Becoming an African Hair Salon Entrepreneur in the United States of America

Becoming an African Hair Salon Entrepreneur in the United States of America

Anne Namatsi Lutomia (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, USA), Julia Bello Bravo (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, USA), Dorothy Owino Rombo (State University of New York at Oneonta, USA) and Fatimata Seck (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2860-9.ch010
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African beauty salons are important institutions in African and African American communities and can be found in nearly every city and community where African immigrants live. This study utilizes case study to explore the pathways to African women's entrepreneurship and business sustainability in hair braiding within the care industry. While social exchange theory and standpoint theory help to illuminate the “non-choice” of salon entrepreneurship for educated African immigrant women, Lave and Wenger's (1991) notion of communities of practice further discloses how the salon space becomes dedicated to more than service delivery. In general, the study shows the efforts of one entrepreneur to fit the unique exigencies of hair braiding to local (western) business requirements. The study identifies how more accommodation of those exigencies would less inhibit this form of African women's entrepreneurship in general and thus benefit local communities at large through more sustainable service delivery, increased revenue flow, and infrastructural support for immigrants in general.
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The chapter contextualized the engagement of African immigrant in entrepreneurship using the push and pull theory (Achua & Lussier, 2014). Following their male counterparts, a third of the world’s entrepreneurial activity is driven by women but not much is known about female immigrant entrepreneurs (Halkias & Caracatsanis, 2016). Reasons for this entrepreneurship include desires for achievement, autonomy, and flexibility that self-employment offers (Bowen & Hisrich, 1986). However, minorities also often become business owners because they are hemmed in for other professions (Bates, Jackson & Johnson, 2007) and take up businesses that serve their own ethnic communities for instance African hair braiders in the United States mostly serve African or African community members.

While research on women’s entrepreneurship in the United States and Canada is abundant, research into the experiences of immigrants, specifically African immigrant female entrepreneurs, is very sparse (Charles & Gherman, 2013). Halkias and Caracatsanis (2011) long articulated the need for understanding female immigrant entrepreneurs along the intersections of ethnicity, class and generation. Further, not much is known about the experiences of African hair braiders, in her fiction novel by Americanah, Adichie Chimamanda describes the lives of these women, their relationships with their clients and their work environment.

Entrepreneurship has served as a pathway to economic inclusion for marginalized people. It is therefore imperative to study minority experience to further this inclusion. As such, this chapter: 1) applies push-pull theory to identify the directional factors influence immigrant African female entrepreneur (IAFE) experiences, 2) connects push and pull factors to policy and practice, 3) outlines a guideline using a hair braiding business as an exemplary model, and 4) discusses the findings, recommendations, and implications of this study.

African women are among the most recent newcomer immigrants to the United States, for instance, are immigrants who arrived after the 1960s, and comprise one of the fastest growing groups of business owners in the United States (Pearce, 2005). While African immigrant women can be found in almost every work sector of the United States economy, these women join other minority women, particularly African American women, working mostly in the service and care industry as certified nurse assistants, cooks, janitors, and cashiers (Harvey, 2005). In contrast, for African women, braiding salons comprise not only sites of entrepreneurial activity, but also social spaces where alter-arriving Africans immigrants who have less access to employment due to a lack of required skills and language barriers can generate an income. Working at a braiding salon, then, they are able to make a living while learning English, pursuing further education, or simply waiting to get another job.

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