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Unemployment pushes rise in roadside hairdressing

Published:Monday | July 27, 2015 | 12:00 AMRomaine Newell
Natural hair is the in-thing among the young and even matured women and this woman is making sure that she is not left behind in trendy hairstyles. But her 'salon' is on the street side.
Road-side cosmetologist along Princess Street, downtown Kingston, attending to her client's nails.

Women can be seen at numerous hair shops along the roadside at Princess and Duke streets, in the heart of downtown Kingston, buying hair, as well as getting their hair and nails done. This trend, popularly known as 'roadside hairdressing' and 'cosmetology', has slowly taken over downtown Kingston, and now they are on the forefront of popularity. Who are these women? And how have they risen to fame?

The Gleaner took to the popular Princess Street to investigate these women, to examine the factors that led them to this streetside profession and how they have risen to popularity over the years.




Many of the women interviewed claimed that unemployment was the main factor that led them to this trade in the first place, and having no option but to set up 'shop' on the sidewalks.

"It started out for me in about 2001, after I graduated from hairdressing school. I couldn't find a job at any of the professional salons. They wanted people with three years' experience, but I had only two months worth of experience, so I was unable to get a job," said Dorothy*, one of the many roadside hairdressers.

A roadside cosmetologist by the name of Pam* also claimed that unemployment, along with two children, drove her to this trade.

"Mi have two pickney, plus I was unemployed at the time. I used to do nails for fun, but after seeing them at 'town', I just started to do this," she told The Gleaner.




The women have set up their operations outside shops that are noted for selling mainly hair products. That has given them an advantage in terms of visibility to passers-by and an open portfolio to those who are interested.

Their methods of operation are very suited to what they do: by not taking on any jobs that are hours long and by not using electricity, they have managed to survive the normal utilities of a regular salon and the bills that those would have incurred.

"We normally work with the store owners, because they know that we help to boost their sales. We would normally send clients to their store to purchase from them. They, in turn, would give their clients a reasonable bargain and quick assistance," said Hillary*.

The hairdressers claimed that it was their open portfolio that attracted some clients.

"Well, people like originality, style and flare. People have seen me here for more than 10 years, so my credibility would show that I can produce good work," said Dorothy.

A client with whom we spoke supported her.

"I just saw them each time I come to town. I eventually came to like their style and just gave it a try. I've been going ever since," said Peta-Gayle*.

The street-side hairdressers also claimed that it was their professionalism, as well as their pricing, that kept their clients coming back for more.

"We treat our clients nicely. We try to think of their needs first, since we are operating on the roadside. We charge our clients at a reasonable price, and we are also willing to bargain, where at a salon, you could not do this," said Dorothy.

Another client was of the same view.

"They are nice and professional. They are very understanding and reasonable," said Denque*.




As they explained, they are just unemployed women who have turned to this as a means of survival.

"On a good day, I can make $9,000. This can take care of my family. But on a bad day I make $0. Really, no one wants to work on a roadside; we all have pride," said Pam.

"We're popular because we are female hustlers, women who refuse to turn to the stereotype that poverty expects us to. Plus, we are not a common everyday sight," said Dorothy.

"We'll become more organised eventually, in my opinion, but we'll never die as long as there is unemployment and women with our skills," said Pam.

* Names changed

to protect identity