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Senegalese Hair Braider Marks Decade In Hill

by Meagan Jordan | Jun 25, 2014 11:07 am

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Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Kimberly Square, The Hill

Betty Seye took out the dryer and the synthetic hair—and a two-strand twist corn roll bun was underway.

Seye, 43 learned how to do corn rolls in her native Senegal. She was good at it. When she came to America in 1997, she went to beauty school to get a license—and has been doing it for a living every since.

Seye has been standing and braiding natural hair for the past ten years at African Hair Braiding, the Kimberly Avenue shop she has owned for the past decade.

She demonstrated her technique the other day on one of her regular customers. Click on the above video to watch the two-strand twist corn roll bun take shape.

Meagan Jordan Photo Seye begins the prep of her customers by first washing then drying their hair. Seye then supplies the hair, normally synethic, that is necessary for the style.

“I grab the synthetic hair and twist it in with the natural hair” Seye said.

Seye uses “Jam” brand hair gel or else a protein gel, which requires the hair to be dried upon finishing.

Once Seye is done twisting the hair into the bun, she secures it with bobby pins. “That twist comes from my country Senegal,” said Seye. Seye grew up doing the twist as “singles.” Here in the U.S., she started doing corn rows out of twists.

Seye braids with natural hair with or without the synthetic extensions. “That style took two hours,” she said. ” The longest style is seven hours.”

Seye learned to braid hair as a child with her sister when they grew up in the Senegalese state of Jubuta. Her sister brought her to New York, where she enrolled her for beauty school.

“For a year I couldn’t get my license because I wasn’t a citizen”, Seye recalled. She later received her certificate but could not find work, which motivated her move to Connecticut.

She began working in black roots. While working she got married and had her first child, Fatou. In 2001 she began working on Kimberly Avenue under the management of Leah, who now owns a shop above Dexter’s barbershop on Dixwell Avenue. 

The previous owner sold the property on Kimberly Avenue to Seye in 2004; she has been running the business ever since.

Seye recalled her best memory in the shop being the day she first owned the shop herself.

“I don’t have to work for anybody. [I] work by myself, [though] It is not easy because now I am single mom with two children,” she said. Seye enjoys hair braiding “I am more comfortable with it. I’ve been doing it for a long time, it’s my passion and makes me think of my roots,” she said.

Also, she said, “I make people beautiful. I enjoy dong someone’s hair and they look pretty.”

Seye is fluent in three languages: French, which she learned at school in West Africa; Wolof, her native tongue; and English, which she learned upon her coming to America; is proud of her children and reports them doing well in school. Fatou, 14 and Seynabou, 12 both attend New Haven public schools.

“Seyna wants to be a doctor or teacher, and Fatou wants to work with music,” Seye said.

Seye’s shop was at its peak the first four years. “It’s not really busy as it used to be,” she said. “[It] goes up and down because of economy.” She has 30 consistent customers, and they have stuck with her.  “I consider it my first home,” she said of her shop. “I’m there all day. It’s my passion, my joy.”

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