Gainesville hair stylists hosted the first Ultimate Braiders Battle Saturday with a $1,000 cash prize.
About 50 people watched the competitors braid and perused the tables of hair care products lining the walls.
The four competing stylists endured a four-round, five-hour session of creativity and execution while braiding textured hair. Rashawnda Thomas, a 27-year-old Gainesville resident, took home the money.
Models arrived as blank canvases. Their hair was prepared with a simple blow-dry as they awaited their award-winning styles.
Most of the audience arrived around 1 p.m. dressed in all black, semi-formal attire. When not watching the braiders on stage, they were circling the room visiting the 26 vendors that attended.
Crystal Hunter had products like specialty hair oils on her table, Locs of Luv. Hunter styled many kinds of hair before she decided to specialize in locs.
Before the battle, Hunter said she wanted to see the hidden talent in Alachua and network within the braiding industry.
In the seven months it took Lakisha Turner and Brandi Holmes to organize the show, they overcame personal loss and uncharted professional hurdles.
“This idea came up in a dream,” Turner said. “I nested on it for two years before we put any work into it.”
It’s the first time either host has produced an event of this scale.
“We actually did the footwork,” Holmes said. “We got out there [and] we went to different cities. We pushed each other because there were days when either one of us wanted to give up.”
In the 48 hours before the conference doors opened, three competitors dropped out, Turner said. Despite those hiccups, she said it was meant to be and credits each obstacle the show encountered as a part in divine timing.
Vendors also lined every wall. Many tables presented beauty supplies that catered to hair care like satin bonnets, edge control, hair oils and beard balms.
On stage, salon chairs and a mini supply-and-tool station were set up.
For each round, while braiders styled their models, judges visited the stage and looked at the progress of each design.
DJ Ardell Wright kept the venue entertained as the rounds continued. Throwbacks from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s played from the speakers.
DJ Miss Behavior and he introduced the venue and vendors for about an hour. In the second round, the hosts changed emcees. Eric Ramos, one of the vendors, took over the mic and kept the crowd engaged until the competition ended at 6 p.m.
The hosts provided models for the first round. In the three that followed, braiders used trusted clients to represent their creative hand.
Terrance Lawson, a 32-year-old Sante Fe interior design senior and longtime client of Turner, was a model in the first round for competitor Amelia Byrd.
“I watched a couple of hair shows to see what the males do when they get up, how they just kind of swagger, and all of that,” he said. “I wanted to make sure it was all right.”
Although it was Lawson’s first time modeling in a competition, showing off his hair was his favorite part.
Before competing, winner Thomas said Gainesville cosmetologist, Jessica Teasley, encouraged and supported her by supplying some of the funds to enter the competition.
“It makes me feel loved to know that people actually support me,” Thomas said.
Just after 1 p.m., the first round ‘Fastest Men’s Buns’ began as her hands shook.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Thomas said. “I'd like for my work to look perfect.”
During the second round — ‘Cleanest Straight Back Stitch Braids’ — she felt the pressure.
With two stylists already finished and three minutes left on the timer, she braided fiercely and heard cheers coming from the crowd.
“It made me more comfortable and more elated to be part of this,” she said.“I got to show everybody my gift and promote my new Black-owned business.”
First-time model 25-year-old Mikayla Suggs sat for Thomas in the third round, “Freestyle.” To cope with her nerves, Suggs kept a smile on stage giving out her best energy.
“The music made me calm down,” she said.
Soon after the round started, she surrendered to the groove of songs playing from the speakers and sang along in the chair.
In an interlude between the third and fourth round, “Remake,” nine girls modeled their hairstyles braided for the kids’ spotlight.
Various ponytails and stitched braids adorned their heads. As they walked throughout the venue, they received a standing ovation.
Although the event just ended, both hosts want this to be an annual event. They’re already planning to include a barber’s round in the next competition.
Contact Thandie at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @decidedlioness.
Thandie Brown is a journalism student at UF and a reporter on the Metro beat. This is her first semester at the Alligator, and when she is not writing, she is photographing. You may find her in the Plaza of Americas dressed in a jeans jacket decorated with her favorite things.