Spring is here! The flowers are starting to bloom, the weather is FINALLY cooperating, and you’re (hopefully) renewing your mind, body, and soul. Besides the start of the year I (and many others) like to use spring as a transition period for new beginnings. I love checking out the new spring fashion, the new beauty trends, and of course making sure my hair is spring/summer ready after the brutal winter winds. April Spotlight is shining the light on Owner/ Celebrity Hairstylist, China McNeal, of Chicago Hair Imports (AKA Chi Hair Imports).
Chi Hair Imports has been located in the heart of the Chicago Gold Coast for over 25 years and is a staple in the community. Owner/Hairstylist China McNeal says, “What makes us different is we cater to women. The salon has a glamourous ambience, but it’s also very comfortable and affordable. We specialize in hair extensions and natural hair. Our services are unique because they are tailored to each client. Our goal is to promote healthy hair goals.”
I myself have been going to China for about 2 ½ years now and my goal is to grow out my natural hair. China has made me fall in love with hair extensions during the transition period. I love that the hairstyles I wear are super flexible and doesn’t damage my natural hair underneath. My lifestyle revolves around attending lots of events and I need my hair to look on point for pictures. Chi Hair Imports provides customers with natural hair services, color or highlights, and protective styling (extensions, braids, and wigs). Their newest offering is make up services and very soon lash extensions. China has had several celebrities in the salon from actress Halle Berry, to cast members from the Real House Wives, and actress Persia White (to name a few). If you’re looking to get your hair in tip top shape while maintaining a stylish look check out Chi Hair Imports! Schedule a consultation at www.chihairimports.com. Check out my one on one interview with China below as we discuss hair care tips and maintaining your natural hair.
Tavi J. One on One Interview with Owner/Hairstylist, China McNeal, of Chicago Hair Imports
How did you get into hair?
I saw there were so many stylists that were not doing a good job on people’s hair. Taking short cuts and not caring about the specific hair textures.
You’ve own three different salons and have been in this location for the past 25 years. What made you get involved in the haircare/beauty industry?
I always loved beauty and fashion. I was getting ready to go away to college at Spelmen. I figured a way to earn extra cash on campus was to learn how to do hair, makeup, and nails. So I decided to enroll in beauty school first before I went away and learn it professionally.
If you weren’t doing hair what other profession peaked your interest?
If I wasn’t doing hair I was actually going to go into law or medicine and do plastic reconstructive surgery.
What made you choose the Chicago Gold Coast for your salon location?
When I first started hair I opened up a salon in the south suburbs of Beverly in Chicago. Then I ended up in the Gold Coast. I was told by a friend and one of my former bosses that I had a personality that was fit for the gold coast. I had high expectations and I wanted to offer clients a very high end salon to come into with affordable prices and matched their quality lifestyle. I also opened a salon in Las Vegas because of the glamour and beauty of everything. This is the third location, but this is the only active location that I work with and currently own.
Are there any other projects that you’re working on right now besides the salon?
Yes! I have several projects that I’m working on. They’re to be announced in the very near future this year.
Are the projects hair related or are they a little bit different?
Hair related. So stay tune!!
I want to get into a few hair care questions. What protective styles would you recommend people do if they don’t want to do the big chop when transitioning to natural hair?
The protective styles that I recommend for women are twist outs, flat twists, hair extensions, and braids. Hair extensions are the number one transition style going from relaxed hair to natural hair. Hair extensions provide a professional look and they can look glamorous. Another style that is protective that we use are braids. We also use a lot of wigs. I know wigs are making a comeback. If you see or notice in most of reality television and news anchor women, they use a lot of protective hairstyles and there usually wigs because they’re easy to go in and out of and they maintain the hair health underneath.
I know braids can sometimes be a little controversial just because some people say braids can actually pull your hair out. What causes that? How do you do braids so it’s protective and not hurting your hair?
When you’re transitioning back to natural there is a period of time where your hair is very fragile. You need a stylist/braider that knows hair and scalp. If you put too much tension on the hair that can cause the hair to break or snap. If you look at hair you can kind of imagine in your mind that hair that’s growing out of the scalp is curly. However, the hair that is at the ends is straight. In the middle what you have is a line of demarcation. That is the natural breaking point. So what usually happens is if a stylist is braiding too tight they can cause that particular area to snap and break. (Middle area). If you have hair that is growing out and you see the new growth that’s wavy and the line of demarcation where the hair goes straight, that hair can also become tangled. You have to be careful when taking out braids. I try to steer clients away from leaving things in their hair for more than eight weeks because it’s easy for the hair to begin to lock and the client can have breakage when that happens. It’s really important for a stylist to know haircare and to educate the client.
