Bryaa's Bonnets: Interview with Syreeta House
A full-time mom and hairstylist, Syreeta House started her company Bryaa’s Bonnets for additional income.
From being used as a scalp protector from the sun to a signifier of rebellion, hair wrapping has been prominent within African American history for centuries. Its versatility has allowed us, as a community, to utilize the practice for sleep protection or as an accessory piece accompanying our outfits. Hair wrapping has also been presented to us in various forms including the bandana, the satin scarf and satin bonnet. With such a distinction within our community, it isn’t something that can be easily bypassed when doing research. In this new age, the internet gives us infinite access to tips on hair care, recommended products for specific hair textures and hair wrapping benefits. So, if this information is so easily accessible, surely when businesses adopt an idea stemming from our community, it isn’t merely an accident or misunderstanding.
Social media was outraged when an interview with a Canadian woman surfaced on her product NiteCap being similar to the satin bonnet. After her issued statement responding to the backlash, it can be readily argued that Black culture has been the blueprint for American culture for so long, non-Black people don’t even feel the need to recognize our influence. Beyond the founder aiming to capitalize off of Black influence, imagine all of the young Black businesswomen who were already in the business of selling luxury hair bonnets. Luckily, I discovered Syreeta House.
Stationed in Chicago, IL, Syreeta House is a full-time mother and hairstylist. When she first had her daughter, Bryaa, in 2013, she seeked ways to make extra income and decided she would start making her own satin bonnets under the company name Bryaa’s Bonnets. Bryaa’s Bonnets comes in a variety of colors, prints, and sizes with prices ranging from $14-$16 USD. All of her bonnets are handmade with satin and silk with strong, durable elastic bands. I was granted the opportunity to speak with the founder, Syreeta on her experience as a hairstylist, the additional benefits of wearing her luxury bonnets, and her thoughts on the capitalization of Black culture for White consumption.
What’s the story behind how you got into hair braiding?
Syreeta House, Byraa’s Bonnets: I started braiding my own hair when I was about nine-ten years old. My cousin and aunt would braid my hair; it was quite painful and uncomfortable. [I’m what you call ‘tender-headed’]. Also, my mom doesn’t braid so I started braiding my hair to the side and adding barrettes. Fast forward to my first year of college in 1998, I started braiding hair in my dorm room to make money and it’s been my main source of income ever since.
After obtaining my Bachelor’s, I went on to Cosmetology school to get my license by 2008. [I never planned to as I specialize in braiding and natural haircare/styling; I didn’t think they had much to offer]. I did, however, gain a lot from that; of course, I was happy to have the license as regulations got stricter. Eventually, it was required to rent a booth even as a braider.
What inspired you to make a bonnet specifically for your daughter Bryaa?
SH: It was in about 2016 when I started to make my satin bonnets. When I had my daughter Bryaa, I didn’t have the same availability or flexibility to work and earning income is extremely important to me. I had her in 2013, at age 31, so by then, I was very used to making moves at my own pace and discretion. Having a child made that difficult, but it intensified that desire to make money.
I had to figure out how to make a living at home on my time. Kinky and Havana twists were really popping at that time and I was constantly sending my clients two doors down from the salon to the beauty supply to buy bonnets. I, on the other, have always gone to the fabric store to purchase hair scarves and wraps; I’ve never purchased a scarf or bonnet from the beauty supply. The quality of the fabric was never as good as the ones I’d gotten from my mother and grandmother growing up. Eventually, something just occurred to me. I’d been praying and meditating on how to make more money and, one day, something just said, “Make hair bonnets.” I promise you that’s what happened. *laughs* I’m a crafty person so I just started trying to make bonnets through trial and error. Honestly, the first one I made was actually too small for any adult so I gave it to Bryaa. She wore it everywhere.
What is it about your bonnets that differentiates you from those sold in beauty supply stores?
