Martha MakuenaWho knew that a black hair salon could create a lot of buzz  — especially in a country where most of its patrons are not black.

Martha Makuena is credited for starting the first black hair care salon in Beijing, China, an East Asian country that she and Paul Luyeye migrated to from the Congo in 1999. Makuena has no regrets about moving to the country and has found ways to combat some of the challenges that presented themselves to her along the way. One of those challenges was the fact that she couldn’t find any place in Beijing where people were capable of styling her hair.

So, she started her salon and has been scoring big from non-black customers. In an interview with BBC, Makuena described how Asians come to her salon to pick up black hair-dos because of their uniqueness.

She says that these patrons come in and say, “I want to look cool so they come to braid their hair.”

Makuena who learned to speak Chinese fluently, has also had to overcome the stigma of her skin as a business owner, claiming that “language” is the most important aspect about doing business in China and setting residents at ease about her work.

“People when they look at Africans they think about bad things,” Makuena said. They think that some Africans set up shop, come for a second, and disappear, taking advantage of China’s economy for a passing moment. However, her determination to create a business in the most unlikely of places has paid off for her. Her skin color no longer creates issues or resistance of customers.

“They don’t just see me as African, they see me as a person doing businesses.”

“They are respecting me and the way I am.”

  • kaybee

    Interesting..they love our style lol

  • Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    No offense, but I don’t believe there is only one Black salon in Beijing. I’ve lived in Northeast Asia and believe it or not, there are Black salons particularly in Korea and Japan. They offer all the services any salon would, even dreads. China actually has a much larger number of Black immigrants than either country so there are very likely some Black salons there.

  • Tomacina Curry

    It didn’t say she was the “only” black hair salon. It states that she’s credited with being the “first”.

  • womenar4

    I’m very proud of her work. I’m glad she created an opportunity for herself. Wishing her much success. If she can break into China, then the sky is the limit for all that she can do with her business.

  • J. Nicole

    That’s a nice change opposed to the years people of color had to help Asians get rich selling us, products for us. I can’t help but to wonder if some of those customers coming in to “pick up” her techniques won’t try to mimmick it & push her out of business. Either way, its always good to see a woman of color getting recognition.

  • *niki fab*

    Luv it! This story is so inspiring. Here in the states, Chinese people are doing the same considering the fact that they own a majority of the beauty supply stores and nail salons. They are one step away from offering hair care services, give them time lol.

  • Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    I should elaborate: the article said that she opened last year and that it is the “first Black salon” in Beijing. That’s probably impossible, having lived in Northeast Asia and been to Black salons.

    There’s a much larger Black community in China and they’ve been there a while. I’d venture to say there’s no way they’d go any length of time without having salons. It tends to be one of the first things Blacks from all over the world do because of our hair needs (it was one of my first concerns when I moved there).

  • Fantastico

    Interesting piece! I’m happy for her!

  • VoodooHeaux

    “They think that some Africans set up shop, come for a second, and disappear, taking advantage of China’s economy for a passing moment. ”

    Ain’t that some shit. The nerve. Otherwise, interesting story. One would definitely make big bucks in South Korea and parts of Japan. I see a small group of Asian women setting up their own black hair shops where you can get braids, dreads, and weaves in those countries. I saw it in some documentary.

  • rkahendi

    That was pretty cool. I am particularly impressed with the way they’ve adapted to life in China, learned the language etc. And they are unapologetically African. Good on them!

  • The Other Jess

    Really nice! And there is another picture somewhere of Mrs. Makuena braiding a little Chinese girls hair. Some Chinese kids want braids in order to be fashion-forward, and it’s caught on big-time where she’s at. Great story.

  • The Other Jess

    But maybe there are other African hair salons in other parts of China, but not Beijing. Plus, maybe this is the first salon that Chinese people go to too! I saw a picture of a Chinese guy getting his hair done at her salon. Maybe the other salon is mainly frequented by African’s only. Bitthis is the first to bring in the Chinese population.

  • The Other Jess

    Yeah, but on the real, Asians are very diverse, being that they are the largest population on earth. And the Asians that generally setup shop in the U.S. and make money off of Black hair care are NOT Chinese.

    Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are not the same people, and have different practices and cultures. So, to the Chinese, they may feel that they never made money off of Black hair care, and they’d be right.

    Great story, either way. now i know where to go to get my hair done when I travel to Beijing one day!

  • The Other Jess

    Really? It’s always been Koreans from what I’ve seen, as far as beauty supply stores that sell Black hair products. But OK, I stand corrected if there are Chinese who own beauty supply stores too.

  • The Commnet

    Ok….. go to they country and cut out the middle man god damnit!

  • Pseudonym

    Korea and Japan do not equal China. Just as Africa is not a country, neither is Asia.

  • Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    @ the Other Jess

    Beijing is arguably the most cosmopolitan city in China. It would be like saying it was the first salon in Amsterdam or Rome.

  • Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)


    Northeast Asian countries have a great deal in common, just as Bantu-speaking West Africans do. For instance, many Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese have similar last names with different spellings. Even the names for the currencies are varied spellings of the same word (Egs: won, yen, yuan).

    China has a large number of African immigrants, particularly in a city like Beijing. The number is probably much much greater than in both Korea and Japan. It wouldn’t make any sense that they’d have a smaller number of salons than either Korea or Japan with the number of Blacks in China.

    The trend for Asians to re-create Black hairstyles has been going on for years. There are Asians with Afros and dreadlocks — they go to Black salons to perm their hair ( . It wouldn’t come to China this late.

  • Kam

    The majority of beauty suupply are not owned by Chinese but by Koreans. There are lots of information for Korean immigrants on how to setup beauty supply stores. It’s popular because they can get almost all their products using Korean distributors. Nail salons are primarily held by Vietnamese, and actress Tippi Hedren started this business among Vietnamese refugees.

  • Susie

    @ Colette Marcheline: “Bantu-speaking West Africans” who have a lot in common? Pray do tell, who are these ‘bantu-speaking’ West Africans & what are the things they have in common?

  • chanela17

    interesting how black salons are always so welcoming to other ethnicities….but when black people try to go to other salons then we get turned away. SMH

    this isn’t just with hair salons either.. ANYTHING black people do, we always include other people.. why is it never the same the other way around?

  • arlette81

    i wish the black salons in london looked as clean and organised as that one.

  • Niesha Gourdine

    wow.. Im so happy for that family.. thats good for them…:)

  • Londoner

    I love this story! I have long dreads. When I was in Bejing a few years ago people always commented on my hair. Groups of women would come up to me and say ‘Beautiful, beautiful, how you do?’ and I would try to explain how to create locs.

    I usually don’t let random people touch my hair, but for some reason I felt no way about the women in Beijing doing so. It felt more in the spirit of sisterhood, especially as the gaze is much more open there; people will just look at each other, unlike England. I’d be out somewhere and feel a person (or a group of women, most often) gently touching my hair, with a look of wonder on their faces. Like it was literally the coolest shit they had ever seen..;-)

  • Pingback: First Black Hair Salon Opens in China | Black Girl with Long Hair

  • LeonieUK

    Excuse you, don’t try and say the salons in London don’t look decent. Award winning bussiness that we have in London, offer a lot of services abroad and I know a few stylists who are paid very well to travel and represent the UK. Maybe you need to up your game and seek better service.

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