But what often trends along with these protective hairdos are the common challenges associated with achieving them: increased pricing, long hours in the chair, lack of included services like hair washing and, sometimes, safety considerations, since many braiders require clients to travel to their home.
Swella is a new braid bar with a mission to address these concerns. The idea for the concept emerged nearly a year ago, when Brooke Hill hosted a five-week pop-up salon in Philadelphia that made $9,000 in revenue and served 30 customers. Success from this “braid cafe” combined with a $25,000 grant from the 2021 Visible Hands Accelerator was the impetus for the launch of the Swella brand—the now Atlanta-based storefront for which Hill is a cofounder. Swella opens its doors this week, with a plan to offer customers a full-service, luxurious yet affordable braiding experience.
Swella vows to be a one-stop shop that provides everything clients need once they walk through the doors. Prospective customers can book their desired service on Swella’s website, a selection of cornrows and box braids of various sizes, all of which come with a wash and blow dry, plus options for braid takedowns and touch-ups. All hair is sourced from Black-owned supplier Dosso Beauty and available in-store. And in addition to booking their hair service, customers can customize their experience by answering questions about how they would like to be entertained (options include a laptop tray for remote working or the use of streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu) as well as the choice of a complimentary refreshment.
“We thought, ‘how can we make this experience better and more safe, particularly for Black women or any woman of color who has kinky or curly hair and likes to wear protective styles,’” says Hill. “It’s widely known that women of color spend nine times more on their hair than any other demographic, and it makes you wonder ‘how come we don’t have these convenient luxury services?’”
Atlanta, home to a slew of HBCUs and a known hub for Black excellence, was deemed the best place to launch Swella. Leaning on the city’s appetite for innovation, Swella is taking its offerings a step further with Unravl, technology aimed at automating the braid takedown process. The handheld device works by being applied once the braids are cut loose, unraveling strands two times quicker than the manual way.
Swella’s second cofounder, Zanbria Asante, who is leading the development of Unravl says it is a “win-win” for both the client and the stylist. While the team is still in the fundraising stage to flesh out the patent-pending product, her hope is to be implementing the technology in Swella salons by early 2024.
“Sustainability for our braid stylists is a big thing,” says Asante. “We’re trying to decrease braider burnout by providing the technology to automate some of those monotonous tasks within our salons.”
For Swella, Atlanta is just the start. The long term goal for Asante and Hill is to turn Swella into a franchise and, in the process, continue to facilitate wealth and ownership in the Black beauty industry.
“We like to say we’re just planting roots in Atlanta,” says Hill. “But we do recognize that hair braiding is global. It’s been around for a long time. And we do believe that our technology will allow hair braiding to be far more effective and scalable.”