I grew up in Canby, Oregon, a small town about 25 miles south of Portland, and there was nowhere to get my hair done. My white momma would have to take me to the Black hair shops in northeast Portland whenever my Afro-textured hair needed maintenance. I remember getting dropped off at Waves Hair Design on NE Sandy when I was nine years old. I’d spend all day getting in and out of the bright shop’s waiting/drying chairs and watching the bustling salon do beautiful work. Even though I remember always spending such a long day there (as is notoriously the case with Black hair salons), that was the first positive hair experience I remember having, and it was the birthplace of my high hair-esteem.
Waves is unfortunately no longer around, but Black hair shops have opened in its place, including Jayah Rose Salon. “[Waves] was highly successful, one of the most successful salons here in Portland at that time,” says Joy Mack, one of the owners of Jayah Rose. “And [the former Waves owner] tells me the way that we run business reminds her of [Waves] back then, so that was a compliment!”
It wasn’t until after college that I moved back to the Portland area and discovered my new salon bae. Since that glorious day three years ago when I called asking for someone who could slay me some extra-long jumbo box braids, Jayah Rose has yet to let me down. And there’s never a wait.
I’m now a regular and have watched the shop relocate from NE Williams and Shaver to a warm new spot on NE Failing and MLK—a move Mack says she and her husband decided on because of the rapidly rising rent for their former space. I’ve been to 5 out of the 14 different stylists for lots of different natural hair services such as box braids, chunky flat twists, deep conditions, trims, cornrows, and press-and-curls. I personally prefer to wear my hair natural, but there’s no service Jayah Rose won’t do—whether you’re rocking a relaxer or want a custom wig made just for you. And while the stylists vary in age, I would feel comfortable booking an appointment with any of the folks there since I’ve never seen anyone walk out of that place looking anything less than amazing. And they certainly have a high reputation with the locals.
Her mission—to challenge a law barring unlicensed styling that would have required her to attend vocational school and earn a cosmetology license to braid hair—led to her getting the law changed.
But if I didn’t already have such an attachment to the stylists at Jayah Rose, I would seek out Amber Starks at Conscious Coils Salon, a shop that does exclusively natural hair services. While I’ve never been styled by Starks personally, her portfolio—and everything I’ve seen and read about this business owner—is fantastic. Her mission—to challenge a law barring unlicensed styling that would have required her to attend vocational school and earn a cosmetology license to braid hair—led to her getting the law changed. In 2013, Oregon passed the Natural Hair Care Act, which makes her salon possible. And her efforts for the natural hair community did not go unnoticed: she’s garnered local and national headlines, she spoke at TEDxPortland 2015, and a filmmaker even made a documentary about her work. Her example is something to be celebrated and supported. One thing to keep in mind, Starks says, is that under Oregon law, natural stylists are limited to styling only, so they ask clients to show up with fully washed/clean hair. Calling herself “The Loctician,” Starks is a woman of many (natural) trades, including braiding, various natural hairstyles, and classes. And she has a small but diverse team of specialists, including someone who has a knack and passion for working with kids, and an “Extension Queen” who Starks says also “cuts curly hair like no one in town.”
So if you have to attend a special event in Portland, need vacation hair, or just want a fly new ’do, hit up one of these stellar shops, let them know your needs, and make an appointment. And obviously, if you’re getting any kind of extensions you’ll need to provide the hair.
Speaking of hair products . . . this is where it gets tricky, folks. Let’s be honest, it sucks to not have options for the stuff you put in your hair and on your body. While chains like Target, Walgreens, and Fred Meyer have definitely upped their selection of curly hair creams and “ethnic” hair products in recent years, there really isn’t a whole lot of selection in these parts. If Sally Beauty Supply isn’t cutting it (because it so often does not), then Living Color Beauty Supply and Mid-K Beauty in NE Portland are going to be your best bets in terms of selection of wide-tooth combs, packs of Kanekalon, wigs, lotion, oils, and other hair solutions. If none of these places (or your salon) has what you need, you might be out of luck with shopping locally.
While many Black-owned businesses have had to close their doors in Portland (R.I.P. Pink Rose), the best thing we can do is to continue supporting these establishments with our patronage so they can thrive in our own neighborhoods. Especially rare gems like Jayah Rose and Conscious Coils, who can do so much good for your precious head.
Jayah Rose Salon & Spa
320 NE Failing
Conscious Coils Salon
1033 SW Yamhill
Living Color Beauty Supply
5213 NE Martin Luther King
5408 NE Martin Luther King