Ha Nguyen, one of the first hair braiders in Ho Chi Minh City, recently made VND4 million (US$165.6) braiding a customer’s hairstyle called ‘Box braids,” with her service becoming a new choice for youngsters and fashion lovers in the southern city.
Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita for 2022 was around $4,164.
There were times when she would offer free hair braiding to those who bought her needlepoint products.
After a while, seeing that Ha could fashion beautiful unique hairstyles, many people asked her to do their hair.
In 2016, Ha Nguyen made a big career transition from a brocade trader to become a braid stylist.
|Cornrows cost VND1 million ($41.4) and take Ha Nguyen more than three hours to accomplish. Photo: Minh Chau / Tuoi Tre News
She spent about three years teaching herself the knowledge of African hair braiding from online sources before making a living out of this job.
The first hairstyle Ha made was hair wrapping, the art of covering braided strands of hair with multicolored threads and tiny accessories like charm beads, with a basic string set priced at VND500,000-600,000 ($20.71-24.85).
Ha Nguyen has clients of varied ages, mostly from 18 to 26, who are said to be “mainly office staff that revel in alteration.”
This group of customers usually wants a hairstyle called ‘Cornrows’ in which many strips of hair are plaited together in thin rows close to the head, taking at least two hours and costing around VND1 million ($41.4) for sophisticated styles.
“The minimum hair length for Cornrows is 10 centimeters, which can last about three days, whereas those of 15 centimeters and above can remain braided for more than one week,” Ha informed.
|Ha Nguyen uses a specialized gel to apply to hair strands, helping them stick together and stay in place during the braiding process. In addition, clips, combs, and hair ties are indispensable items. Photo: Minh Chau / Tuoi Tre News
Apart from that, young people with strong personalities, ones seeking an impressive appearance for posts on social media, and those working in the field of arts also come to Ha Nguyen in noticeable numbers.
She has worked with numerous prominent Vietnamese celebrities and artists, including actress Oc Thanh Van, singer Bao Anh, rapper Phap Kieu, streamer Linh Ngoc Dam, singer-producer Nguyen Tran Trung Quan, and more.
At present, many regular customers entrust their hair to Ha and let her perform freestyle braids. This process can take from four to five hours.
“As I see it, art originates from creativity and spontaneity, which can come up with results beyond expectations compared to available models,” said Ha.
According to Ha Nguyen, she only has three days off a month during the peak period as customers normally make reservations months in advance.
Ha said some clients have booked six months ahead of the festive season.
“Normally, I receive five to six customers on a peak day,” the lady braider informed.
|Ha Nguyen instructs her students to practice plaiting hair on dolls’ heads. Photo: Minh Chau / Tuoi Tre News
The two most critical criteria when braiding hair are dividing parts evenly and entwining the hair without tangling it, Ha revealed.
“I interweave hair meticulously and carefully, so it often takes quite a while, but a lot of customers come back to me,” said Ha Nguyen.
Recently, the hairstyle ‘Box braids’, which is named for the square-shaped braids, for a male client brought her VND4 million (US$165.6), and it is also the most high-priced work she has ever done.
“He has particularly short thick hair with a pretty big head, which requires tiny box divisions. So I had to braid his hair through the night from 9:00 pm to 12:00 pm,” Ha said.
Mentioning the appropriation of African cultural hairstyles, Ha Nguyen supposed some might misunderstand the definition of ‘appropriation’.
This word means occupying something and using it as one’s own, while she always tells her customers that those hairstyles come from African culture, Ha explained.
|Dividing hair squares evenly and braiding hair firmly are crucial stages to create a quality long-lasting hair form. Photo: Minh Chau / Tuoi Tre News
Many people around the world including celebrities often have their hair braided this way simply because they love its distinctiveness and aesthetics, said Ha.
Thuy, 21, a regular customer, said she came to Ha after seeing her videos on TikTok. “I love it when Ha does my hair as she is experienced and has flexible hands,” Thuy said.
Phuong Quynh, 30, a DJ, said Ha’s Cornrows makes her feel prettier and more confident in expressing personality. Besides, the braiding fits her job.
Ha Nguyen starts working from 3:00 pm onwards at 18 Hoa Cuc Street, Ward 7, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City.