Nadine Djuiko braids extensions into a client’s hair with one hand and answers her phone with the other, while switching between speaking French and English as she talks to staff and customers. She’s been doing this since 4 a.m. nearly every day for the past five years.
Djuiko, 35, owns Nadine’s Hair Salon in Bowie, a formerly little-known salon sandwiched between a Caribbean carryout spot and a catering company in a strip mall off of Old Annapolis Road. About three years after opening, in the summer of 2021, a popular TikTok user walked into the salon and posted about her experience on the video-based social media platform. The next day, Nadine’s had more than 200 calls. Ever since, the business has been thriving with dozens of appointments a day on average from customers traveling from Delaware, North Carolina and even California to get their hair done at Nadine’s.
Customers say it’s worth making the journey because the salon offers its signature style — hip length, knotless box braids — for about $170 to $180 and it can be done in about two to three hours. The cost and speed are unheard of in the braiding industry. The standard is about $220 for the braids and the execution usually takes six to eight hours, according to Djuiko and her customers.
For the past year and a half, TikTok feeds of Maryland, Virginia and D.C. residents have been alight with posts about Nadine’s. Videos referring to Djuiko’s salon have received hundreds of thousands of views including a video posted by Howard University student Jaala James. James posted about the salon last week under the moniker @uhitsjaala on TikTok. She has 1.5 million followers and her post about Nadine’s approached a million views this week.
The internet stardom came as a surprise to Djuiko, who didn’t have a TikTok account herself, but it’s something she said the salon has embraced.
“The people that posted on TikTok, they didn’t know it would go viral,” Djuiko said. “We never planned it, told someone, ‘You’re popular, please make this video.’ No, it was natural.”
Soon the salon went from about 15 or 20 clients a day on average to about 50.
Djuiko started doing the knotless box braid in 2020 soon after it rose to popularity in the braiding world for its painless implementation and easy upkeep. The style involves hair being braided seamlessly into a hair extension. At Nadine’s, multiple braiders do one client’s hair at the same time.
“People don’t have time to sit eight hours,” Djuiko said. “Most of my workers are from Cameroon. We are born to braid. It is a natural thing. Being fast is something you learn but knowing how to braid is in our blood.”
Alita Ndambia, a 33-year-old braider at Nadine’s, loves the art. She’s always striving to learn more and improve her craft, using her free time to watch YouTube videos that feature braiding tips and techniques.
“It’s a passion. It’s something natural. If you like it, you can do it,” Ndambia said.
As a mom of four, Djuiko knows women are busy and does whatever she can to accommodate their schedules. The salon opens at 4 a.m. and is open every day of the week. She also allows women to do work on their laptops or in notebooks as they get their hair braided. Not all salons permit it because it causes the clients to bend their necks, making the hair harder to braid.
It’s been difficult to find people passionate, skilled and precise enough to hire as braiders, Djuiko said. There’s also a stigma around hairdressing as a profession, which she thinks prevents some from pursuing it as a career.
“Back home in Cameroon, when I grew up, I used to think that you were doing hair because you weren’t smart enough to go to school. Your parents didn’t have money to send you to school,” Djuiko said. “[Some] feel it’s not something they can be proud of doing.”
Djuiko was hesitant about doing hair when she first came to Bowie from Cameroon in 2009. She apprenticed under a mentor for several weeks unpaid.
“I decided one day that I was going to quit and start looking for a job out there, a regular job like Mcdonald’s. That weekend I went to the shop. It was a Saturday and it was busy. The lady looked at me and said ‘Nadine can you do it?’ I was so excited. It was my first hair,” Djuiko said.
While her boss was unhappy Djuiko did a style slightly shorter than the client had asked for, the client’s husband loved the look and gave Djuiko a $160 tip.
“I said to myself, ‘This is a sign. I am not going anywhere else. We’re going to die here,’ ” Djuiko said. “That was it. I fell in love with it.”
Even with Djuiko’s recent success, she said the hair braiding business is an unstable one and can be competitive. While opening another store would be nice, she’s seen too many peers fail in the endeavor to feel safe pursuing it. Success in this industry is delicate.
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“It’s not the type of business where you can confide in someone. I have to pick up my phone. I can’t let anyone pick it up,” Djuiko said. “It is a business where it’s easy for someone to steal your clients.”
The internet fame can add stress to the braiders as well, said Ndambia. The salon now has a reputation of efficiency and skill to uphold and no one wants to let down customers.
While it might have been TikTok that brought many of them in, it’s the atmosphere of the salon that makes customers stay.
“You feel the love, the energy. The vibe is good,” said Ashlee Williams, who came from Manassas, Virginia, to take her daughter to get her hair done at Nadine’s on Monday. “It’s a great shop.”
As two different women worked on her braids, Kertia McSterling from Upper Marlboro said visiting the salon feels like getting a taste of being in west-central Africa.
“[I like] how I feel when I come and the women are speaking the French and just being close to African sisters,” McSterling said. “We may not know the languages or anything like that anymore but I still feel a cultural connection.”
“You feel like you’re at the motherland,” Williams said .