Bronx-born braider Susan Oludele is the creative mastermind behind Beyoncé's iconic cornrows in Lemonade, Solange's eccentric beaded styles, and Zoë Kravitz's signature box braids. She's been doing hair since the age of 9 and now has her very own salon in Brooklyn, Hair by Susy, which births some of the most epic styles on the scene and has over 23,000 followers on Instagram. Susan, also known as Susy, doesn't just do hair—she creates statuesque styles that speak to the art of hair. Unconventional, individualistic, and expressively bold are a few words that come to mind when describing her styling aesthetic.
In a world where women of color are often marginalized in the workplace because of the way they choose to wear their natural hair and young girls are being suspended from school, it's imperative to see natural styles being celebrated in all of their glory like this. Susy's styles represent more than just hair. The colorful array of shapes and structures showcased through her work spread an unwavering message of confidence to wear your hair however you choose, despite societal standards of beauty. Susy spoke to us about how she went from homelessness to styling stars in a salon she calls her own.
On How She Got Her Start and Hustled to Build Her Own Salon
"I started doing hair when I was 9 years old. My parents and my family wanted me to go into a more convenient and structured profession. I went to school for law, and then I dropped out. And then I went to medical school and dropped out. I decided to try hair as a hobby while working a day job taking care of the elderly. Then, I got laid off. At 18 years old, I started doing hair as a full-on profession.
"One of my dreams has always been to own a salon. It was a crazy transition. I traveled to Africa for a month, and then I traveled to Europe. In the back of my mind, God told me that owning my own salon would make me homeless for a little while. So that's why I decided to travel. When I came back to the States, I didn't have an apartment because I bought the salon. For five months, I didn't have a place to live—I was sleeping over friends' houses and taking showers at the gym. About seven months into owning the salon, I got an apartment. I decided to revamp my vision on the brand. From there, everything took off."
On How She Views Natural Hair as a Form of Creative Expression
"Something about hair just inspires me. I can see a vision of something so dope and translate that with hair. Every time I create something, I want it to inspire myself first. Once I know I'm inspired, I know that my styles can be inspiring to others. I try to put my mood, feelings, and vision into my work. I'm always keeping myself inspired. I use my imagination a lot.
"Hair is most definitely a work of art. Right now, I'm wearing a red wig that I created with other stylists at the salon. And people are inspired by it everywhere. [Hair is] something that can inspire people who aren't even interested in hair because it can speak to anyone."
On How She Started Styling Solange's, Beyoncé's, and Zoë Kravitz's Braids
"When I was doing hair out of my apartment in Queens, I saw Beyoncé's music video Party. I said to myself: One day, I'm going to do her hair. I affirmed this and five months later Solange's team reached out to me. I was doing Solange's hair, and then I started doing Zoë Kravitz's and Beyoncé's hair. When you do good work, people refer you, and that's how I got the opportunity to work with her.
"It feels amazing to have my work noticed. The most inspiring thing is seeing your styles all over the world. Anywhere from Miami, Nigeria, North Dakota, or any random place I go, I'll see a style that has been inspired by what we've created at my salon. It just shows that you're a creative and you can manifest what you want through love, hard work, and dedication. You have to be open, too."
On How She Approaches Styling
"I choose styles based on moods, energy, and feels. I allow God to flow through me. When we're creating, we're also collaborating. It's always nice to collaborate with the person who is doing your hair because it gives them input. And then I just do my thing afterward. My favorite style thus far is the braids I created for Beyoncé's Lemonade. Something about those braids just looks so good. I never noticed how impactful that style would be until I started seeing it re-created everywhere."
On the Discrimination of Natural Styles in the Workplace
"Lately, I've been really inspired by creating styles that speak to people who are close-minded. It's unfair because people feel like they can't express themselves with their hair in a certain way. Hair is not something that takes away from you being professional. There's no such thing as looking ratchet because of your hair—it's how you express yourself. Just because I work somewhere doesn't mean that I have to give them my hair. Hairstyles have nothing to do with if an individual is going to deliver or not. I wish people would be more open-minded in terms of hair at work."
On Her Best Haircare Tips for Natural Styles
"Don't wear your braids too tight. When you're getting them installed, your hair should be braided a certain way. It's more of a feeling, and you don't want too-tight styles that are going to damage your hair. I also recommend sleeping with a satin scarf, bonnet, or pillowcase. This will allow your hair not to dry out and stay moisturized. When you wear box braids for the first few days, be careful with pulling them up into a bun or ponytail because that could cause breakage. With natural styles, be sure to detangle your hair and twist or braid it at night so when you wake up, your hair is easier to style. In terms of products, I try to stick with natural products. Our salon has a shea butter that we make with coconut oil, shea butter, jojoba oil, and castor oil. We mix it with water. Stay tuned to HairBySusy.com to purchase this soon."
If you want to be even more inspired by Susy's work, scroll through her Instagram for a myriad of showstopping natural styles and check out her website to book your next appointment.