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Take a walk along Nairobi streets on any given day and you will bump in to several men and women with dreadlocks. Some look absolutely gorgeous but others are plain hideous. Dreadlocks are not for the impatient. They take many years to grow and this is why for others like Brenda grafting is the solution. "Growing dreadlocks needs a lot of patience and nice locs can take years to grow," she confesses.
"I had to buy dreadlocks and have them grafted," she says. To many dreadlock lovers grafting guarantees instant gratification.
"Grafting is a process that involves harvesting dreadlocks from one person and fixing then on another person's head," explains Roots.
"Most people today opt to buy dreadlocs as opposed to waiting for their's to grow," says Steve Roots, a loctician (hair stylists who specializes in dreadlocks).
It is this craze for grafting that has turned locks into a highly profitable business venture. But herein lays the danger.
Steve Roots insists one must know the sources of the locs you want to buy. Dreadlocks do not come cheap and this can result in unscrupulous people acquiring them through dubious means.
"One could have colluded with a mortuary attendant to acquire the locs from a dead body or stolen them," explains Roots.
Roots has been a loctician for 12 years and has trained over 100 locticians through his Roots Academy. Asked if anyone can walk into the salon and sell their dreadlocks, Roots said they always vet their clients.
"We are a reputable salon and need to know where the locs came from," he explains. "
He always insists on a before and after picture of the person selling the locs or better they cut off the locks themselves. "Most clients who want the locs grafted also want to know where we got the dreadlocks from," says Roots.
The danger of using dreadlocks from an unknown dead body could range from lice, alopecia to basic hygienic.
"Also, it is pacifying knowing the source since unlike weaves, which one can remove after a while, the locs are more permanent," he says.
He prides himself in selling quality locs, which range from Sh35,000 to Sh60,000. The price is usually dictated by the quality and length of the strand. Chris Kanyanya, a loctician seconds Roots' sentiments, "We either have a before and after photo or we cut off the locs ourselves," he says. "We usually connect the buyer and seller," says Chris.
He says the selling price of 10 inch and above locs could range from Sh40,000.
"The prices are not fixed and vary depending on the quality and length," he says.
"Dyeing hair can weaken and make it thin, which can lower the quality of the locs making us steer away from dyed locs," says Chris.
"We also don't buy dreadlocks with build-up or fluff that has stuck to the locs with the styling gel," he says.
Brenda says she parted with Sh20,000 for her new locs, which are 30cm long. Asked for a before and after picture, she says she wants people to think it's her natural hair. This is the very reason she even does not want people to know her second name.
"No way! I don't want to expose my little secret," she says as we both laugh.
Today many modern women like Brenda are opting for the shorter and instant path of buying dreadlocks. Many organisations have no problems with dreadlocks as a hairstyle so long as they are neat.
Gacheri has been growing her dreadlocks for the last 12 years and says that they were never an issue in the corporate organisation she worked for.
Her dreadlocks fall below her waist! "My hubby loves them," she confesses. Asked if she would ever consider selling them, Gacheri says she would not.
"If I ever cut them, I would store them and have them grafted on later," she says.
"Growing them has been a long journey. It is hard work," she confesses. She says it's one of the best ways to maintain natural hair as you just twist and let it grow. Going by the market rates, Gacheri's locs, which are about 22inches would sell for more than Sh100,000.
"That's a small ka-plot," she jokes
Like Brenda many clients seem to favour grafted hair since they give the hair length.
"Styles are limited when locs are short," explains Chris.
Among the lovers of dreadlocks, grafting is catching up slowly but surely. Tony Kirimi, a loctician at Joe's Salon on Kenyatta Avenue says, "There is a demand for dreadlocks though my clients are still skeptical about wearing 'another person's hair'." Purity is overjoyed about her new look. The young mother of one had been growing her dreadlocks for six months before deciding on fast-tracking the process.
"I bought my 10 inch dreadlocks at Sh40,000 last year," she says.
She explains she bought locs since her six-month locs were too short and didn't look sytlish.
"After the grafting, the new locs have blended with my hair and you cannot tell the difference," she explains. Though working at a tea factory requires her to cover her hair, she is content that she now has beautiful locs.
Roots says he has seen an increasing number of women embracing dreadlocks in his 12 years in the industry. "We have a wide clientelle base who sells their locs to us," says Roots. He explains that wearing the same hairstyle over the years can get mundane and some clients chose to change their look by cutting their locs.