Sociology professor Marlese Durr studies impact of recession on African American stylists

Marlese Durr, professor of sociology.

Marlese Durr gets her hair done every two weeks. Although she goes to a salon, many women go to someone’s house to receive hair care.

Durr, professor of sociology at Wright State, and Deborah King, associate professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, examine how African American women, specifically stylists, coped with and continued to work during the 2008 economic recession. Their study is titled “Braiding, Slicing and Dicing: The African American Woman’s Home as a Site of Work.”

The beauty and hair industry in the African American community was regarded as recession-proof and took much less damage than the rest of the economy. However, that did not mean it was completely immune. Many women lost clients during the recession and needed a way to continue their income. African American female hairdressers addressed this problem by taking their clients into their home.

Durr wanted to research how these women balanced their work clients and home clients, as well as what the women did as part of their in-home business.

To ask the women about their work, Durr invited hairdressers to a “girls lunch,” where she interviewed women about what services they provided at home and how it affected their income. Stylists agreed to participate in this study under three conditions: no completing surveys, no audiotaping conversations and no discussing income from in-home services.

Many of the questions revolved around the recession, how it affected each hairdresser’s business, how they managed in-home business and how they managed their prices. The hairstylists reported a loss in clientele and a decrease in standing appointments, as well as a decline in requests for expensive services.

Many of the women involved in the study did more than cut hair at their house, Durr found. They also sold jewelry and clothes or baked food for their clients.

“These women are baking for clients Afro-centric jewelry in their homes, they were adding more business without reducing their income,” Durr said.

Durr said another reason hairdressers might work out of their home is that many salons require hairdressers to rent a chair. While this is less of a problem when a hairdresser might have several regular customers and walk-in appointments, it becomes problematic when the stylist is not making money from her work. Hosting clients at home prevents this problem, sincestylists do not have to rent a chair.

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