Afro Gate and The Suite Bring Professional Hair Stylists to Colgate Students of Color

Although our Hamilton bubble may provide us with everything we need, there is admittedly not much variety when it comes to hair care resources, especially for students of color. In 2019, senior Malobi Philip-Ikpo decided to address students’ need for convenient and affordable high-quality black hair care resources, joining forces with Thought Into Action (TIA) to meet that demand. 

“That was a very slow process. I did try and call different salons and see what they were saying but it was just very tedious and some people even thought I was scamming them. It just wasn’t a very straightforward process and I definitely couldn’t do it by myself,” explained Philip-Ikpo. 

To publicize her services, Philip-Ikpo created an Instagram account entitled @afro_gate, an easy, free hair care resource for Black students. To date, the page has reached over 400 followers and provides tips about different products, styles and hair care routines. As the business gained traction, Philip-Ikpo broadened her knowledge by watching YouTube videos on hairstyles and by practicing braiding, blowouts and wig installation on a mannequin she purchased, hoping to perfect her skills and equip herself with the ability to give a student any hairstyle that they requested. Using Colgate students as her models, Philip-Ikpo curated a  series of posts entitled “A Black Girl’s Guide to Hair Maintenance at Colgate,” which displayed Colgate women modeling styles like cornrows, blowouts, braids, wigs and many more. These posts are not just aesthetically appealing, but informational, offering tips on how to achieve and care for these styles. Philip-Ikpo also uses @afro_gate to educate people about hair qualities such as porosity and texture, and provides guides for budget-friendly products and hair care routines tailored to different hair characteristics and styles. 

The formal integration of Black hair care into the Colgate community began with a friendship and a coincidence. Philip-Ikpo had a casual conversation with her friend Yewande Salau, a 2020 graduate from the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, in which they lamented about the lack of Black hair resources at rural schools like Colgate and Cornell. Salau mentioned that her friend Jessica Ogonor founded a company called The Suite, which provided all of the services Philip-Ikpo wanted to make available to black Colgate students. The Suite locates nearby stylists and brings them to rural schools so that black students can access professional, affordable hair care without having to travel or settle for subpar local care. In the case of Colgate, most stylists are transported to Hamilton from Syracuse. Philip-Ikpo spoke to Ogonor for a few weeks and in October 2020 introduced her to Colgate administration leaders like Director of ALANA Cultural Center Esther Rosbrook, Dean of Students Dorsey Spencer, and Deputy Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator Juliana Smith. By addressing people with influence in different spheres of Colgate administration, Philip-Ikpo was able to ensure that her vision would become an easy-to-locate, campus-wide resource and her proposal was ultimately met with enthusiastic agreement and was implemented on campus.

“There has been so much work behind bringing black hair services to Colgate. It was very lucky that I was able to find a friend who knew the co-owner of The Suite services … this was definitely a group effort,” Philip-Ikpo said in praise of her collaborators. 

Dean Spencer took the lead with logistics, ensuring there was room in Colgate’s budget and that Philip-Ikpo’s initiative would be accepted by the administration. He sent surveys to students about what they needed and wanted to see regarding Black hair care and then began working with Ogonor to implement The Suite at Colgate. Philip-Ikpo adds that the ALANA Cultural Center has long been an advocate for supporting conversations and resources for Black hair care, as seen through events like “Hair Care By Your Peers Discussion” held over Zoom in September. 

By March, they hosted their first event, during which 12 men received haircuts and three women had their hair done. Philip-Ikpo has two more events scheduled for April 8 and April 22, and is hopeful about adding more dates in May and beyond, hoping Colgate and The Suite can maintain a relationship even once she graduates this semester.

“I’m a senior now, I’m about to leave and I want to leave something more long-lasting for black students,” Philip-Ikpo said.

For appointments, students can book directly through The Suite and for general advice on hair care, they can refer to Philip-Ikpo’s Instagram page, @afro_gate.