Black w/ Plants: Community Engagement Q&A with Ashleigh B. Taylor

January 2019–January 2020, Black with Plants will publish q and a on mental health + community building with botanists, college dropouts, horticulturalists, plant care specialists, natural hair experts, social justice advocates, sound therapists, etc. across the thirteen hardiness zones in the United States and African diaspora.

What do you want readers to know about the Taylor & York salon? located in the Shaw neighborhood, and its impact on salon patrons?
 
When we first opened our doors we were on the street level of 1604 7th Street NW, there were two large bay windows people could look through and see out of. I remember one day a group of teenaged black girls came in and asked, “Wow, is this your shop?” to which I replied, “Yes!” I remember engaging them for a few moments, gave them business cards and then they left. One thing about that moment that always stays with me is that these girls saw someone that presumably looks exactly like a woman they’re used to seeing: a black woman. To see someone that looks like you doing something you’ve never seen signals that it can be done.
 
This is something that drives and encourages me more than one would think. I feel it my duty to always demonstrate a different perspective of salon ownership. Whether it’s our plants, products, or technique, you will certainly remember an experience at Taylor & York.
 
What about the opportunity to display foliage, etc. in the salon first interested you in committing your time and energy to plant care-taking?
 
How do you feel when you walk into a space filled with plants? you feel happy, right? you feel a sense of home, right?
 
Well, that’s what I wanted to give each and every soul that walks through these doors. I want them to feel happy. I want them to feel the energy that comes from plants. Breathe in the air. Plants are living organisms that bring forth an energy that you can literally feel (if you surrender to it).
 
“I don’t know what it is, there’s an energy, a vibe in here. I love it!” This is what we hear from clients on a regular basis. This is why I want plants here.
 
Restoring your hair is what put us on the map so it’s only natural that we’d want to take part in restoring your soul too, right? (Lol.) All jokes aside, plants are life. They’re living, delicate forms of energy that tug at my heart every time I walk through those doors. My love affair with plants began one day while on IG. I think someone tagged me in @hiltoncarter. (If you know anything about this mans page then I’m sure I don’t even need to explain any further.) I researched nurseries in the DMV, bought five on my first visit, and the rest is history.
 
These plants are my babies. (Our babies!)  I’m an artist at my core, but I’m more of a nurturer.  I think my love in caring for plants is rooted in the joy I find in caring for people.
 
What do you think are the five key characteristics of a successful place?

     

  1. Clear intention/vision: know why you’re here.
  2. Genuine customer service: we love what we do and clients pick up on that.
  3. Management/patrons/customers: it all starts from the top. you attract the clients that are attracted to the service you give.
  4. Skill/craft/product: gotta know what you’re doing and be damn good at it
  5. Aesthetic: who wants to be in an unattractive space—no one.

 
Community engagement is a significant obligation of direct service. With that in mind, can you tell us about your experience in engaging with clients day-to-day? Do you notice services rendered positively affecting client’s psychological wellbeing?
 
Most of my clients have been with us since very early on in my career—they’re family. We see clients often times once a week, so yes, it becomes very personal. Early on in my career my approach to building a solid clientele was very different than what it is now. In the beginning it was so hard to trust the process of growth and not take things uber personally, but, I’m glad I did because it was an amazing journey to get here through both good and the not so good. We share our life with our clients and in turn they do the same with us. We’ve cried, laughed, and shared monumental moments with our clients. My transparency I believe was a major facet in contributing to the growth of Taylor & York. I tell stylists all of the time, “if you want to know yourself, look at your schedule.” Likes attract likes. Your clientele is a mere reflection of who you are. There was a point in my career where I felt my clientele was growing in a direction that I was not happy with. I changed and soon after my clientele changed too. My exchanges were more meaningful. Each appointment was an opportunity for growth for both me and my client. we reflect on these moments with our clients and chart the growth—its an amazing feeling.
 
Would you be willing to share a memorable moment from 2018?
 
Memorable 2018 moment: the day I surrendered to Taylor and York’s purpose. The day that I realized that we had a healing component to those that need and desire it. People are led here by an energy. The plants serve as a conduit to this as well.
 
Your perspective is invaluable. Thank you for distilling your talents, sharing your time, and a contributing to the local economy. Can you tell readers a little bit about your perspective on securing space for psychological healing and/or wellness?
 
Being well is a journey. There are levels to wellness. You’re fooling yourself if you think by reading one book or connecting to an image (burning sage) that you’re are now whole. I’ve always had a passion for people. Hair is the conduit for me to connect with people. It was 2006 when I prayed for growth and change. The answer to my prayer was, “Why would I put people in your chair if you don’t know what to say to them.” It was from that moment on that I knew I had a greater responsibility. This is what I believe growth is: the ability to share perspectives and experiences to advance one self. To have an actual space where these level of exchanges happen on a day-to-day basis is monumental in cultivating community. 
 
Final thoughts from Ashleigh B. Taylor (@Strummzmom):  

Taylor and York (@TaylorandYorkSalon) is the manifestation of what my ancestors dreamt of. I am honored each and every day to connect with people. I am forever inspired and driven by how others live in their creativity. This, to me, is living in your purpose.

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