SH: My bonnets are different from those in beauty supply stores for several reasons. The fabric is 100% satin or silk lined with a secure non-roll elastic band that is also fully covered in satin or silk. I notice bonnets in the store are not satin which can be damaging, especially to our edges where it rubs and has the most constant contact. My bonnets are also built to last. After awhile, I purchased a beauty supply store bonnet to compare; the elastic is thin and weak while the fabric is of poor quality. My bonnets have staying power even after several machine washes based on my experiences and those of my customers. [Though I do recommend hand washing]. I still have and use every bonnet I’ve made for myself and Bryaa.
Aside from being durable and protective, they come in an array of colors and prints; most are even reversible! There is also the jumbo size for big hair and styles like locs, crochets, rollers, etcetera. You can also add a ruffle if you’re feeling extra stylish.
Are your bonnets sold in beauty supply stores locally? Will you continue to sell them online?
SH: I do sell my bonnets in bulk to a couple of stylists and beauty supply stores across the country. I am absolutely working towards growing my business so that we are in more stores. I plan to always have them available online.
What are your thoughts on Black women wearing bonnets outdoors being associated with derogatory terms like “ghetto” or “unkempt”?
SH: So, I don’t know how this might sound...I don’t really wear bonnets outside BUT I do NOT judge. [I actually wore one out once when I was sick on a run to Walgreens and I got lots of compliments, so I thought about doing it more often]! I mean, I will wear a scarf outside without a second thought - I actually never wore bonnets until I started making them. As far as it being “ghetto,” I disagree. The term isn’t one I like to use due to the negative connotations and the reasons behind us living in the ghetto in the first place. I don’t think it should be used to describe anything. Besides, it’s not what you do but how you do it. Yes, there are unkempt people walking around, but that is found in every community. I think that the issue lies in the fact that a person may just look disheveled, in general, while wearing a bonnet.
We also have to keep our hair up, ok? Our hair and styling it is a total experience. It can take hours for some styles and it costs money so, of course, we want to keep it under wraps to extend the life of the style. As Black women, we have always adorned our heads with beautiful scarves and arrangements - for a variety of reasons - and I feel it’s just a derivative of that. In my opinion, it is natural for us to regularly wear a crown of sorts.
What are your thoughts on the NiteCap and it’s price?
SH: In regards to the NiteCap, I really have no words. They never cease to amaze me and this is where I have to quote James Baldwin, my favorite author, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” At this point I just kind of ignore them and focus on what I’m trying to do. [I seem to be upset all the time]. For centuries, our ideas [even our BODIES] have been stolen to help them achieve their goals and to build their empires. I refuse to believe she knew nothing of our customs of wrapping our hair whether at night, for cultural reasons or for fashion. And, I bet the doctor who told her about her issues suggested a satin/silk scarf, bonnet or pillowcase. [I think I read that somewhere, I kind of ignored her honestly]. How could the doctor not? I’m also certain she went online to find options and was probably inspired. I will say this, I didn’t know people were making bonnets. When I started, people kept saying, “Oh like Toya Wright?” and I really had no idea. Now, I see so many, thanks to social media and its algorithms. So, I still refuse to believe she couldn’t find anything online. I, on the other hand, never looked online; I was always in the fabric store for my scarves & wraps since the ‘90s so it was a natural progression. By then, I had torn up my mom’s and grandmother’s scarves!
As far as the price, that’s just a form of gentrification, in my opinion. Granted our bonnet businesses aren’t dilapidated neighborhoods, but to just “move in” with all of her resources and piggy back off something that’s so dear and natural to us; something we have been doing for all of eternity is unsettling. I really find it hard to find the words. I’ve spent so much time frustrated with the things we go through, as a people, in this country, and the WORLD that now I just try to focus on helping to make it a better place for us.
In an issued statement, she actually admits to failing to mention the ‘broader historical value’ of hair wrapping. In so many words, what do you (personally) gather from such a statement?
SH: I believe we are invisible to some; I also think they choose to ignore us, and plan to always get away with taking our ideas and claiming them as their own. It’s been happening forever. I think they think it’s their right.
Seems as if when they do something it’s worth more to them, and, also, to some of us. I feel it will be more accepted by some because of her race; the bonnet and the price. I look forward to the day when we support each other so much that something like this wouldn’t even get off the ground. I could really go on and on about race relations and its imbalances but I digress.