Samantha Dixon-Slawter is on a mission to make the future brighter for young Black entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia. When she opened her salon, Styles by SD, 30 years ago, Dixon-Slawter had to negotiate her own path. There were no formal education programs for stylists who wished to specialize in Black hair, so she obtained her knowledge from family and friends.
“Black people always found a way, even when there was no way. When there were no schools to train us, we had to train ourselves,” says Dixon-Slawter.
Dixon-Slawter’s quest has two desired outcomes: to celebrate the importance of informal community mentorship in Black beauty culture and to improve the formal educational offerings for future Black entrepreneurs. She’s working with the Black Beauty Culture Association to launch a Black Hair Matters movement, to align with Black History Month. Members of the public can learn more by checking out their educational window display at 122 Portland Street.
“We want everyone to know that Black people deserve the same quality of care as everyone else. We want to make sure the education is there, along with the employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.”
Samantha stands in her salon at 162 Portland Street.
Dixon-Slawter is one of the founders of the Black Beauty Culture Association, which serves to promote, preserve and protect Black beauty culture in Nova Scotia. Dixon-Slawter says her commitment to community outreach honours the support she’s received over the years, especially from her parents Viola and Samuel Dixon, and her late brother Samuel Dixon Jr.
“My parents always had an entrepreneurial spirit that they passed on to us kids. My brother, Sam, did so much to help me open my first salon. He passed away very young due to Multiple Sclerosis, so I made his photo into my logo.”
Samantha honours her late brother Samuel Dixon Junior by using his image as her logo for Styles by SD.
Dixon-Slawter says her next project, and the most ambitious yet, is to create a course for people interested in careers in Black hair: the Black Beauty Culture Hair Innovators and Apprenticeship program. The application is currently under review with the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency.
“This will be the first Black beauty culture school for this generation. Viola Demond opened the first one back in the forties.”
Dixon-Slawter learned all about Desmond’s teachings from a client named Verna Skinner. Skinner was a member of the very first graduating class of the Viola Desmond School of Beauty in 1946. She became a mentor to Dixon-Slawter.
“Verna told me stories about Viola Desmond and her training. She lit up something important inside me.”
Dixon-Slawter says it’s been a dream for many years to create a program to support Black beauty entrepreneurs, even though it’s not the life she originally imagined for herself. Dixon-Slawter holds a university degree in International Development Studies from Dalhousie University, and a certificate in business administration from Miss Murphy’s Business College.
“I had to do a job placement, so I worked with my uncle at his salon. He was run off his feet because he was one of the only places offering services for Black hair. It looked like God had my life planned out!”
Dixon-Slawter eventually earned her hairstyling apprenticeship and license, then opened her own salon in 1992. Styles by SD is now located at 162 Portland Street in downtown Dartmouth. Proudly displayed on the wall of the salon are two framed certificates: one proves that Dixon-Slawter is the recipient of an Atlantic Business Seal. She’s the only person ever to receive that coveted certification in hairstyling. The other document showcases Dixon-Slawter’s Red Seal certification. She is first Black person on Nova Scotia to receive this designation as a stylist.
Samantha styles a model at the Carnival of Beauty event held at the Metro Centre in Halifax in 1993. Styles by SD was a presenter at the show.
“Hair dressing is in my blood. It came to me even before I was born. My great grandfather in North Preston had one of the first straightening combs in the community.”
Dixon-Slawter says she is optimistic that her dream of launching a Black beauty education and apprenticeship program will be realized soon. In the meantime, the Black Beauty Culture Association is accepting donations. Any contribution of $30 or more will receive a gift of 7 Virtues perfume, donated by its creator Barb Stegemann. For more information, people can contact the association at email@example.com
“I think our culture is shifting. The government is slow, but I think they are finally listening. There is a demand out there. Young people are ready for these opportunities.”
Photo and story by Crystal Garrett.