Braids are not only a solid way to instantly up your cool factor, the style is one of the most sought-after trends for beauty inspo on Instagram, with over 3 million posts with the hashtag "braid." 32-year-old hairstylist Jahmai Lumpkin learned the clever trick first hand when she noticed that her social media followers took a particular interest in plait pics. "The more I posted pictures of braids, the more likes and followers I got," says Lumpkin. "So, eventually I only posted braids because that's what my audience wanted to see more of." Today, with celebrity clients like Rita Ora, Keri Hilson, and Queen Latifa under her belt, Lumpkin is the lead braid stylist at L.A.'s "Home of the Braid," Goo Salon in the uber edgy Fairfax District. Jahmai took a break between clients to chat about her career, trends to look out for this summer, and breaking the Internet with her styles—twice.
What was your initial career plan?
"I've been doing hair all my life. My mother is a retired hair stylist, my sister does hair, and even one of my oldest brothers owns a barbershop in Texas. I eventually grew to really love it for myself. I remember when I was in high school, [Allen] Iverson was huge and everyone wanted braids like his. So I braided someone's hair and when they went to school, other students started coming up to me and asking 'how much?' That's how it got started. Now I work on Fairfax and braid hair!"
Tell us about Goo Salon—the "Home of the Braid" on Fairfax Ave.
"Goo Salon has been on Fairfax since 1999. I came here early on in my career, just a few years after I got my cosmetology license. I worked with Asia Dee, who was an American Apparel model, and braided her hair, not knowing that she was going to do a photo shoot in them. When she posted the photo [from the shoot], the picture went viral and she became like a poster child for the two braids style. Soon after, jewelry designer Melody Ehsani approached me to do a braid bar in her store for an event one weekend and [photos from that event] went viral too. I got an overwhelming response from people that wanted to get their hair braided and I needed to be in a salon immediately, so that's when I decided to come to Goo."
What is the braid culture like in L.A.?
"The cool thing about L.A. is that it's so diverse. You get the trendsetters, the laid back crew that likes to stick to the basics, and then you have those who like to try bold colors and fun patterns. On Fairfax specifically, there are a lot of street trendsetters that are like local celebs or product models. Then, of course there are the celebrities. I posted a picture of Rita Ora recently—now everyone wants yellow braids like Rita Ora."
How did you make your very first celeb connection?
"Fortunately for me, my sister was Queen Latifa's personal hairstylist for over 20 years. She's not a braider, though so she connected me with Queen Latifah to braid her hair. That was probably my first celebrity client."
You set the record straight in an Instagram post that Kim Kardashian did not invent a new hairstyle when the "boxer braids" term was coined recently. What are your thoughts on the cultural appropriation buzz surrounding non-African Americans rocking braids?
"It's an interesting topic. I'm totally OK with anybody wearing cornrows but I'd rather they call them exactly what they are instead of trying to come up with a new name for an old style. For whatever reason, and I don't know if it's a race thing, but a lot of people try their best not to use the word 'cornrows.' I've heard so many people use the term 'inside-out French braid,' but no, that's a cornrow!"
What do you predict will be the next trend in braiding to look out for?
"This summer, I'm planning to bring back the cornrow ponytail. High, long, fully braided ponytails used to be big but not many people are wearing them anymore. And the two braids are never going to go out of style because they're so easy to do when you don't want your hair in your face."
Where do you draw inspiration for your styles?
"Most of the time my clients and I collaborate to come up with a style. They'll come in with an idea and there are many different directions that I can go with it. I can be inspired by a pattern on the floor, a picture of someone, nature, anything really."