A few weeks back, this post from Sydney-based hairdresser Chrissy Zemura went viral. In the midst of the Black Lives Matter 2020 movement, Chrissy felt compelled to speak up about TAFE’s alleged lack of Afro and curly hair training in their Certificate III curriculum.

Given the waves of support Chrissy had generated from the hairdressing industry, when I reported on the petition I just assumed that no, TAFE was not teaching Afro & curly hair types in their curriculum. With so many hairdressers jumping behind Chrissy’s campaign, surely her statements were fact.

Except then after writing the piece, I was emailed by TAFE NSW, with a statement telling me that actually, their current curriculum DOES include training on these hair types. Here’s part of the statement.

As a Registered Training Organisation, TAFE NSW delivers the Certificate III in Hairdressing in line with the national training package, which is routinely updated in consultation with industry. The Australian Industry and Skills Committee is responsible for the national training package, and TAFE NSW develops its course materials to meet the national requirements.

The national training package requires training across all natural hair types including European, Asian, Euro-Asian and African, different textures including coarse, medium and fine; and different hair movements including straight, wavy, natural curl and chemical curl.  TAFE NSW courses are delivered in line with these requirements.

I asked for the curriculum. They sent it through, and it did indeed say that Afro & curly hair was part of the training. For example, under the “Knowledge Evidence” criteria for unit SHBHCUT002, multiple natural hair types are listed, including African natural hair.

According to TAFE NSW, they included the mandatory Afro & curly hair training from 2016. In fact, all TAFE and independent hairdressing educators were required to teach Afro & curly hair from that year onward.

TAFE VIC had a similar response to TAFE NSW. A Department of Education spokesperson made this statement to PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“TAFEs and RTOs must deliver accredited training in line with the national training package which requires training across all natural hair types and different textures.”

I was confused. If Afro & curly hair was in the curriculum, why then were so many hairdressers standing with Chrissy to petition TAFE & other hairdressing colleges to INCLUDE Afro & curly hair in the curriculum? My first thought was that they all graduated pre-2016, and simply weren’t aware things had changed.

But then I realised, many of these hairdressers were salon owners. Managers. Were training up apprentices who graduated post-2016. Surely they would be aware of new curriculums simply based on the experience of their new staff.

I decided to get to the bottom of it. I asked hairdressers who had graduated post-2016 whether they had any training in textured hair at TAFE.

Elisse, 33, completed her apprenticeship in March 2020. She studied in Melbourne with MEGT and Hair Assembly – private training colleges where work was done remotely, but a trainer visited her either to do assessments and one-on-one training.

“From what I understand, the course and the completion of the modules are all audited and checked via TAFE. The curriculum should be the same for me and people who train at TAFE on campus,” she told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

Elisse says she was never marked on her ability to cut any type of curly hair, and was never given any information about Afro hair, either.

There is advice on the porosity of hair when it comes to colouring, but I was never marked on my ability to look after and perform a colour or chemical service on someone with textured hair. Ever.

Hair Assembly did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Elisse graduated with a Certificate III. But she says most of her training happened after college, when she was an apprentice. This is pretty standard – like many hands-on jobs, lots of the learning process happens when you’re actually on the job. But Elisse says that meant her future training was dependent on the salon she ended up at.

“I lived in St Kilda when I first started my training and the salon I chose was a busy salon on Chapel St. It wasn’t what I imagined for myself as a hairdresser but it was a starting point. Lots of blonde work and colour but not very diverse.”

Elisse says she sought out training, which she paid for out of her own pocket, to learn how to cut textured hair. She signed up with Delilah, an acclaimed curly hairdressing salon in Melbourne, for their curly hair training night.

I paid for the course myself and went and my gosh it was a game changer. To see someone so organic in their approach to hair and fully understanding a huge range of textures and how to structure and cut and so on, it was a game changer for me. I took what I had learnt and started to implement it in the salon.

Still, Elisse feels it shouldn’t be this hard to get diverse training.

It is very upsetting to know that as a newly trained stylist, I can perform on more textures than hairdressers who have been working in salons for years and years, and it’s only because I sought out the training myself because I was interested in working with all hair types.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to not be confident about walking into a salon for a simple trim.

Aimee graduates from TAFE NSW Ultimo this month, completing a Certificate IV in Hairdressing.

“We were taught a variety of different hair types, but nothing in particular towards Afro hair, it was mainly skimmed over.”

Aimee now works at Edwards and Co, and like Elisse, feels most of her training is coming from her in-salon experience.

