An 8-hour drive for braids: Why Black haircare is hard in small-town Canada

A four-hour drive over mountain passes is the only way Temeeka Guy can get her hair braided. 

When the 29-year-old woman moved to Grand Forks, B.C. from the Toronto area, she knew it would be difficult to access hair products, let alone stylists, for Black hair. 

“Before I even came, I stocked up on a whole bunch of different hair products… I knew that it was going to be really hard in rural B.C. to find any sort of hair products for myself,” she said. 

Grand Forks, a town that sits just above Washington State, has less than 5,000 people, and she says she understood she’d be one of only a few Black women in the community. Guy moved to B.C. for an opportunity to run her own business and start a life with her fiancé

When the supply of hair products she brought from Toronto began to run out, she was unsure what to do next, said Guy. 

Temeeka Guy has to drive for hours to access the haircare products she needs. (Photo provided by Temeeka Guy)

“That was when I first realized that there was kind of this big gap in that accessibility for Black women,” she said.

Guy began driving to the U.S. to stock up on products, which could take anywhere from three to six hours every time, she explained. 

 “And then that way I also had somebody that I could talk to instead of just ordering online,” she said. She’s also been looking for a stylist to braid her hair but the closest one is a four-hour drive through the mountains, which isn’t easy in the winter, she said. 

Research shows that for many Black women, hair is a crucial part of identity and is deeply connected with personal self-expression and culture.

Hair expenses for Black consumers overall reached $2.51 billion in 2018, a 2.3 per cent decrease from 2016 as more people are moving away from using at-home relaxers and are embracing their natural hair, according to a study by market research firm Mintel.

The study found that 43 per cent of Black women are likely to use five or more haircare products at home indicating the costs of day-to-day styles.

The lack of products available at stores in town impacts Guy’s sense of belonging in the community, she said.

“It makes it really hard for people to want to move here… because as a Black woman, that’s my hair and that’s one of the biggest pieces of my culture, and myself.”

“These added costs just make it really hard for somebody to live in harmony in a small town in B.C. I’m spending so much money just to find resources,” she said.

‘A really big challenge’

Living in Winnipeg her entire life, Michelle Jean-Paul says she expected hair products and stylists to be more accessible than they were when she was a child.

But the 39-year-old school principal still finds it difficult to go to a stylist that understands how to cut her hair when she wears it naturally, she said. 

“That’s still something that’s a really big challenge. I think with the natural hair movement becoming more prominent, it’s much easier to find braids in the city…. a lot of people are braiding out of their homes,” she said.

Stylists she’s had in the past have moved to Toronto, she says, which is seen as a more comfortable place to be with a large Black community, said Jean-Paul. 

“I couldn’t find another one that I liked, so I moved away from relaxers and started braiding my hair. I’ve toyed with the idea of wearing it naturally, but there aren’t many hairdressers in the city that I would go to and trust to cut Afro hair,” she said. 

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