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With salons closing across the country due to the coronavirus, navigating hair care can be an inconvenience and a serious point of stress, particularly for black women.  Nikisha "Oshi" Wilson, owner of Oshi Couture Hair Salon, speaks with Denene Millner, host of the Speakeasy With Denene podcast, about her virtual how-to sessions with clients on maintaining and managing hair. 

I want to talk to you first about what it means for you as a black woman to be in this position where you can't go and get your hair done. You're a hairstylist so you can do your own hair and I can do mine because I have natural hair. I can just twist it or whatever. But there are plenty of women out here who get weaves or have that regular standing hair appointment where they go to get their hair done and you're the one who helps them achieve the look that they feel they want and need to look beautiful and that's been just shut all the way down. Talk to me about how that has affected your clientele. 

It has affected them a lot. They're panicking and I tell them they shouldn't panic. So it's taking it back, really, to the old school way of doing hair, even though I do hair myself. But doing my own hair is... When I want to try something different from braiding to shampooing to sitting under the hair dryer and not having all those things at home. So now I started my virtual service on how I can help the women at home basically teaching one-on-one, whether that could be through Zoom, Skype, Facetime or however, we can make it happen. 

Is there any one particular instance or client who may be panicked and called you that sort of set in motion your idea to create this virtual business? 

Well, I had a client. She works for Coca-Cola and she gets on calls and she was like, she doesn't have a full sew-in. She has microlinks. She was like, "What am I gonna do with my hair because once I shampoo it, what am I gonna do?" So she was panicking. I was like, "Well, let me just come up with something."

When I started talking, I said, "You know what? Let me do virtual." So we did the virtual and she was the first person I did. And I told her the products, I stayed on the phone with her while she shampooed her hair and conditioned it. She was like, "It's not lathering." So I told her why it wasn't. We kept going and I ended up to the part [of] molding her hair.

And then after we finished, I said, "Can you give me some feedback?" She said, "I think you did a great job." She said, "I never knew that my hair was to lather up like that or why I have to mold it like this." And then when it dried, she was like, "Now I see." So, she gave me feedback and she said I did a great job. So she paid me for the next session to help her blowdry and style it. It didn't come out like I did it, but it came out good enough. So that made me want to do it. 

I have natural hair and I went natural — gosh — when my oldest daughter was born, it's been almost 21 years. But going from getting a relaxer or going and getting your hair done once every however many weeks it takes for you to get extensions and wear them until you go and see you again. Having to deal with that and manage something that you put into someone else's hands can make you panic. And why does it make women panic? 

Because they rely on me. They rely on me. They don't have any of the stuff at home to do what they need to do. And I have a lot of professional women that's in the corporate world, although they probably have to get on a call just like Zoom, Skype [or] Facetime with a business. So I try to think of ways they can accommodate if they are going live with people and to look presentable at the moment until we get back to seeing each other. So we want to practice safety with our lives and stuff like that. So I thought the virtual thing would be a great idea to start with.

You bring up an interesting point, because I hadn't thought— I'm like, "Well, what's the big deal? You're sitting in your house. You're not working in the office anymore. So you don't have to worry about anybody seeing you." But you're right. You do have to worry about people seeing you. We're doing our conversation via Zoom and I can see your face and I'm like, "Oh, snap. If I was used to going to work looking a very specific way and now I'm going to work via Zoom and everybody's seeing what my house looks like, they're seeing what I look like. And maybe it's not the way that they're used to seeing me." That could pose an issue, particularly for black women who already catch all kinds of hell for wearing natural hair in the office place or who catch all kinds of issues when you know they don't look the way that people think that they should look. And so there are a myriad of states that have, on the books, laws that keep employers from discriminating against you for the way that your hair comes out of your head. But there are states who can fire you or write you up or give you a demerit or take money away because they don't think that you look presentable. And now all of these women who may have been able to come to you to get their hair to be what their office place deems presentable are now on Zoom without the opportunity of being able to come to you to get their hair done in the way that they need to. So that's some deep stuff to deal with as a black woman in America. 

It is because they do discriminate [against] people because of their hair but like yourself... Now, let's say you had your locks down and then you're like, "OK, I got to get on the thing. So let me... Can I tie my hair up for work?" Those things happen, but it's all about the way that you put it on and putting jewelry on and accessorize to bring it down so it won't look so ethnic. It's sad that we have to go through the ethnic thing in this what's going on now. You know, it shouldn't be about your hair, but you still want to be presentable.

Now talk to me about what it means for the women who are letting go of the extensions for the first time and learning how to do their natural hair and wear their natural hair for everyone to see. Like, have you had clients who've made that transition so far? 

Not yet. I have two people. I have two consultations, with one today. She's freaking out. She stayed out of state. I mean, maybe an hour and a half away from me. I've had people fly in for me. I got somebody from New York that I'm doing. So the proper way of— I'm going to tell them when it comes to taking the extensions out, the proper way of shampooing the hair because there's a different way to shampoo the hair when you come out of hair extensions than having you having your natural hair because your hair sheds. So once it's braided down for so long, it sheds. You've got to make sure you release that hair and then you got to know the proper way of shampooing. If not, it will mat up into a ball. And I have seen celebrity friends say, "I had to cut my hair off." You didn't have to cut your hair off. If you took the call for a virtual service, I can show you the proper way so that the hair wouldn't mat up. So, I mean, taking it out and wearing your own hair is hard, but it's not hard because even with myself, I like to get my hair done by somebody else than do my own hair, but I think it's gonna be easy because you can always part down the middle and pull back. The quickest way to look presentable is pulling [your hair] back in a ponytail because [the] majority of people who wear hair extensions, if it's done properly, they have hair under those extensions. So they should be good.