At work in the Georgia Avenue shop. Photograph of African Braiding center by Evy Mages
After Brittney Traore graduated from Cardozo high school in 2015, she had no idea what she wanted to do next. Then her mother approached her with an idea: Maybe she could take over the family business. “I did not want to go to college, so my mom just said to take a braiding course,” Traore recalls. The idea stuck, and today she’s in charge of the operation once run by her mother: African Braiding Center, one of DC’s top braiding salons. Traore’s mother, Korotimi Traore, opened the first location on Randolph Street in Petworth in 1992, and when the business boomed, she added a second on Georgia Avenue. Now Traore is expanding its profile even further, including online, where ABC’s TikTok and Instagram accounts have around 83,000 and 163,000 followers, respectively. The popular neighborhood spot is gaining fans all over the country.
With summer braiding season in full swing, I recently spent a day hanging out at the original location, where employees greeted me with a smile and an enthusiastic “Bonjour!” Some of the women who work there come from francophone countries in Africa, so you’re as likely to hear French as English. It’s a welcoming place, with ten chairs and a steady stream of customers. The salon feels like home—visitors tend to call the employees “auntie.”
ABC opens super-early. Braiding starts at 7:30 every morning, because the hairstyles—two-strand twists, box braids, knotless braids, and more—can often take hours to complete. The extended downtime allows customers to decompress and take a break from reality, and the salon can be therapeutic for many women.
When I was visiting, an employee named Badagna Katato laughed and talked with her customer as she was finishing up work on small box braids. Katato said a significant part of her job is just to listen: “We love each other and are so proud to do our American sisters’ hair. Sometimes the client comes with problems, and they talk to us. We help them to be happy before they return to the world.”
Traore, 26, hopes to keep expanding her business. She recently went back to school for an instructor’s license, and she’s planning to open a third DC location, as well as possibly expanding elsewhere in the country. “It is very important for us Black people to own businesses that we can pass down to future generations and build generational wealth,” she says. “It’s so amazing to be able to provide [for] our customers. I just feel like we have the braiding scene on lock.”
This article appears in the July 2023 issue of Washingtonian.