Playful afro buns to curly, sophisticated lob and every look in between, our former Mane Muse Yara Shahidi is the beauty chameleon every girl hopes to be when she grows up. While Shahidi’s open to dabbling in different hairstyles, it’s her hairstylist Nai’vasha Johnson’s imagination that fuels the star’s inventive strands time and time again. A real estate agent turned celebrity hairstylist slash groomer slash wig expert, Johnson beautifies some of the biggest names in black girl magic (think Uzo Aduba, Ashleigh Murray, and Sasha Lane). We got to know the Harlem-based Tennesseean and found out exactly how she got to where she is today. Here Johnson talks to us about going from selling homes to styling celebrity manes, natural hair myths, personal hair product favorites and more.
Harlem (New York, NY)
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a singer when I grew up. I graduated from the top performing arts high school in Memphis and I was awarded several music full scholarships to college. I spent my entire childhood performing on stage and competing.
What were you doing job-wise before you became a celebrity hairstylist?
I was a Real Estate professional.
Did you have a mentor along the way?
I never had a mentor. I always worked and studied alone.
Did you go to school for hair? If so, which school? If not, where did you learn?
I went to Paul Mitchell the School Atlanta and earned a license as a Master Cosmetologist.
Your roster includes some of our favorite stars ever, and we love your work! How did you break into the celebrity side of the hair industry?
Thank you so much! I love you guys as well. I broke into the celebrity side via my good friend/colleague Tippi Shorter who introduced me to Wanda Sykes. Wanda was my very first celebrity client and she remains my client to date. I love her to pieces.
You’re an amazing wig expert too. Where or how did you master that skill?
I love wigs! I experimented and practiced many techniques until I mastered the art form of wig making. I used YouTube, trial and error, and took classes.
What three pieces of advice would you give to beauticians or cosmetologists around the world who want to level up and become an editorial or celebrity hairstylist?
1. Test shoot with great photographers
2. Network with other industry professionals
3. Take continuing education styling courses
Where, what decades, and/or from whom specifically do you find inspiration for red carpet/cover hairstyles?
I gather inspiration from current international runway shows, iconic period hairstyles, and classic haircuts.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
A typical work day for me really varies. I begin my day with checking and answering my emails at 6am. Then, I review my daily calendar. If I have clients for the day, I map my route, and create my kit accordingly.
You also groom a group of A-list men! Can you list your favorite men’s grooming products/tools for us?
My favorite grooming products and tools include my Artis brushes. Men love them because they are super soft on their skin and they’re great for a quick facial massage.
My other favorite is Armani Beauty Crema Nuda. It’s an intense moisturizer and tint in one. It leaves the client’s skin looking refined and luxurious, never “made-up.”
Where’s your favorite store or place to buy hair extensions, wigs, bundles, etc.?
I order my extensions, bundles, and wigs directly from the hair origin.
What’s one myth about natural hair that everyone needs to stop believing? (this could be a myth about hair oils, co-washing, protective styles, anything!)
Everyone should stop believing that you don’t have to shampoo natural often. This is a complete myth. Natural hair must me cleansed at least once per week and heavily moisturized with a deep conditioner.
What products are always in your kit? Include brands and product names.
The one product that’s always in my kit is Hick’s Edge Control. That is my favorite edge control. It never flakes and I’m able to make the tightest coils super smooth.
What tools are always in your kit? Include brands and tool names
What brushes are always in your kit? Include brands and brush names.
The brushes that are always in my kit is my Mason Pearson Brush and my wooden toothbrush for a smooth hairline.
Your hair is gorgeous. What are your personal favorite hair products that you use on yourself at home?
What would you say has been your biggest career milestone so far?
My biggest career milestone was being nominated for a NAHA Award (North American Hairstyling Award). I’ve never felt that level of professional joy.
What are your favorite accounts to follow on Instagram?
What would your job be if you weren’t a hairstylist?
Luxury Real Estate Broker.
Photos: courtesy of @naivashaintl