How Susan Oludele Built A Community In Bed-Stuy By Braiding Hair

Beauty — the act of embracing it, celebrating it, and sharing it — is one of the strongest ties there is. Having aunties or grandparents massage your scalp and braid your hair, experimenting with makeup among friends, forming new families that embrace queerness through drag — all these acts create lifelong ties that bond us together over great distances and through generations. Beauty Ties is a new NYLON series that zooms the lens way in on the powerful, unique communities that spring up when beauty as a feeling, a process, and a way of life, takes center stage, leaving outdated, exclusionary standards behind. In Beauty Ties, you’ll meet artists, influencers, and visionaries who have built their lives and communities on a strong foundation of beauty in all its forms.

In this episode of Beauty Ties, Susy Oludele and Kathy Clarke of Hair By Susy share their experience as builders of the Bed-Stuy braiding community, stories of Black hair and Black art, and the beauty ties that can make a salon feel like home.

There’s music drifting down the stairs of Susan Oludele’s Hair By Susy Salon: a strong bass line, swift lyrics, and over it all, laughter and conversation. Stepping into Oludele’s salon feels kind of like hitting play on the first track of your favorite album — it’s all bright colors, good vibes, and a sense of familiarity. Of course, if Hair By Susy was an album, it would probably be from Queen Bey’s discography. After all, the first face you see when you walk in the door is Beyonce’s. There she is, gorgeous and glowing with her hair in perfect braids, on a huge print above the reception desk. This is a place that is unapologetically Black and filled to the ceilings with Black excellence.

This is a place where talented braiders create stunning creations that leave a lasting mark on fashion, beauty, and culture, whether it’s being featured in Destiny’s Child’s “Say Yes” music video or the movie dope. At the helm is Oludele, a master braider who has coifed the crowns of larger-than-life celebs including Zoë Kravitz, Solange Knowles, and of course, Beyonce Knowles.

She’s a legend and a powerhouse, but Oludele didn’t build this community of Bed-Stuy braiders on her own. In fact, she herself turned to one of her current stylists, Master Loctician Kathy Clarke, for advice, before opening her salon and launching her line of Hair By Susy hair care products.

In a country that is still digging in its heels when it comes to embracing Blackness, finding community means finding a much-needed safe space. In a world that gladly harvests Black beauty — whether through physical traits like full lips and baby hairs or so-called trends like “clean girl beauty,” — community means survival. The Bed-Stuy braiders have found that in Oludele’s salon. You can feel, hear, and see it permeating the air. Clients relax their shoulders as they tilt back their heads. Here, in the heart of Brooklyn, something is blooming.

One thing about our community of braiders is we always stick together, work together, and empower each other. Without that, we’re not able to do the things we do. This work that we do is very spiritual. It’s also very physical. So without that support, without that commitment to each other, without lifting each other up, we can’t do the things that we do. — Susy Oludele

Community also means freedom from discrimination and access to opportunities for mentorship that don’t always exist for POC in beauty industries. A quick Google search of how Black models and actresses have struggled to have their hair styled correctly will tell you as much. With the support of their communities, the braiders and artists at Hair By Susy have thrived, developing a unique style specific not only to their geographical location, but also to their salon. After NYLON recorded this video, Oludele moved spaces, but the electric aesthetic and soul of its former location is sure to remain. It’s a kind of visual magic that is identifiable on sight and can fill any space, all the way up to the ceilings, with an immaculate vibe. It’s this vibe, this art, these magical women, that create the beauty ties that community is built on.

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