“When I got back from school learning how to braid hair in Kenya, I also decided it was going to be my side hustle, I was going to make some money braiding people’s hair. So I went through the great troubles of creating a poster but I just didn’t have the heart to charge anyone so my friends would make appointments with me and I would spend the whole weekend braiding their hair, I just couldn’t charge them, so I never made any money from it”.-Lupita Nyong’o
‘Braids’ Directed by Austin Peters
The Oscar-winning actress demonstrates her favorite pastime with her six best friends.
by Mackenzie Wagoner
On a recent Monday afternoon in June, Lupita Nyong’o is hovering above six of her closest friends, who are swiveling atop the black leather barber style chairs inside New York City’s sunlit Ludlow Blunt salon. They have come from all over the Eastern seaboard for the day to have Nyong’o braid their hair. “Lu’s ‘Do’s,’” they call out, referencing the Oscar-winning actress’s hidden talent for professional-level plaiting, before breaking into peels of laughter. “Four and a half stars on Yelp!”
As Nyong’o sets to twisting Bantu knots, sculpting dookie braids, and meticulously sectioning hair into cornrows, her friends close their eyes and lean to her will. It’s a ritual they’ve been taking part of together for over a decade, since the Kenya-bred actress made a vow to master the skill while attending Amherst’s Hampshire College after finding herself “morbidly disappointed” with braiding salons stateside. She vowed to learn how to style her own and held hopes of turning it into a money-making “side hustle” at drama school. It turned out to be neither; holding her arms above her own head for such a long time felt like “an act of madness,” she laughingly admits, and she didn’t have the heart to charge her friends.
What braiding did become was an unlikely asset for acting training—she credits the skill with keeping her awake during hours long classes at Hampshire and, later the Yale School of Drama, and for forging lasting, intimate relationships with the “genuine,” “honest,” “creative” friends who continue to “challenge me and require me to grow as a human being.”
The women in question are Jennifer Odera, a graduate student and childhood friend who, like Nyong’o, started having her hair braided when she was “itsy bitsy” in Kenya (where there were hairdressers “on every street corner”) in order to adhere to their primary school uniform dress code; Tashal Brown, an educator and Nyong’o’s roommate from Hampshire College; Yale classmates Miriam Hyman and Hallie Cooper-Novack, as well as Stacey Sargeant, an actress whom she met while at the university; and Nontsikelelo Mutiti, a professor and artist who is currently hosting an art show revolving around the culture of braiding at New York City’s…To read the rest of this story plus watch Lupita Nyong’o in Vogue’s short film, ‘Braids’ click here