“We rarely get people in with textured hair, but when we do the stylists educate us throughout the process,” she says.

Aimee’s experience also mirrors Elisse’s – she too says that if a hairdresser wanted to be fully trained in textured hair, they’d need to seek out external education.

“External education is costly, and the individual would have to pay it themselves. I’m lucky – where I work, we attend external education every 2 months minimum, where work will cover the cost.”

Jess is five months into her hairdressing certificate III at TAFE SA’s Adelaide campus. While she’s only a few months in, she said at the beginning of the course the curriculum was outlined to students, and there was no mention of training with Afro & curly hair. She says the curriculum so far feels like “old school hair training”, and wants to see things modernised to reflect where we are at as a society now.

When contacted, Craig Ward, Director Tourism, Hospitality and Creative Arts in South Australia, responded with this statement.

“Information and education about different hair types and textures is built into the training package for the Certificate III in Hairdressing. Our students have to be able to recognise different textures and fill out analysis sheets as part of the course requirements across a significant number of units and are required to repeat this multiple times so that they are exposed to a range of different hair types, styles and clients. As students advance through the course and build on their knowledge, they also have to identify and work with different textures and hair types in cutting and styling units.”

Speaking to hairdressers who graduated prior to 2016, it feels like while the curriculum may have changed, graduates are still leaving with the same level of Afro & curly hair education as their predecessors.

Tomasina Boone, owner of haircare store Afro Puffs, says the hairdressers in her salon may have had training during their education in curly and textured hair, but whatever it was was minimal. “It wasn’t enough for them to make a living or feel confident upon graduation to actually do someone’s curly hair. All of them have had to pay in the thousands for additional training with specialists of curly hair. Some have travelled to London or the States to acquire more training,” she said.

Paying out of pocket to get training on curly & Afro hair types isn’t the only issue. As Lou Marshall, owner of The Curl Collective in Adelaide explains, it’s time when you’re not working or being paid, too.

“Travelling interstate, time away from the shop, not taking appointments, accumulates into an expensive process. Most extra training in hairdressing is pricey, particularly if you need to take time off of work to do it.”

Lou says that while she can’t comment on the current curriculum, having graduated in the 90s, “what I do know is, I cannot find staff who want to embrace this way of hairdressing.”

“Australia is a diverse country, we need to grow and learn and accommodate those diversities.”

Amanda Tua graduated from TAFE North Sydney in 2012, saying “we didn’t cover curly hair at all, and there was no mention of BIPOC hair.” Like Aimee and Elisse, Amanda learned the most about hairdressing during her apprenticeship, but even during that learning period received no training on Afro & curly hair.

To this day, 15 years later, I still feel unequipped and embarrassed at my inability to work with BIPOC hair. It wasn’t until the BLM movement that it really hit me – where do these clients go to feel confident their hair will be cared for correctly? African salons make up a tiny percentage of the market, and usually have small teams of 1 or 2 staff. There simply aren’t enough salons offering these services.

Amanda sought out training from Mousey Browne, arguably Australia’s most well-known dry haircutter for curly hair. But for Tara Walker, founder of Mousey Browne, discovering this dry cutting method was essentially down to the salon she trained in – Cataldo’s Salon 25 years ago.

Tara stresses that it’s not just the TAFE & private college curriculum that needs to change, but the training salons are giving their apprentices.

“Education for me is and has always been ongoing. Finding a salon that offers excellent in-house education was vital for me, because that is where you’re going to get fully exposed to the industry. TAFE and private colleges introduce you to hairdressing, and every hair texture needs to be included. However, it’s also up to the salon and the individual to invest time and money in their ongoing education.”

Then there’s Hair Expo, which as Tara says is the annual event where Australian hairdressers “soak up as much education as possible.” She says that over the three day event in 2019, the curly hair community were given just 20 minutes per day of education. “That is far from enough.”

Tara wants to see an “exciting” curly/natural texture module in the curriculum, and feels getting new hairdressers excited about the possibilities with these hair types will have a huge impact on the attitude the industry has toward textured hair. Instead of seeing graduates afraid to interact with curly and textured hair types, they’ll be equipped & inspired to style.

“Invite us into your institutions and salons. Have us share our knowledge and expertise with the next generation of hairdressers. If you are a salon owner, outsource education for your team, get in touch with a dry haircutter and ask them to come and do in-house education for your team.”

So yes, the curriculum may have changed – but that change needs to filter down to actual teaching, judging by the experiences of graduates we spoke to. And change doesn’t just need to be happening in classrooms, but in salons – apprentices need training on the job, even if it means the salon organising external education specifically for textured hair types.

