With the evolution of the natural hair movement, many women are starting to look at their options again, whether going back to relaxers, big chopping, wearing wigs and weaves, or locing their hair altogether. The tension between Black women and their hair peaked during COVID. Shops were closed and so many women couldn’t manage their hair with silk presses or box braids. They grew tired, leaving many lacking confidence in their natural hair journey.

Then there was the boom of the IG hairstylist. The dreaded “Hey girl” text that your appointment is canceled, new client fees, a 20-page term and conditions, turning away certain hair types, and box braids rising to a whopping $500 for some stylist has turned off a lot of natural clients. Black women are exhausted from all the upkeep that comes with maintaining their natural hair, from finding a stylist to not having to stand in the bathroom fussing with their hair for hours. 

An option that many black women have put back on the table is locing their hair. Why? Because it’s a low-maintenance hairstyle on day-to-day bases. You go for your retightenings and your hair is good for a month or two. Many are hesitant because they don’t want the bigger locs, or they don’t want to go through the “ugly baby locs” phase. But there is another option, Belle Microlocs. They are a smaller loc done with human hair extensions, so you get to have length and fullness at the start of your loc journey.

ESSENCE caught up with the founder of Braids That Speak, Tatiana Nchotu, and talked all about her background, how she came up with Belle Microlocs and why it’s been such a positive movement within the natural hair community.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background? What was Tatiana like before she was Braids That Speak?

I’m originally from Cameroon. When living there, I came from very humble beginnings. My mother was a banker and my dad a teacher. I have a pretty big family and am a twin and one of six amongst my siblings. My parents migrated to the United States when I was 11 or 12. Once I moved to the US, I tried to assimilate into the American culture. I was very well-rounded, and when I finished my schooling, I went to college for Healthcare Management and Business. The goal was to go back to Cameroon and improve our healthcare system. It ended up not working out, and I decided to pivot into IT before becoming a full-time braider.

Would you say your passion for hair started in Cameroon or once you got to the States?

It started before I moved to the States. My interest peaked when I was about eight. My cousin Sheila, who lived with us at the time, would do hair out of our house. She was so good at it that it got me interested in wanting to learn how to braid. I asked my mom, who had migrated to the States, to send me a doll with hair so that I could practice. Once she sent me the doll, I was able to start imitating my cousin’s braiding, which taught me how to cornrow.

How did you start building your braiding skills? Did you continue to learn from your family?

My father noted my interest in doing hair, so he took me to his friend’s shop in the market, and I would shadow them as they worked with clients. I learned the basics of doing twists, braids, and extensions. Once we got to the States, I started doing my hair with the skills I had learned, and people wanted me to do theirs like mine. That’s how I began building my clientele. I continued braiding throughout high school and college.

When did you start taking braiding seriously?

Around 26, I decided I would give myself six months to take braiding seriously. I was used to taking one client a day, maybe three times or four times a week. The apprehension was if I would be able to do three or four clients a day. It was hard in the beginning working a full-time job and then turning around and working as a braider after I got off work, but as soon as I started working on my client’s hair, I got a burst of energy out of nowhere. It didn’t feel like work. It felt like I was chilling with a friend. 

So when did Braids That Speak come into the picture?

I was initially Blissful Braids. I didn’t know that you needed to check your domain name to make sure it was available. So by the time I checked for Blissful Braids, it had already been taken. I came up with Braids That Speak from all the conversations that would spark around my braids. People are always stopping my clients to inquire about their hair. My braids are a conversation starter, and they brought black women together. One thing black women are going to connect on is our hair.

The first style that got the ball rolling was Bomb Twist. It blew up immediately. It catered specifically to women with natural hair. I wanted my clients to have healthy hair, mainly because if their hair were relaxed or damaged, it wouldn’t last in the style, or their braids would slip. This nudged clients to start cutting off their damaged ends to get the service, which helped them grow their hair. Bomb Twists were the foundation of my brand. It continued to branch off with the new adaptations like Mini Bomb Twist, which would later evolve into Belle Microlocs.

Can you explain the difference between Bomb Twist and Passion Twist?

Sure, so I would say Bomb Twists are a temporary protective style for black women with natural hair, but they can last up to four months. It grows your hair like crazy. They are super lightweight, and they resemble microlocs. It is usually shorter in length and done in small to medium-size sections. Whereas passion twists are usually thicker like jumbo twists and much longer.

You said Bomb Twist was the foundation that pivoted you into Microlocs, but when did you transition into offering Belle Microlocs as a service?

While living in Dallas, I connected with another Cameroonian braider, Raissa. She would also become the co-founder of our Dallas location, Bomb Hair Studio. She had asked me to install her microlocs last January, and I was hesitant at first because I had never done them before. After doing some research, I decided to give it a go. I posted the results, and my clients loved it; and we’re also looking to get locs installed. I didn’t think many black women would want locs, but the demand showed that wasn’t true. I believe COVID played a significant role in the market for black women wanting locs. They were tired.

I later had a client inquire about having the locs done with natural hair added, and again, I was hesitant because I had never seen this done with microlocs before with the technique I used. She trusted that I could do it, and it came out beautifully. With the hair being human instead of synthetic, it loc’d up just as natural locs would. I posted the outcome, and the rest was history.

Can you tell me a bit more about the Belle Microloc service? I know you offer a few different options.

Yes, I offer Belle Microloc Twists, Belle Microloc Twist with an extended braid down, and Belle Microloc Braids. These services can be done with extensions or just your natural hair. Belle Microloc Twists are the most desired but are for a very specific hair type. If your hair is too soft or too fine, it’s so easy for the hair to slip or unravel. So, I came up with the extended braid-down method to help secure the style at the root and prevent slipping. But I realized that if their hair texture is super-soft, it’s not even a good idea to go the twist route at all because the ends would unravel. I then added Belle Microloc Braids to our service, which are locs braided all the way down.

What’s the difference between Belle Microlocs and Sisterlocs?

They’re very different from Sisterlocs. I initially looked into sister locs, but there were things that I didn’t want. Microlocs are much more diverse in what you can create, whereas Sisterlocs is a much stricter gridding system and is interlocked from root to tip. I wanted to be able to customize my grid to the customer’s needs and head shape. As the business began to grow, I needed to consider time and how easy it would be to teach my team. With my technique, I can install a full set of Belle Microlocs in a day, which is a huge selling point for me as I have clients traveling from all over the United States. 

You also decided to market Belle Microloc Twists on yourself. What was the basis behind your decision?

People buy me before they buy the service. I believe in servant leadership. How am I going to market this service if I’m not even wearing it? I have to believe in this first. One of the things that made me realize I needed my own service was that after having my son, I dealt with postpartum shedding in the middle of my crown. And it was a struggle trying to get it to grow back. Once I installed my locs, my hair started growing back again. That’s when I knew this service could benefit those with thinning hair or autoimmune diseases like alopecia. Belle Microlocs restored women’s confidence in their hair.

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