Braids by Nai: How the student-run business has grown since its inception
As college students, we learn to balance school, clubs, work and a social life. For psychology sophomore Nailah DuBose, managing a business is added to the list. DuBose manages her own hair braiding business called Braids by Nai, while also being a full-time student.
KCPR spoke to DuBose last year after she started the business in the dorms her freshman year, and revisited DuBose to see how her business has evolved, as she continues braiding out of her apartment in Poly Canyon Village.
DuBose is originally from Sacramento, California, a town with countless braiders. When DuBose came to Cal Poly she was shocked at the lack of braiders and grateful that she knew how to care for her hair. Her main goal with her business is to provide affordable and accessible hair care for students in a community that doesn’t offer many options.
“Having [a braider] on campus was crucial and knowing the history of hair in the Black community, it’s important to us. Our ancestors used our hair to cornrow maps to escape slavery, tribes in Africa cornrowed hair and did different braiding styles to showcase one’s marital status, social status, just beauty overall,” DuBose said. “It’s a deep-rooted connection for us and to be able to have that done here in college when you’re young and expressing yourself, it’s important. So I think I’m helping alleviate that problem in a sense.”
With this sentiment in mind, DuBose has spent the last year and a half perfecting her craft and carefully balancing her schedule to maximize her availability.
“What I do is I register for classes, look at my schedule for my volunteer work and then look at my BSU [Black Student Union] schedule. Then, at the beginning of the quarter, I’ll make a set list of appointments and I’ll post them the week we get back to school, so people can secure their spots,” DuBose said. “As the quarter goes along, of course, you have some people who are like, ‘are you able to squeeze me in?’ So I make sure to leave some type of flexibility on the weekends so I can do that.”
Now that DuBose has worked out her schedule, she is able to reflect on her growing business.
“My business has definitely expanded. I’ve gotten noticed more and my clientele has grown,” DuBose said. “I really love having consistent clients because they help me know, ‘okay you’re doing good Nailah,’ because if someone really likes your business and what it stands for, then they’re going to want to keep coming back.”
With DuBose’s booming business becoming more popular, she faces new challenges. DuBose currently only accepts Cal Poly students as clients and has become more selective to who she dedicates her time.
“I’m meeting more people, but with that comes some type of sacrifice, right?” she said. “Either I’m having to [squeeze them in] or I’m having to turn away clients, because I can’t take them in. So it’s grown, but there’s always the good and the bad with that.”
The toughest obstacle DuBose has had to face is setting boundaries between her personal life and her work life. DuBose sometimes has to turn away clients in order to focus on school or to take a day to relax; with such a busy schedule, she always has to consider her options and her priorities.
That being said, one of DuBose’s favorite experiences she has had with her business so far was sitting on a panel with the Diversity Coalition SLO for a “Let’s Talk About Hair” event with Mayor Erica Stewart, Cortney Haile and Myraline Whitaker.
“I got to sit on the panel to talk about my personal history with my hair, and what I’ve experienced as a braider here in SLO,” DuBose said. “It just felt so surreal and so honoring that they would even consider me to be in that category. So I think that’s been one of my most notable experiences.”
With this experience under her belt, DuBose believes that San Luis Obispo is moving in the right direction by becoming a more inclusive and informed environment. Looking to the future, DuBose plans on continuing her business throughout her college years and providing a fun, affordable and accessible space for people to get their hair done.