But the problem is bigger than just the education Australian hairdressers have access to. Tara also stresses that haircare companies need to step up.

“Haircare companies need to play a much bigger role in this,” she says. “Some of them have up to 45 styling products in their range, and one to two products for curly/natural textured hair. That’s why the majority of curl haircutters in this country either import their products from overseas, or start making their own.”

Cynthia Simango moved to Australia from Texas eight years ago, and quickly realised the curly hair situation in this country was dire. “Information and services that catered to curly hair was almost non-existent,” she told PEDESTRIAN.TV. She ended up founding Embrace For Every Curl, a product collection and curl training program.

“I noticed there was nothing at all that catered to the curly hair community; it was as if we didn’t exist and the hair industry had decided curly hair is unacceptable. So instead of asking I decided to create my own brand specifically to highlight Dark skin curly girls like myself and not use them as photo ops on advertising campaigns but to actually have products that cater to them as well.”

Like Tara, she sees a systemic issue that isn’t limited to just education for hairdressers, but needs to be addressed by all facets of the industry.

If you look at commercials and advertisements, you will notice sleek, straight hair is always attached with perfection and cleanliness. Other hair types, not so much, although we are seeing a gradual shift in the climate lately. There is still a long way for all this to completely change. But I am glad that the conversation has started.

The misconception, according to Tomasina Boone, is that textured hair is “difficult”. “It is perceived that curly hair is hard to manage, hard to cut, hard to style. Which is not true. It’s proper training which will lead to stronger confidence.”

And it’s not like hairdressers in Australia aren’t keen to get training. Tomasina says at a recent demo she held at Hair Expo, loads of hairdressers showed and the common question was “where can I get education on how to cut and style my curly clients?” The demand is there.

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So what needs to happen? First, it’s clear that while the curriculum for TAFE and private colleges clearly does require students to train on diverse hair types, it certainly looks like this isn’t getting actioned in classrooms. But that is just the tip of the iceberg here.

It’s clear that an Australian hairdresser’s education extends beyond Certificate III. Post-graduation, they gain most of their experience by working on actual clients in salons – and if their salon simply doesn’t have any textured hair clients, they finish their apprenticeship with very little diversity to their training.

Then, there’s the product industry. Not only to Australians with textured hair have very few hairdressers they can frequent who actually know how to style and treat their hair, they also have limited product options. So now you have, as Chrissy stated in her original viral post, 1.1+ million people in Australia who don’t have easy access to basic hair needs.

It seems like a storm in a teacup if you look at it literally – but the reality is, this is exactly the kind of systemic discrimination that needs to change.

I now realise how privileged it is to just know you can walk into any salon in Australia and get a haircut. It’s one of many, many privileges White people experience every day. Now imagine how demoralising it must be to have to seek out one of the very few Australian hairdressers who knows how to cut your hair? Or worse – walk into a salon and be rejected because no one there knows how? Or, even worse, to get horrible cut after horrible cut as you hope the hairdresser you selected isn’t lying when they say they can do your hair?

Amanda Tua shared a story of the first time she was approached by a client with textured hair.

I remember the first time, feeling completely out of my depth as I had never been taught about this hair type; I could feel her nervous energy in my chair. It was clear she had been to Australian salons previously and had terrible experiences with her hair. We talked about this in depth – luckily for me I managed to do a nice colour.

Elisse now has several textured hair clients after doing her own groundwork to get the training she needed.

I have a few beautiful clients who I have built a lovely and trusting relationship with that have Afro textured hair and it’s beautiful and wonderful and so fulfilling to give them the same experience as you or I get to have in a salon.

But she’s still the exception – and the impact of that on BIPOC people in Australia is damaging. “What hurts my heart is hearing of their experiences and knock backs from other salons before mine. How disgusting,” she says.

There is some good news. When we contacted TAFE NSW for a follow-up statement regarding this article, they informed us that they faciliated a meeting with an industry advisor and Chrissy to share insights into training across all natural hair types.

Chrissy says the meeting “went really well. The pressure has worked.”

“They’re listening. Skills IQ was in the meeting as well, so they seem to be taking things on board and I will be involved in making sure Afro and curly hair gets included in the right way.”

If you want to continue the movement, you can sign Chrissy Zemura’s petition to amend TAFE & private college education here. If you’re a hairdresser or a salon owner, consider external training for yourself and your apprentices – Mousey Browne in Sydney and Delilah in Melbourne both offer training.

Image: Getty Images / Naila Ruechel