Family extension is the story of a braider, a pioneer, an entrepreneur, a creator, an innovator and family business…
As a young child I could remember watching my mother Amazon Smiley create the most beautiful braided hairstyles from the dining room of our apartment on the southside of Chicago. This became a business for her that expanded from our dining room to one of the first hair braiding salons in the city of Chicago. She opened her first hair salon on 87th street in Chicago which was affectionately known amongst the black community as the Black Michigan Avenue. Her husband, my father Ron Smiley built every wall, laid every tile, installed every counter and mirror to her desired design. The salon was called Amazon Braid Sculpture at that time. I watched my mother for many years create new techniques and train many other women how to perfect this epic skill that was passed down from our ancestors.
At that time, in Chicago the trend in the natural hair world was braided hairstyles with extensions, all kinds of extensions human hair and synthetic.
If you are a braider then you can relate to how challenging it can be to manage your hair extensions while you’re braiding. That classic scenario of laying the hair across your lap while you sit and braid then one slight move and the hair falls on the floor and gets tangled or having your client hold your hair for you. At the end of a very long day you look on the floor and see pools of lost hair. Hair extensions are expensive especially human hair…
So my mother, being the creative innovator that she is, came up with a comfortable solution for braider and client to preserve as much hair as possible.
She had a vision of a mechanism that consisted of wood and two drawing cards. She told my father of her designed vision and he began to build it. He built several of them for the salon and we called them hair distributors. As a traveling braid stylist I never went anywhere without my portable version of this. Years later their youngest daughter, my sister Nadra, patented and manufactured the hair distributor and it is now called Alli the Hair Assistant. This tool that was once only exclusively sold in the past can now be sold to millions.
This story is an example of black hair, black economics, family business and African-Americans embracing their culture.