After GTA move, St. Thomas hairstylist’s braiding skills attract clients from across southwestern Ontario

Lydia Owusu doesn’t know of any other hairstylists in St. Thomas, Ont., who specializes in Black hair.

The longtime stylist and makeup artist moved to St. Thomas from Brampton two years ago with her husband and their four sons and her father, and opened a home studio. The family wanted to be closer to London because their eldest son attended Western University.

Owusu now serves clients from around southwestern Ontario.

“I think they like me,” said Owusu, 42. “I don’t discriminate. I even do white hair. This is what I do for a living. At the end of the day, I have to. Everybody goes to work , so I’m working.”

In 2013, Owusu decided to do hair full time and attended Emery Collegiate Institute, but was disappointed by the program.

Other than learning about chemical treatments and relaxers, “they don’t do Black hair. No braids,” she said.

Owusu says she does not discriminate and will braid anyone’s hair. (Submitted by Lydia Owusu)

Honing her skills in Ghana

Luckily, Owusu already had some training from a few years earlier, when she returned to her native Ghana.

“I actually hired somebody to give me a lesson to teach me how to do braids, and corn rows, plaits, locks — everything I need to know.

“And then I started practicing and practicing and practicing.”

Owusu knows the value of a good hairstylist.

“It takes a long time to get my hair done. It’s curly, it’s kinky, it gets dry and it needs a lot of steps,” she said.

“Getting my hair done makes everything easier for me. When my hair is done, I’m a free person.”

Owusu moved with her family to be closer to London, Ont., because her son is a student at Western University. (Submitted by Lydia Owusu)

Today, Owusu spends her time doing makeup for clients, styling hair and teaching other parents how to braid.

“Sometimes a parent doesn’t know how to do their child’s hair,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to style a child’s hair at my shop, so I would be willing and open to teach them how to do it.

“I have been a client of Lydia’s for a couple of years now,” said London, Ont.-based children’s entertainer Saidat Vandenberg. “It is not always easy to find a beautician that not only understands the importance of knowing how to work with Black hair, but one who takes time to listen as she creates a style and look that celebrates our identity.”

Owusu has noticed a shift in her clients in recent years.

“Back in the day, people were not accepting natural curly, kinky hair and they preferred your hair being straight,” she said.

“Nobody wants to do that anymore.”

London-based children’s entertainer Saidat Vandenberg has been Owusu’s hair client for a couple of years. (Submitted by Saidat Vandenberg)

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.