Faro Farak dreamed of working for himself.
Though the Tampa native became a licensed barber in 2008, his travels around the country, to California and Atlanta, led him on different career paths, including as a personal trainer and in commercial plumbing.
Nandi Safiyah began doing hair in her native Tobago when she was just 9. Her sisters noticed her gift and would bring her down to the cruise ships to braid tourists' hair. She saved the money she earned to move to the United States and continued doing hair to put herself through school. She gave up braiding hair professionally but would occasionally style friends' hair.
When Farak and Safiyah met in Tampa in 2014, they bonded not only over their hair backgrounds, but also over their passion for African culture. The idea for Faro's Cutting Lounge and Afrikan Boutique was born: a full-service salon and barbershop that specializes in natural hair, and a place where African culture could be celebrated.
"I wanted to bring culture into it, and be something new and fresh in the area," Farak said. "We didn't wantto be a cookie-cutter salon."
The salon celebrated its grand opening in August. Farak is the barber, and Safiyah's expertise is braiding and natural hair. There also are two additional stylists. Natural products are an important part of the formula.
The boutique side carries African fashions, accessories and jewelry from Ghana and Senegal.
Faro's hosts weekly djembe drumming classes and jam sessions and recently held an African head wrap and waist bead expo. The plan is to keep cultural events going monthly.
We caught up with Farak and Safiyah, who are now husband and wife, to discuss natural hair and natural products.
What are some trends that you like right now?
Faro Farak: Natural hair is the trend that's first for us. Ones that are coming in are sister locks and goddess locks. Sister locks are the ones that can take 14 or 15 hours to do; they're very skinny and fine. For guys, mohawks, taper fades with blowouts, high fades, boosie fades.
Nandi Safiyah: I prefer to work with natural hair in doing locks, cornrows, two-strand twists. I also do put extensions in that are braids, including a newer trend called Marley twists, which looks like a dreadlock.
Can you explain the term natural hair?
Safiyah: The term is sort of inaccurate, because every ethnicity has natural hair. Your natural hair is what your hair would be without being processed by any chemical. So African-Americans would typically put a relaxer, which would break down the natural curl of the hair. For years, we've grown up knowing that at a certain age, you know that in order to be accepted in a professional environment, you'll have to relax your hair, or some people press their hair.
For us, the term has taken off in the last 10-15 years, and there's a lot of versatility in natural hair. If you leave it unbraided or unbrushed, it becomes an Afro. But you can braid it, you can two-strand twist it, you can lock it, you can put extensions in it. With extensions, the natural hair is under there. Even though you put in the extensions or sewed in weave, your natural hair is still unprocessed.
I've heard some of the straightening processes, like hot combing, are extremely painful.
Safiyah: I don't think people can fully appreciate the torture that we go through with hot combs and relaxers. African-Americans are taught that their natural hair isn't beautiful.
It's almost like a rite of passage for a 12- or 13-year-old girl to get a relaxer, which kills the hair. The stigma is there, and then at some point, usually in your 20s and 30s, you get more comfortable in your self and decide to "go natural," which isn't even going anywhere, it's returning to your roots!
What's a normal day like at the salon?
Safiyah: I continue to work my full-time job, but I'm fortunate enough to be able to work remotely. I try to schedule my appointments around my day job schedule, so mostly evenings and weekends. I do probably one head a day.
Farak: I'd say we have about 20 clients a day right now. I try to stick with traditional cuts, like Barack Obama's style. I can do a fancy cut, with designs, but I try to keep it more traditional. I do shaves, with a straight razor. I do eyebrows as well, also with a razor.
Do a lot of guys get their brows done?
Farak: It's more so women.
What products do you use on clients?
Safiyah: We sell local all-natural products from Sacred Crown and Naturally Sweet that contain ingredients like shea butter and coconut oil. One of our philosophies is local, natural and organic.
What do you see people doing wrong with their hair?
Farak: Using too many chemicals. Another is when their braids are too tight and the edges start coming out.
Safiyah: Many women's hairlines are very delicate. If someone wants cornrows with extensions, and I'm seeing their hairline looks really weak, I'll try to steer them away from that. I've even said no, because they need to treat their hairline.
It's interesting, because even though we've never said we won't do relaxers, no one has asked for one, yet. We're trying to market ourselves as a natural salon.
What is your beauty secret?
Farak: I use all-natural products, shea butter, black soap, coconut oil. The more natural you are, the more beautiful.
Safiyah: Coconut oil. To me it's the end-all be-all. You can put it on your hair, your face, you can eat it. It's anti-inflammatory, it's anti-aging, it gives good moisture.
What are three products you'd want if you were stranded on a desert island?
Farak: Shea butter, castor oil, which is good for your hair, and aloe oil.
Safiyah: Water, 'cause that's the foundation for all moisture, shea butter and aloe vera.
Do you follow any other hairstylists on social media?
Safiyah: A woman in Maryland called Karibbean Kinks (@karibbeankinks), who I've actually gone to. Other than that I just follow the blogs and see what's out there.
Faro's Cutting Lounge and Afrikan Boutique
2310 E Fletcher Ave., Tampa
(813) 424-9306; @faroscuttinglounge
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Sunday by appointment.
Cost: Call for pricing.
Know someone in the Tampa Bay beauty industry we should interview for this feature? We'd love to talk trends, tips and business. Email Brittany Volk at [email protected].
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