Jasmine Collins has been a hairstylist for more than 20 years. Specializing in detail haircuts and color, she has styled some of Atlanta’s biggest celebrities.
For the past decade she has promoted her business, Razor Chic of Atlanta, on social media, but when she joined Instagram, her business took an unexpected turn.
Collins began posting before and after pictures of the women she had styled — including some women with major hair loss from traction alopecia most often caused by hair extensions — and she quickly found a new mission.
“The average African-American woman nowadays has challenges around the crown and temple with hair loss due to medication and the weave epidemic that has led to traction alopecia,” said Collins.
Her skill with precision haircuts helped her find ways to camouflage the hair loss and move the women away from a dependence on hair weaves. Collins smooths and angles hair in ways that don’t just hide damage, but give the wearer a chic new look. She has to keep Kleenex at her station for the clients who are emotionally overcome by the transformation.
“I pay attention to detail and I know how to cut well. When you are cutting the hair, you have to stay away from problem areas. If you cut out too much hair, that area is going to be seen,” said Collins.
She estimates that 85 percent of her clients suffer from some form of hair loss. “It is a major issue in the black community. Because I deal with it so much, I have become so compassionate about it,” she said.
The evils of the hair weave industry have been well documented over the past decade. In 2009, comedian Chris Rock shed light on the problems with an award-winning documentary. “Good Hair” uncovered the underbelly of the black hair industry including the global hair trade.
Human hair imports to the U.S. (wigs and other hair products) are over $1 billion according to a recent analysis by WorldCity of the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. Despite the attention given to the concerns of wigs and hair weaves, hair imports to the U.S. increased one percent over the previous year. According to the analysis, almost 94 percent of these products go to the top three markets: New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta/Savannah.
It’s no coincidence that these cities are big markets for the television and film industry, but even before Atlanta became Hollywood South, it was a hotbed for the hair industry — particularly the black hair industry.
“Atlanta is very much known for hair,” said Collins who is quick to note that she is not opposed to hair weaves, she just wishes they were not being abused. “I view hair extensions like it is a trend. Trends fade over time. We are in a trend now where African-American women are wearing hair extensions like no other, but when stylists like me are exposing what is happening, we are making people more conscious.”
Celebrities have always used wigs or extensions for temporary changes, but in the 1990s, hair extensions took off among everyday women who just wanted longer-term solutions to bad hair days.
Unfortunately, that led to some abuses on the part of both hair stylists and their clients. Because the process of installing hair requires sewing it into a braid, bonding it to the scalp with glue or fusing it to hair stands, it can put extra stress on the natural hair.
When women start to see damage, instead of giving their hair a rest, they run back to get a weave, said Collins.
“A lot of times when it comes to alopecia, it starts small, the size of a nickel or a quarter. That is a sign to get it checked out and not put any additional stress on it,” she said. “But when people have that problem they run to get a protective style as a weave. But it is not a protective style. It is a compromised area.”
Collins said braiding hair in the damaged area then leaving if for months at a time doesn’t give the hair a chance. “I am not anti-weave. It is something that you use temporarily. You should wear your own hair 90 percent of the time,” she said.
Her clients come from all around Atlanta as well as outside of the city who seek her hair rescuing services. The ones who haven’t suffered permanent hair loss often see their hair grow back with her guidance.
“If a woman has head full of hair you have plenty of options, the more you beat up your hair, the fewer options you have. There are some women where all I can do is lay it flat until it fills in and they can get volume,” she said.
Collins sends all of her clients home with instructions on how to style their hair to continue covering the hair loss and how to avoid aggravating the problem areas.
In addition to helping women cope with hair damage, Collins has made it a goal to helps stylists as well.
Years ago, she said, hair salons in Atlanta were filled to capacity. Now there are so many stylists and so much competition, that many stylists are overworked, underpaid and scrambling to survive. “Back in the day sew-in (hair extensions) were exclusive in Atlanta. You couldn’t get them for under $1,000. Now you can get one for under $100,” she said.
So many stylists are independent contractors doing it by themselves and they lack the proper education and support, she said. Collins has recently partnered with NouriTress Perfect Hair Products, an Atlanta brand of haircare that was developed in 1998 by licensed cosmetologists who served women that were dealing with hair loss.
“My mission is to educate stylists and get them to get back to the basics of hair,” Collins said. That means touring the world to teach classes and offering classes online to make sure even time-pressed stylist can invest in their careers.
“I realize this is a movement that is much bigger than me and I need an army of people to get in front of this epidemic,”Collins said.