With the evolution of the natural hair movement, many women are starting to look at their options again, whether it’s going back to relaxers, getting big cuts, wearing wigs and weaves, or going full hair. The tension between black women and their hair has peaked during COVID. Shops were closed and so many women couldn’t manage their hair with silk presses or box braids. They got tired, leaving many people with no confidence in their natural hair journey.
Then there was the IG barber boom. The dreaded “Hey girl” text saying your appointment is cancelled, new client fees, 20-page terms and conditions, disallowance of certain hair types, and box braids reaching $500 for some stylists have gone extinct many natural customers. Black women are exhausted from all the maintenance that goes into maintaining their natural hair, whether it’s finding a stylist or not having to sit in the bathroom dealing with their hair for hours. .
One option that many black women have put back on the table is locating their hair. Why? Because it is a hairstyle that requires little daily maintenance. You do your tightening and your hair is good for a month or two. Many hesitate because they don’t want bigger locomotives or because they don’t want to go through the “ugly baby locomotive” phase. But there is another option, Belle Microlocs. This is a smaller loc made with human hair extensions, so you get length and fullness at the start of your loc journey.
ESSENCE caught up with Braids That Speak founder Tatiana Nchotu and talked about her journey, how she created Belle Microlocs and why it’s been such a positive movement within the natural hair community.
Can you tell me a bit about your background? How was Tatiana before Braids That Speak?
I am originally from Cameroon. When I lived there, I came from very humble beginnings. My mother was a banker and my father a teacher. I have quite a large family and am a twin and one of six siblings. My parents immigrated to the United States when I was 11 or 12 years old. Once I moved to the United States, I tried to assimilate into American culture. I was very well supported and when I finished my studies, I went to university for health care management and business. The objective was to return to Cameroon and improve our health system. It didn’t work out in the end and I decided to turn to computers before becoming a full-time braider.
Would you say that your passion for hair started in Cameroon or after arriving in the United States?
It started before I moved to the United States. My interest peaked when I was about eight years old. My cousin Sheila, who lived with us at the time, did her hair at our house. She was so good it made me want to learn how to weave. I asked my mother, who had emigrated to the United States, to send me a doll with hair so that I could practice. Once she sent me the doll, I was able to start imitating my cousin’s braiding, which taught me how to cornrow.
How did you start developing your braiding skills? Did you continue to learn from your family?
My father noticed my interest in hairdressing, so he took me to his friend’s shop in the market, and I followed them as they worked with the customers. I learned the basics for doing twists, braids and extensions. Once I got to the States, I started doing my hair with the skills I had learned, and people wanted me to do theirs like mine. This is how I started to build my clientele. I continued braiding throughout high school and college.
When did you start taking braiding seriously?
Around 26, I decided to give myself six months to take braiding seriously. I used to take on a client a day, maybe three or four times a week. The apprehension was if I would be able to do three or four clients a day. It was hard at first working full time and then turning around and working as a braider after I left work, but as soon as I started working on my client’s hair I had a burst of energy out of nowhere. It didn’t seem to work. I felt like I was relaxing with a friend.
So when did Braids That Speak come on the scene?
I was originally Blissful Braids. I didn’t know you had to check your domain name to make sure it was available. So by the time I checked for Blissful Braids it had already been taken. I came up with Braids That Speak from all the conversations that would ensue around my braids. People always stop by my clients to inquire about their hair. My braids are a talking point and they have brought black women together. One thing that black women will connect on is our hair.
The first style that got the ball rolling was Bomb Twist. It exploded immediately. It was aimed specifically at women with natural hair. I wanted my clients to have healthy hair, mainly because if their hair was relaxed or damaged, it wouldn’t fit in the hairstyle, or their braids would slip. This caused customers to start cutting their damaged ends to get the service, which helped them grow their hair. The Bomb Twists were the foundation of my brand. It continued to branch off with newer adaptations like Mini Bomb Twist, which would later evolve into Belle Microlocs.
Can you explain the difference between Bomb Twist and Passion Twist?
So sure, I would say Bomb Twists are a temporary protective style for black women with natural hair, but they can last up to four months. It grows your hair like crazy. They are super light and look like microlocs. It is usually shorter and done in small to medium sections. While passion twists are usually thicker like jumbo twists and much longer.
You said Bomb Twist was the foundation that made you pivot to Microlocs, but when did you transition to offering Belle Microlocs as a service?
While living in Dallas, I met another Cameroonian braider, Raissa. She will also become the co-founder of our Dallas site, Bomb Hair Studio. She had asked me to install her microlocs last January, and I was hesitant at first because I had never done them before. After doing some research, I decided to give it a go. I posted the results and my clients loved it; and we are also looking to install locs. I didn’t think many black women would want locs, but demand showed that wasn’t true. I believe COVID has played a big part in the market for black women wanting locs. They were tired.
Later a client asked me to have locs added with natural hair, and again I was hesitant because I had never seen this with microlocs before with the technique I was using. She thought I could do it, and it went well. Since the hair is human instead of synthetic, it blocked out like natural hair would. I posted the result, and the rest was history.
Can you tell me a bit more about the Belle Microloc service? I know you offer different options.
Yes, I offer Belle Microloc Twists, Belle Microloc Twist with Extended Braid and Belle Microloc Braids. These services can be done with extensions or just your natural hair. Belle Microloc Twists are the most sought after but are intended for a very specific hair type. If your hair is too limp or too thin, it’s so easy for the hair to slip or fray. So I came up with the extended braid method to help secure the style at the roots and prevent slipping. But I realized that if their hair texture is super soft, it’s not even a good idea to go the twist route because the ends will fray. I then added Belle Microloc Braids to our service, which are braided locs all the way through.
What is the difference between Belle Microlocs and Sisterlocs?
They are very different from Sisterlocs. I first looked at the sister locomotives, but there were things I didn’t want. Microlocs are much more diverse in what you can create, while Sisterlocs is a much stricter mesh system and is locked from root to tip. I wanted to be able to customize my grid according to the needs and shape of the client’s head. As the business started to grow, I had to consider how long and how easy it would be to teach my team. With my technique, I can install a full set of Belle Microlocs in one day, which is a huge selling point for me as I have clients who travel from all over the United States.
You have also decided to market Belle Microloc Twists on your own. What was the basis behind your decision?
People buy from me before they buy the service. I believe in servant leadership. How am I going to market this service if I don’t even wear it? First I have to believe it. One of the things that made me realize that I needed my own service was that after having my son I had to deal with postpartum shedding in the middle of my crown . And it was a struggle to try to push it back. Once I installed my locs, my hair started to grow back. That’s when I knew this service could be beneficial for people with thinning hair or autoimmune diseases like alopecia. Belle Microlocs has restored women’s confidence in their hair.