In the past year or so, braids have absolutely exploded in popularity. You’ve seen them on the runway, on social media, and on just about every beauty-related website out there—ours included. They’re basically trendy AF and we are totally loving it. But culturally, the significance of box braids proves they are more than just a trend. That’s where Shani Crowe comes in. Shani is a stylist from Chicago who has been using her braiding talent to create jaw-dropping hair art. Her goal? To honor the tradition and culture of braiding and show the world where it comes from, and what it really means.
Shani’s creations are her way of creating a dialogue about braids that more accurately reflects where the ‘trend’ came from—traditional African culture.
She told Fusion magazine, “Braiding is a sacred art in a lot of ways because it’s so rich in tradition—a lot of times we don’t really understand how much it means. Because [braids] are coming out in pop culture and being exploited as a trend in the fashion scene, I think it’s important for me to honor them, before there’s a time when people don’t even remember them as traditional Black art.”
Shani also notes that “Plenty of cultures do their own braid styling, but African braiding has its own very long chapter in the history of braiding. I felt charged to make them tangible in a way where I could create an icon that honors my experience with braiding, my love for my clients, and a celebration of Black feminine beauty coiffeur in my own words, in my own images outside of magazines.”
Aside from making waves on Instagram, a collection of photographs of Shani’s work was featured in an exhibition at MoCADA (the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts) in Brooklyn. She collaborated with Solange Knowles to create a headpiece for her appearance on SNL. Shani spent about 50 plus hours working on the halo Solange wore. She told W Magazine, “The headpiece was made of small plaits that I fed additional hair into to create thin, long ropes that were wrapped around a custom armature. Solange’s hair is cornrowed in a subtle wave pattern that ends in a mid-level ponytail to which the halo was secured.” In the same interview, Shani explained her medium further by saying “In a society where every facet of our lives is subject to advertising and propaganda, manipulating our every move, I decided to make my own propaganda to inspire people, especially Black people, to be proud of themselves and their culture.”
Are you following Shani yet? You should be. In today’s political climate, we need more women like her, the kind who are willing to tell the truth and start conversations about culture, tradition, empowerment, and self-love. She said it herself , “That’s why this project is important. It’s an unapologetic assertion of my pride in my braid art, my culture, and my African ancestry.”