When seated in Chanta Barfield’s chair, clients can be in their most vulnerable states. No matter what is happening in their lives, whether they lost a job or are fighting cancer, Barfield makes it her mission to lend an open ear.
“You don’t always have to talk all the time,” Barfield said about her role as a hair stylist. “But just being warm, being welcoming and listen.”
Barfield is not a therapist by trade, although it’s one of the many roles she plays. As owner of Pure Essence Salon on Magnolia Avenue, she has cultivated a community hub over the past 10 years in business — a place where people can open up and let their hair down for what regular customers consider the best service in town.
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Barfield began braiding her own hair in middle school and later began styling hair for her friends. Next came high school training and cosmetology school, before landing jobs at other salons in town.
“I guess I’ve always liked doing hair,” she said. “It was just natural.”
And whether customers want to wear their hair natural or need braiding, straightening, coloring or a weave, Barfield can make it happen. She’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, she said, and there’s just something extra special about “having your own.”
For many Black women, rocking their natural hair has broken through rigid cultural standards about how to wear hair created and enforced by white Americans and institutions with no knowledge of Black styling.
“It makes you feel confident, strong, and it gives you a sense of self,” said Dennisa Smith, a Pure Essence client who first met Barfield in 5th grade. “It was a stigma in our society to wear our natural hair and people looked down on it.”
“But to be able to stand up and be like, ‘This is who I am, and this is how beautiful I am with it,’ it makes me feel … strong and empowered as a woman.”