By, Maddie Johnson, Senior Writer
Sophomore chemical engineering major, Hyllary Jean-Baptiste, has had a lot to manage since starting school this past semester and returning this spring. Coming back to campus after an exhausting and mentally draining year when the pandemic affected lots of students’ college experiences, Jean-Baptiste is determined to have a successful spring semester, making more friends and excelling in her major. She’s eager to accomplish these goals all while working hard on a hobby many say she is exceptional at: braiding.
Hyllary Jean-Baptiste picked up braiding and later turned that skill into a thriving business. Jean-Baptiste started her braiding Instagram account, @Hyllarybraidedme, just two years ago which showcases the variety of braids she’s done, videos on her doing hair, prices, and gives her the ability to respond to direct messages where people can make an appointment with her.
Starting out as a self-taught braider, Jean-Baptiste said she initially was discouraged to start her brand.
“My friends and family were just like, ‘Wow, you’re really talented. You should start doing other people’s hair,’” said Jean-Baptiste. “And in the beginning I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not sure about that. Like what if they don’t like it? What if I hurt them? That’s a lot of pressure.’ I also felt like there were so many places for black women in general, just so many other hair outlets and different salons for people to go to.”
But when she soon realized how pleased friends and family were with her braiding, Jean-Baptiste decided to give it go and start having real clients, some of them being Manhattan College students.
“I finally put my girlboss pants on and was like, ‘All right, let’s just do this and see what happens,’” said Jean-Baptiste. So I made my Instagram page called @Hyllbraidedme and from then on, I would ask my friends if I could do their hair for half the price posted on my Instagram. I even asked some of my guy friends who are growing out their hair and twisted and braided their hair.”
Ultimately, Jean-Baptiste would like to make and sell natural hair care products when she graduates. She shared that both by having the capabilities to make healthy products because she’s studying chemical engineering, and because she is a black woman with a skin condition that makes her scalp sensitive, she has been motivated to come out with a line of products that are natural, safe and suited for men and women with curly hair.
“In 2019, I found out that I had a skin condition that affects my hair, my scalp and how it reacts to certain things,” she said. “So I couldn’t go to hair salons anymore because the way they did my hair, they were too rough so doing my own hair helped me. I knew if it was too tight or if it wasn’t tight enough so I wasn’t damaging my scalp. With that, I teach other people how to take care of their hair and let them know what their hair needs to flourish and grow.”
Although excited about braiding clients’ hair and giving them pointers on how to maintain healthy and beautiful curls, Baptiste admits she’s struggled in the past to keep up her hobby on top of doing well in school, explaining that most of her clients in the past were from her hometown on Long Island.
“Not gonna lie, it was hard because last semester was probably one of the hardest semesters for school for me,” Jean-Baptiste said. “It took a huge toll on my mental health and just focusing on everything, I didn’t have much time to do hair here [Manhattan College]. Freshman year I would go home and do hair and I’d like to do people’s hair from my hometown because I wasn’t really making myself known on campus because I was still shy.”
Gradually, as COVID restrictions dialed down and Jean-Baptiste slowly became comfortable with all of the student body returning to campus, she met new friends and learned how to balance focusing on chemical engineering and doing hair on the side.
“This semester I did someone’s hair on the basketball team, and he was actually like, ‘Oh can you do my hair like this on a random Wednesday?’ But for me, being an engineer, I have so much homework and lap reports to do,” Jean-Baptiste told The Quadrangle. “It hurt because I was like, ‘I’m losing money now and obviously he needed something done for himself,’ so I felt bad saying no. But I also had to remember that school is first and business second because right now, me being in school is going to help me further my business.”
Despite being a full-time college student, Jean-Baptiste has already had lots of clients rave about how amazing she is at braiding. Cornelia Eboh, who is a sophomore and adolescent education major, met Jean-Baptiste at a Black Student Union meeting and heard her promote her braiding business. Having a hard time finding a beauty salon that catered to her hair, Eboh knew going to Jean-Baptiste was her best bet at getting the braids she wanted.
“I just recently moved closer to the campus and there were not that many places where you could get your hair done as a black woman, like even the beauty supply shops that looked cool I had to take a bus to,” Eboh said.
“I contacted Hyllary and she was really super nice. I wanted this hairstyle called butterfly locs and it was my first time ever getting them and once she did it, it was exactly what I wanted,” said Eboh. “There were no complaints, like there would be places I would go to for years and they didn’t follow what I wanted. But the first time I went to her, I was really happy and it was my birthday so I felt really good about myself.”
Nia Hickland, a student at the University of Albany, is another client who is a close friend of Jean-Baptiste from Long Island. Being a frequent customer for three years, since Jean-Baptiste launched her business on Instagram, Hickland can confidently say her friend’s work is top tier.
“She’s very meticulous,” said Hickland. “She takes her time to make sure she gets every single detail right and I appreciate that because I myself, I’m a perfectionist. She keeps up with social media with trends, which I know is very helpful with keeping your business up, so she does TikTok and everything like that, so I think that helps with her exposure.”
Another important factor of running a great beauty business is making customers feel comfortable and confident, which Hickland mentioned is something Jean-Baptiste prioritizes when doing clients’ hair.
“She’s very professional. She keeps up the conversations and keeps good music in the background. So as you’re getting your hair done, she also just makes you feel at home and just welcome,” Hickland said.
Since sharing her talent for braiding on Instagram with students, friends and other clients, Jean-Baptiste has learned a lot. She advises those who are looking to start a business like hers, to not doubt themself when doing something they’re passionate about.
“What I want others to take from this is if you’re good at something, do it, don’t let anyone stop you. I’ve also learned that for me my biggest flaw is that I doubt myself a lot. I’m my biggest hypocrite, I’m my biggest bully and I held myself back from doing something that I am really good at and I want people to never be afraid of what other people might say.”
Along with that life lesson, Jean-Baptiste encourages people with all types of hairstyles to feel beautiful and show the world who they are through their hair.
“I want to let everyone out there know that your hair is a piece of art and you can use your hair to tell so many stories. Express yourself in different ways and never be afraid of trying different things and just be true to yourself.”