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Susy Oludele connects Black women to their natural selves at The Lady Exhibit

For centuries, we as Black women have used our hair not just for simple aesthetics, but as a canvas. Our tresses are arms of creativity and voices for our culture we can use each and every single day.

While the 80’s and 90’s were definitelyyyyyy heavy creamy crack years, there has been more appreciation for and education on natural hairstyles these days not to mention, more creatives emerging in the space.

One of the most inspiring creatives in natural hair is Susy Oludele or as she goes by on IG, AfricanCreature. Susy’s signature, enigmatic styles have graced the tresses of Beyonce (yes, the Lemonade braids), Solange, Justine Skye, and more. Despite the famous clientele, anyone can make an appointment at HairyBySusy.

Photo Credit: @justindjohnson_

Students, nurses, and artists all alike go to the shop in East New York to not just get their hair done but to get an experience. See, for Susy, hairstylists are more than just beauticians, they’re healers of the community. In an interview with Kulture Hub, she told me,

“When someone sits in my chair, I like to open the energy, introduce myself, I wanna know who they are, what they do, what their lifestyle is because all of that comes into play on how to do their hairstyle. If someone is an athlete, you would wanna do a style that fits them for their everyday wear but still different at the same time. I try to cultivate each style according to their lifestyle, their swag, where they’re from. I love when it’s collaborative because if you have something that you like, and I have something that I like and we put it together, it’s just something amazing.”

Susy recently released her first book, Lady, filled with portraits that tell the stories behind her favorite styles. To celebrate the launch of Lady, Susy teamed up with Okay Africa for the Lady Exhibit — an exhibition embracing the strength and beauty of black women and our hair.

Photo Credit: @justindjohnson_

To put together the looks in the book, Susy partnered with several creatives who she felt are inspiring Black women within the beauty/lifestyle industries including; Kiitan A., Nneoma, Ronke Raji and Chizi Duru who she also honored during opening night.

Opening night also included a live painting by Ike Slimster, spins from Odalys, dance performances, suya bites and a full-on fashion show with models sporting the latest from Eldior Sodeck. The event kicked off a lady empowerment week with events centered around living your best damn life.

Throughout the week, attendees learned about health and wellness, financial literacy, and even got a hair tutorial from Susy herself. The week capped off with a good ol’ paint and sip because drinking with your girls while learning how to a sunset just soothes the soul.

“The Lady Exhibit was just an idea I had in my head about two years ago. All of my clients that came into my salon kept talking about their hairstyles not being allowed in the workplace. ‘I can’t do box braids, I can’t do color, I can’t do afros’. Those hairstyles are just too cultured.”

Photo Credit: @justindjohnson_

The racial bias in what’s considered “professional” at work has been an issue for too got damn long now. Y’all remember a couple years ago when it was discovered a Google search for “unprofessional hairstyles for work,” will show numerous photos of Black women sporting naturals like fro’s while a search for “professional hairstyles” only showed images of white women?

This is a problem that has suffocated many women of color in the office, making them feel compelled that straight hair is the way to go if they want to be successful.

This association and stigmatization of hairstyles and conduct is just disrespectful to the culture and inspired Susy to create an exhibit to show how multifaceted natural hairstyles are, and how multifaceted we as Black women can be.

“This is a problem. If everyone keeps saying the same thing and everyone has a problem, I have to do something about it because this is something that is coming to the salon. Once again, we’re healers, we’re not just doing hair, we’re speaking to the culture at the end of the day. From that, I was like ‘I gotta have a hair exhibit, I gotta show people you can still be swaggy at work, you can have any type of colors, you can have any type of vibe that you want and still have that professional attitude.”

Photo Credit: @justindjohnson_

Nothing should come between a girl and her swag and you shouldn’t have to hold back your creativity to get a bag. Growing up, Susy was teased for rocking braids.

Hairstyles that made her feel good, that reflected her culture and her relationship with her mother was counter-culture to the then-popular straight, permed hairstyles that sometimes were pressured on young girls.

“My mom used to braid my hair, she used to braid my hair when I was little, she used to braid my hair in tribal hairstyles, I was always inspired because it was so creative. Kids used to make fun of me, but I didn’t care. I was about 16-years-old when my mom said ‘ I can’t do your hair anymore, you have to figure something out.’ so I started doing my own hair. I started doing hair for people in my community, people from school, family, friends and after a while it was just like I was doing hair for every single person in New York City.”

Susy’s confidence in her creativity shines through her styles. She truly gets to know everyone who steps into her chair and every hairstyle is a true collaboration.

Photo Credit: @justindjohnson_

Susy is notorious for using bright splashes of color in braids and playing with colorways and different braiding patterns to create one-of-a-kind styles.

“If I’m doing cornrows it just has to speak for itself, it can’t be regular. If I’m doing a ponytail, it has to be a different type of ponytail, any hairstyle it is, I try to put my own spin on it, something that says Susy.”

When speaking at the opening of the Lady Exhibit, Susy stressed the impact creatives have can have on society. There’s a power that comes with having a strong influence on others and for Susy, that power should be used to speak up for what’s right.

A lot of times traditional Black hairstyles appropriated by white women are considered to be trendy without giving credit to its origins in Black culture, so it’s important that we as black women embrace these styles in all aspects of life.

“As leaders, we were created to kinda protect the world and when there’s injustice going on, we gotta speak against it. Creatives are the most powerful beings ever because we actually shift the culture. We are the culture. The Lady Exhibit is that all in one.”

Photo Credit: @justindjohnson_

Lady shows various natural hairstyles that are sleek, but daring, hairstyles that push the boundaries of what many consider to be “professional.” Braids, twists, locs, styles that play with the complex and simple patterns and show the depths of techniques when it comes to Black hair.

Along with staying true to your creativity, Susy attributes consistency as a strong factor to her success. We all know that being on the come-up as a creative is tough, a lot of times we’re balancing multiples jobs, getting no sleep, and not getting paid to do what we love. Being consistent is hard, but it’s important to success according to Susy, who’s consistency helped her build her empire from being in her apartment to her own storefront.

“Definitely be consistent, work hard. When I started to do hair I was always consistent, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, I worked from 9:00 am – 2:00 am. I eat breathe and sleep here. If you’re creative or if you’re trying to birth something, you have to really love it, embrace it, all in one. Have passion, keep God first and always give customer service. Every person that comes into my salon, whether they’re a blogger, a doctor or a student, I always try to give them the best service ever because you just never know who’s sitting in your chair.”

Photo Credit: @justindjohnson_

The Lady Exhibit was a moving event, a room filled with women and men celebrating and embracing so many facets of the special relationship between Black women and our hair.

It was beautiful to see such eccentric expressions of creativity on canvases that aren’t always given the platform to do so. Susy Oludele is one hell of an advocate and provider of that platform that is inspiring women on a daily to flaunt their natural self.