Here, braid specialist Afi Attipoe guides you through the types, tools, techniques, natural hair prep, and aftercare
Let’s face it, there’s never been a better time to plonk yourself in front of Netflix with a few packs of hair and get your (box) braid on. You could be done in the time it takes to re(watch) Tiger King, depending on your plait size and length, braiding speed and break times, or spread it out over a few days or box sets. “Fenn O’Meally’s braids take the longest: 12 hours,” shares BeautyStack pro and braids specialist Afi Attipoe. “Usually, it would take me six or seven hours to do someone’s box braids, nine if they want small ones.”
Chances are, you’ve admired Sharmadean Reid’s braids or Jorja Smith’s back in the day on Instagram and both are Attipoe’s handiwork. No matter the tone, texture, length, or design, the hairstylist is up for the challenge, having started braiding aged 13 and she admits she finds the long process “therapeutic”. After working at her mum’s friend’s hair salon at 15, and a stint at The Braid Bar in 2015, Attipoe decided to take a more high-fashion approach and spent a year assisting fellow hairstylists on shoots. The 31-year-old’s hair philosophy is simple: to do people’s braids as she would like her own hair to be done, in order to get the best results. “I like it to be neat. I get upset if i’m walking on the street and I see someone who has square and triangle partings. The symmetry, plait inconsistency: starting tight and ending loose, little things like that make a difference.”
Attipoe is very clear on the benefits of braiding and maintaining braids. “It’ll keep you sane. Just because you’re stuck indoors doesn’t mean you should let yourself go. You can’t go to the nail shop, paint your own nails, shave your own legs. Don’t be in the house and turn into someone who’s shipwrecked.” This is undoubtedly a time consuming and labour intensive hairstyle but remove the rush and cost (a hairstylist can charge over £100 a pop) besides the hair and you’re in creative control. When you’re finished, your hair will be protected for as long as this lockdown lasts or six to eight weeks – whichever comes sooner. So ready, get set, and braid away with Attipoe’s in-depth breakdown below.
“A tail comb – a comb with small teeth and a pointy metal end to part your hair, a wide tooth comb to comb through your own hair, and a paddle brush like a Tangle Teezer to comb out your extensions. I use Keracare Butter Cream, and maybe a bit of grease - Indian hemp oil because I like the smell. Or T444Z hair food.”
HUMAN VS SYNTHETIC EXTENSIONS
“Real hair lasts longer and is more lightweight, but synthetic hair is more cost effective (£1.99 a pack) and there’s a greater variety of colours. You’d probably need three packets of human hair, and I always tell people to get an extra packet as you don’t want to run out. For 14 inches, it would be about £30 a pack. Human hair doesn’t really work with big braids, just fine braids like the ones Zoë Kravitz and Fenn O’Meally have.”
PICK A BRAID OR TWIST TYPE
“Box braids are most popular. Growing up, I knew them as ‘single plaits’ but they are box braids now, maybe because the partings are in box shapes. Goddess braids are the same thing but from you feed in curly hair at the ends, plait it into the main braid, then leave the end out. Kinky twists are single twists with kinky hair, rope twists use normal (straight) extensions like X-Pressions. Passion twists are twists with curly hair. The different type of hair and how it comes out (determines the name).”
TO PREP YOUR NATURAL HAIR...
“Make sure it’s washed, clean and detangled whatever your hair type. The worse thing is when you’re trying to part your hair, there’s a big knot in there and you’re trying to detangle and spray the water… Not everyone needs to blow dry their hair if you can comb it through. I would have to blow dry 4C hair so it’s quicker to braid. Make sure you’ve moisturised your hair as well and grease or oil your scalp. An itchy scalp when you have braids is horrible.”
SHOULD YOU TREAT EXTENSIONS BEFORE USE?
“I’ve heard about soaking them in apple cider vinegar before use (Rihanna recently told British Vogue she ain’t got time for that) but I’m still old school and don’t. I’ve never had any problems or irritation with the hair and neither have my clients. I pull the hair, so if I’ve had to cut it in half because of the blunt end, I pull the strands so the ends are uneven and it’s easier for me to braid sections down to the end. I might put a bit of Indian hemp oil in it to make it smoother and then I brush it out.”
“Always have a mirror or two, one in front and one behind so you can see what you’re doing. To make it easier, part your hair into four sections like a hot cross bun. Braid up each section: I usually start at the back but if you’re a beginner you could start at the front so you can see what you’re doing. The mirrors and your fingers keep things symmetrical – feel it out and have a look. You can feel if a parting has gone wonky.”
TO KNOT THE ATTACHMENT OR NOT?
“A knotless braid is when you start braiding your own hair and you feed in the extension. Usually it’s knotted: get two pieces of hair, make sure one piece is narrower than the other, cross them over each other, and join the narrow sections together to create a third piece that is the same size as the other two sections. So you have three pieces in total and then you do a little twist, flip one of the bigger pieces over…” (It’s hard to explain so watch a YouTube video to see what we mean).
KEEP IT LIGHT AND SEAL THE ENDS
“I try not to go past three and a half packs of hair. You can still achieve a full look, just don’t use as much hair. You don’t need to pack it out, you need gaps and when the hair grows out it won’t look gappy. To seal the braids, plait them all the way down to the ends and then put them in hot water to make them less stiff. Some people want the ends out so you can knot it when you get to a certain point, add elastic bands, or burn the ends with a candle (although you’ll pick up fluff).”
FEELING A BOB OR FRINGE?
“Determine where you want it, depending on the length of your natural hair. If it’s long, then plait the hair until when it stops. I’d probably do two rows at the back and then two rows at the front to meet it first. Most braided bobs I’ve done have had elastics on the end because the clients wanted the plaits medium-sized and I cut the hair close to the elastic bands so there’s not a big bit left out. Or I might, depending on the length of their hair, cut the extension length into three pieces, braid it right down to the end, then seal it with hot water. No-one’s asked me to do a fringe and your hair would have to be short (but it’s essentially the same principle). Get a braided wig (or do crochet) if your hair is longer.”
BRAID THE RAINBOW
“Catface has the best colour range for ombré hair. What I’ve found, and this is a client's feedback as well after doing her hair with it two or three times, is that the hair didn’t last long. The extension texture is very soft so it’s for temporary styles as the hair gets messy quick. X-pressions and Impression do colour and they’re coarser so they will last longer. In terms of mixing colours, stay in the same family so navy and royal blue, violet and then purple, mix burgundy and red. If you don’t want to do it all over your head, you can do the back section or the front. (To do ombre with two different colours and types of hair) feed in the different colour about three-quarters of the way down. You have to have the patience to measure the second braid against the first braid to ensure the coloured sections start in the same place.”
TO MAKE YOUR BRAIDS LAST...
“Wear a headscarf at night. What my aunt used to do for me is wash my hair, dry it properly and oil my scalp after two or three weeks. Shampoo as normal but gently rub your scalp and be sure to wash out every ounce of shampoo and a light conditioner out. If you have to trim the braids, do it. To grease your scalp, get a mini spray bottle and put oil in it or use an oil sheen spray. Massage it in and then spray some on your palm and go over your braids to make them shiny.”