and they say, for example, ‘sexy is loose waves’. So you spend hours and hours straightening and then curling even though no other model would have to do that, they just use their imagination and then have the stylists do it on the day.”

‘No afro hair being taught’

Stories like this have led Sydney hair stylist and educator Chrissy Zemura to start an online petition calling for afro hair training to be made a mandatory part of the TAFE hairdressing curriculum. 

As of Saturday morning, more than 12,000 had signed the petition which outlines the different skills required to effectively work with textured hair, which can be more easily damaged.

There are also differences in how textured and straight hair is cut. For example, afro hair must be cut while dry as opposed to wet which is the usual method for straight hair.

“Every hairdresser should be competent in looking after all hair types as they qualify. It’s not right and it’s not fair to exclude a huge number of people in Australia who have curly, textured and afro hair,” the 29-year-old told SBS News from her Surry Hills salon.

“Most people are travelling at least 30 kilometres to access a hairdresser that can actually look after their hair without damaging it … Every curly girl has had a horror story of a hairdresser ruining their hair or turning them away because they just don’t know what to do with it.”

A spokesperson for NSW TAFE, where Ms Zemura completed her qualification in 2016, said training for all types of hair was already included in the Certificate III, which is the national qualification for hairdressers in Australia.

“TAFE NSW delivers the Certificate III in Hairdressing in line with the national training package, which is routinely updated in consultation with industry,” they said. The national training package does state that students must have knowledge of all natural hair types, including African hair. 

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But Ms Zemura said that wasn’t her experience or that of apprentices in different states and territories who have messaged her in support of the campaign.

“They might say it’s on the curriculum, but is it actually being enforced? Are teachers actually teaching it? That’s a completely different story,” she said.

“During my training, there was no afro hair being taught. I did not perform any hair services on an afro or curly hair client or mannequin head.”

Chief executive of the Australian Hairdressing Council, Sandy Chong, said students were responsible for sourcing their own models. 

“If you were going to put afro hair as mandatory for every college delivering hairdressing in the country, then you’ve got to find afro hair in all regional areas and every state and city,” she said.

“The package covers different hair types and then it’s up to the student to bring in what they want to practice on.”

But Ms Zemura said there was a huge market for hairdressers trained in afro hair in Australia, including hair stylists needed for international actors and models working in the country.

Tolu Akimpetide, a client of Ms Zemura, told SBS News she was turned away from hairdressers while growing up in Australia and was forced to use YouTube to teach herself how to care for her hair. 

“I’d never gone to a hairdresser in Australia before because I’ve been turned away. I’ve gone with emergencies, like I just need a blow dry or even just a trim, and nobody could see me,” the 28-year-old said. 

“My mum, or anyone else in the community, has had to step in and take care of my hair … it’s been really rough.”

Up until recently, Ms Akimpetide also said she had had to travel to the United States each year just to stock up on afro hair products not available in Australia.

Ms Zemura said she has received massive amounts of support for the petition, particularly from her colleagues in the industry.

“Hairdressers feel hard done by the system and they just wish they could actually learn afro hair.”

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