On this Sunday in April, the abandoned kindergarten on rue Erlanger, in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, has every reason to be empty. However, voices echo in the playground. At the foot of a large plane tree, six hairdressers from the Wilson Barbers have arranged their equipment on camping tables. Young Africans surround them. “Last Sunday, we were able to do about fifty of them, breathes Marion Collet, distributing to each a ticket with a passage number. I hope that we will do as well today.”
The forties launched this association three years ago within the collective Solidarité Migrants Wilson, itself created in 2015 by local residents to help the thousands of exiles gathered on the avenue du Président-Wilson, in Saint- Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis). Today, the Wilson Barbers have about fifty hairdressers. One to three times a month, they take turns to offer a haircut to asylum seekers in gardens in the capital, accommodation centers or places of temporary occupation – like here, in this dilapidated school where they have been living since the April 4 more than 200 asylum seekers whose recognition of minority has been rejected.
Afro braids and hair
Midday strikes. Stéphanie concentrates on her first “client”. With her trimmer, she draws a perfect outline in front of an admiring audience. “Some men are suspicious of the idea of entrusting their head to her, because she is a woman, but once they see the result they all want to go,” says Marion Collet. “I started hairdressing by following tutorials on YouTube during confinement, confides the hairdresser, childcare assistant by trade. It quickly became my passion.” By joining the Wilson Barbers in the winter of 2021, she wanted to “help those who are on the street, take the time to be good with them”. Since then, she has done their hair more and more regularly, convinced of the usefulness of this service: “At the end, they are happy, they smell good, they flatter each other.” Around her, the atmosphere is indeed starting to look like “a high school outing”, as Elia, Marion Collet’s daughter, who helps coordinate the action, points out.
A little further on, Julie Fongu weaves mats glued to a young Sudanese. “I come here for the pleasure of seeing them happy to be taken care of and to style their afro hair,” she says. Like other volunteers, she takes the opportunity to learn how to work on frizzy hair, because neither her certificate of professional aptitude (CAP) in hairdressing nor the alternation she is currently doing taught her. “The only thing that students learn for this type of hair in France is to straighten it”, throws Marion Collet. A little apart, Arif Alizada is working, his back straight, his expression serious. Like Stephanie, he has no formal training but knows what he is doing and why. “I learned for five years, on the road coming from Afghanistan. About my cousin first, friends, then other exiles.”
Soon a living room
Seeing the fruits of their initiative, the founders of Wilson Barbers had a dream: to open a solidarity salon in Paris, the very first. Two days a week would be devoted to poor people, having their hair done for free by the association’s volunteers, and the remaining days devoted to a “classic” clientele, with identical pricing for men and women. Winner of the Cognacq-Jay Foundation prize, which supports solidarity projects, the show should see the light of day before the end of 2023. “It will be called Seven Seas (Seven seas, in English, editor’s note), in tribute to those crossed by the refugees and in reference to the song Sweet Dreams by the group Eurythmics”, reveals Marion Collet. In the yard, the mowers hum. Elia looks at his mother who is busy between the groups: “I’m proud of her. It’s inspiring to see that it only takes one person to get things done.”
In the shade of the plane tree, Marie Bardin, another pillar of the association, observes the session which is coming to an end. Anyone who wanted to could have their hair done today. A few admire their new cut in pocket mirrors. “We removed a few centimeters of hair from them, but they leave with a few centimeters more, she says as in a dream. It’s much more than a simple haircut.”
A class action: The Solidarité Migrants Wilson collective finances part of the needs, estimated at 1,500 euros per year. The association is linked to the actions of associations for food distribution, street care, mobile patrols… Associations helping migrants put them in touch with hairdresser asylum seekers.
A helping hand: In addition to the six-month support provided by La Ruche, a professional network to help bring solidarity projects to fruition, the €5,000 in aid from the Fondation Cognacq-Jay prize represent a decisive boost to launch the Parisian fair.
Material offered: The Barber Shop and Wahl donated clippers; wholesaler Jacques Seban, seven hairdressing kits; It’s going to barber and Nappy Queen, hair care products.