BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO
Hair maintenance is something that varies by individual. Not every hair pattern or texture is the same, and each one requires its own unique care regimen to ensure that it remains healthy and strong.
Niya Belnavis aka Miss Niya made the decision to loc her hair exactly a decade ago out of a desire to simplify her own life shifting her focus on needs instead of wants.
“I found that I was very caught up with myself, whenever people would ask me what my favourite thing about myself was, my answer would always be my hair.” Miss Niya shares.
Upon that introspection, she wondered if the entirety of her identity existed in her hair. In order to detach herself from the superficial world of hair maintenance Miss Niya decided if she could find a ‘stationary position’ or an unchangeable style in which to keep her hair it would speak more to her character as a person and disregarding her vanity would demonstrate that she didn’t focus on trivial things such as styling her hair but dedicated her time to more important endeavours.
Miss Niya was born in Canada, but she comes from a long lineage of light skinned folk. Her father’s family hails from Jamaica, but her grandparents are of Jewish and Syrian descent, while on her mother’s side they are a mixture of white, black and native. Miss Niya became interested in the idea of becoming a hair stylist when she was a young girl accompanying her grandmother to the hair salon. It was always fascinating for her to watch people getting their hair done, and when she told her Granny that she wanted to be a hair stylist she discouraged her telling her that it was too much work for not enough money.
The opportunity to work with hair came for her years later when she was in a relationship that steadily became emotionally, mentally abusive. It was a terrible relationship where her independent spirit was always being overruled and once it began getting physical Miss Niya knew she had to get out. Unfortunately for her, he was the one who held all of the finances.
“A few years prior, before I had locs myself, a friend of mine with dreadlocks asked if I could help wash his hair. Washing his hair I realized that there was a lot of gunk in his roots so I thought that he was just gross and didn’t practice good hygiene.” Miss Niya shares. “Then a guy that I was dating had the same issue and I realized that this wasn’t a personal thing it was an epidemic.
That’s when Miss Niya began washing people’s locs in her bathtub for money. Searching for an escape this was the perfect opportunity and eventually, she saved up enough money and was able to leave.
When she moved out she went on Ontario Works (OW), a government assistance program that helps people who are in financial need. A friend then told her about the self-employment program through which they put you through school, and also give you the opportunity to run your business as well as keep the money you earn from the business. From here she was connected with Scadding Court Urban Market, community vendors that are housed in shipping containers and there her LockShop gained a home and began building a reputation for itself.
Miss Niya is the owner of a CleanLocs in Scadding Court Urban Market. She is a Loctician and specializes in a steam-based gunk/lint removal process that leaves Locs feeling, lighter, softer without completely unravelling.
CleanLocs was established in 2010 and is still the only Loctician completely dedicated to this specific issue. There are a lot of negative connotations associated with dreds, and some of the first things that people ask is how do you even deal with your hair? Do you even wash it? How do you wash it?
Before starting her business Miss Niya dedicated her time and research to developing a foolproof method to help people clean and maintain their locs.
There are different ways to begin locking your hair, Miss Niya says that she prefers the double twist and backcomb method or she alternates with a crochet method depending on the hair texture and the end result that a client is looking for, some people prefer freeform, while others enjoy a more manicured look. She takes a natural organic no-fuss method, a logical approach because without the use of products over time the hair starts to form knots and mattes down and condenses
“A lot of people don’t realize that the size you start at will condense and get smaller not the other way around,” Miss Niya explains. “If your locs are getting bigger over time it’s probably an accumulation of gunk and dirt.”
Miss Niya says that over the past seven years through vigorous research and working so closely entwined in the locs of others, it has debunked a lot of the myths, ideas and concepts “I went into it a little ignorant myself and learned there really is no such thing as nappy hair, everyone’s hair has a curl pattern, and everyone’s hair is different.”
It’s trial and error or science which is essentially the same thing developing a system that helps me to get deep inside the locs to clean up all of the gunk, lint and build up inside of there without unravelling the hair.
“I focus a lot on education, the way people take care of their locs is because of lack of information. I found it baffling that with all of those issues at the forefront of people’s minds, how nobody thought well maybe we should be cleaning them out?”
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to getting dreadlocks. “What most people don’t realize is that your hair texture really determines how your hair will loc. Curlier hair locs more like pocket coils in a mattress whereas straighter hair looks more like a braided rope.” Miss Niya explains. Also, what this means is that curlier hair is easier to clean than straighter hair because it’s springy and the air is able to pass through it more easily.”
In order to clean her client’s hair, Miss Niya uses a steam-based method. Before she began locing her own hair she did some research into how locs are formed and worked on reverse engineering the process working out how the dirt would get in and the best methods for getting it out
Because the hair condenses to get tighter and locks the dirt in, I needed to find a way that I could expand it without unravelling them completely.” I just went to Gr. 7 science where they tell you if you heat something up it expands and I tried it out and it worked. Trying to do the wash and my other services isn’t nearly as effective without the steam.” she says. “People leave after a cleaning service with their hair feeling ten times lighter, I’m talking feather light.”
In the future, Miss Niya would like to open the Clean Locs Academy a place where hairstylists can go and learn about the art of managing natural hair and dreads. “People don’t realize the nuances of racism and segregation, things not visible to the naked eye or someone who isn’t from a visible minority,” she says.
Currently, there is no formal education program like this exclusively for learning about caring for and styling natural hair and in order to run a black hair salon and be a hair stylist there you have to be registered and regulated by the government. However, the issue is that in order for that to happen you need to attend a school approved by the government to be certified and they do not teach you anything about dealing with natural hair.
“Once you graduate you go out and do all this work on black hair that is still unregulated and you have to pay all this money when in the long run it doesn’t even benefit the business, I want to open the school so that if you want to become a Loctician you can come to the CleanLocs Academy and learn everything about locs there.”
The benefit to what Miss Niya does is that she doesn’t care for any other type of hair just strictly dreadlocks “Every single day of my life I’ve been inside of somebody’s locs, and people come from near and far for one of my cleanings or detailing services.”
CleanLocs is located in Scadding Court Urban Market, right behind Kensington Market at 707 Dundas St West #7 in Toronto. They are by online appointment only and this is not a fully staffed shop. Miss Niya services each and every one of her clients herself. If you are in the market for a Loctician to help spruce up your locs be sure to visit Miss Niya at CleanLocs!