So basically with braids the problem comes with tension and leaving them in too long?
Yes it’s a combination of both. But you also want to make sure your hair stays moisturized. The hair still needs to be maintained during that eight weeks period or so.
Can you explain the Keratin treatment? We know that there’s different ones out there. Protein vs chemical, etc…. Can you explain both?
Yes. So keratin is a protein. The hair is comprised of protein, but however, not always is it possible that your hair will have the protection that it needs. Keratin bonds were created by chemist to protect the hair. What happens is they break down the bonds into the smallest molecule so they can absorb into the hair shaft. Those bonds are not a chemical so unlike relaxer (relaxer is a straightener and a chemical) Kertain is a bond that is a molecule that is extracted from a coat of a lamb. There are different Keratins. Some of them are made with different ingredients like Formaldehyde. There is such a thing as a person having too much Keratin on their hair (too much protein). You have to have a fine balance of protein in the hair. Even if you miss your Keratin treatments you can shed long strands, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means that the hair now needs a treatment.
What are your views on relaxers at this point?
My views on relaxers is it’s all about the clients lifestyle. I have clients that absolutely feel they need a relaxer. I always look at the clients hair and judge based on the lifestyle, hair texture, and length. I would say over the years relaxers have diminished. We may do 5 or 6 a month. People are more conscious now about having their natural/healthier hair. There are new alternatives for those clients now so my take on relaxer is it’s really not something I would like to do for a client, but based on the lifestyle where there really busy, children, swim,……then I’ll texturized the hair. Which means I’m only breaking down 70% of the bonds versus 100%. It leaves room for the client to have heathier hair versus the hair snapping and breaking.
Is there pretty much no way to have a safe damage free relaxer?
Not necessarily. A relaxer is not harmful unless it’s not applied properly. A client can have a healthy relaxer as long as that relaxer is maintained. Relaxer application is really important. Most people try to put relaxer just on the new growth, but relaxer can overlap. Overlapping means relaxing hair that was previously relaxed. That’s where the breakage comes in. You also have to remember to get your ends trim because after a while the relaxer dries the hair out at the ends.
Does it matter whether you have a relaxer, keratin, or natural hair how often you get your ends trim?
When you have natural hair your natural hair has to be shaped more often than relaxed hair. So with relaxer you don’t need to trim your ends as frequently. With relaxed hair I would say each time you get your hair relaxed to just get a dusting. Just to dust off the ends. There usually not damaged unless that client is really abusive with their hair.
What is your philosophy on loving the hair you’re born with?
My philosophy is to learn how your natural hair texture works in it’s natural state. Most women haven’t seen their natural hair since they were 10 or 11 years old. They’ve had relaxers, to perms, hair wigs, you name it. They put so many things in their hair that they really don’t know how their natural hair is. My philosophy is learn the hair you were born with, but also modify it to fit your lifestyle. So, if you have curly hair and that hair isn’t working for you then that’s okay if you need hair extensions. Love the hair you were born in, know how to work with it, learn different things that work with you. The proper shampoo’s conditioners, etc….and always sit with your stylist and find out what type of hair you have, what grade of hair do you have, what products work well your hair. You need to find a routine that works with your hair.
What do you think about people getting hair color and another chemical treatment like relaxers at the same time?
My take on that is if it’s done professionally and that stylist knows how to work with relaxed hair and color treated hair it’s okay. I know that there are some clients that like both. Some peoples hair isn’t strong enough. There are instances where I have told clients that their hair is not strong enough to do both.
Why are you a Chicagoan that we should know?
I always say I’m a Chicagoan that people should know because first of all I love my city! I love making women look beautiful. I’ve stayed in Chicago because I know we need our own presence here instead of going to Hollywood or California. I felt like I can make a difference here and bring those aspects of glamour to our own city versus looking or moving elsewhere.
Make sure to check out Chi Hair Imports and schedule your appointment at
www.chihairimports.com or by calling 312.642.0095.
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