Natanya Montgomery has a confession to make: “I must’ve missed the invitation to secret Black-girl braiding class when I was younger because I never learned how to cornrow or braid hair.”
It’s a sentiment Montgomery, founder of San Francisco-based hair salon Naza Beauty, and many Black women share. Braiding has always been an essential skill set that has defined Black culture and identity, and one that Black women are expected to master at some point in their lifetime, like jumping double-dutch or cooking. Failure to learn how to braid can have your Black-girl card “revoked” or leave you feeling like you missed out on an important Black-girl rite of passage. “I don’t understand what I did wrong in a past life to be cursed in this existence as a Black girl who can’t braid for shit,” one Twitter user wrote. Well, thanks to the newest service under Montgomery’s Naza Beauty salon, the “curse” will soon be lifted. Enter: Naza Beauty StyleBox.
StyleBox started off as an experiment. On February 22, 2020, Montgomery cut the ribbon of Naza Beauty, a salon that specializes in protective styling with a internet savvy approach. The salon allows customers to customize their desired style through its booking site—from choosing your desired hair length, color, and thickness—before even touching a salon chair and then stylists execute the styles in four hours or less.
The launch was met with fanfare. A woman even flew in Cincinnati to experience the salon in-person. Then, the coronavirus curveball happened, forcing many businesses to shut down indefinitely and leaving many people, especially members of the Black Girls Who Can’t Braid club, without their safe haven. So what do you do when your beauty salon is closed, beauty supply stores are locked down, and online websites are experiencing product shortage and shipping delays? You launch StyleBox, a service that provides customers with everything they need to take care of their hair until salon doors reopen.
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“We thought of launching the idea at the end of April, literally a week ago. It almost seemed kind of silly to me when I first thought about it because a lot of times when people talk about self-care, it’s ‘Oh, I’m taking a bubble bath.’ But self-care is about protection of self and doing things to help you present your best self,” Montgomery tells ELLE.com on the phone from her San Francisco home. Instead of leaving her clients and employees hopeless, she launched StyleBox to ensure her employees and clients are well taken care of during quarantine.
StyleBox offers customers three different boxes to choose from: All Natural, Braids & Twists, and Goddess Locs. The All Natural box comes equipped with styling products—creams, gels, oils, etc.—as well as a detangling brush and a spray bottle to help natural clients achieve twist-outs, up-dos, and braid outs. The Braids & Twists and Goddess Locs box also features the aforementioned styling products, in addition to hair extensions and a crochet kit for braiding/loc hairdos, all pulled from Naza Beauty’s own inventory.
“The boxes also feature products that people are familiar with, like the Shine ‘n Jam extra hold gel, a pretty standard, non-toxic, non-drying braiding gel. There are rubber bands as an option for people to use as well,” Montgomery explains.
Not to be mistaken for a monthly subscription service, which focuses primarily on product discovery, Montgomery says StyleBox’s goal is to educate women on how to care for their hair.
“With the boxes, we’re teaching clients a particular style. If it’s something that we continue doing with for months, then we’ll be teaching you a different style. Think of it as a Blue Apron meal kit, but for your hair,” she says. Naza Beauty also encourages customers to grab their champagne and join its Zoom classes led by Naza stylists that teach customers how to install braids, twists, and other natural styles.
StyleBox launched prematurely due to the global pandemic, but it was already a goal of Montgomery’s from the moment Naza Beauty opened its door. Not that she minds, though, and the resounding response from customers already has Montgomery thinking about StyleBox’s future.
“[My goal for] Naza Beauty is to be the beauty brand for Black and Brown women wherever we are—at home, in the salon, everywhere,” she adds. “This was something that was on the roadmap a little in our journey but gosh it seemed like a really good fit for the community right now.”
And after selling out the first batch of boxes in 24 hours, I think the community agrees.