Empress Gennie considers herself the Humboldt Dreadlock Queen.
Like any queen, Gennie, 31, feels the most comfortable and safe behind her castle walls. In this case, she guards her castle by keeping people at more than arm’s length. She cyber-meets each new client with skepticism, and did the same with this reporter.
“Back when I was doing hair in my home, I had an incident where a client started posturing and threatening me because I told him that he needed to cut his hair a little before I could work with it,” Gennie continued. “I’ve seen that multiple black-owned businesses have been vandalized and I don’t want to be targeted.”
Now working out of a studio separate from her home, she operates under the name Humboldt Naturalista. Even with the separate studio, the address is not readily available for anyone to drop in anytime.
“I always ask for pictures of the person’s hair before I even schedule an appointment with them,” Gennie said.
Each picture she receives is vetted to ensure that she has the ability to work with that person’s hair. For example, she does not feel confident working with straight hair and is unlikely to take a client with such a hair texture. As a loctician and braider, Gennie specializes in working with coily and kinky hair. Serving the black community and true to Humboldt fashion, her greatest emphasis is being a “Naturalista,” where any and all materials she uses are strictly plant-based.
When she started, her popularity was limited to word of mouth until he began to use Instagram. With over 1,200 followers, she still relies on making appointments via phone call, text message or email. The process is: You contact her asking what you want to get done, you include pictures of your hair currently, and wait for Gennie to work out the date and time of the appointment. With all of those things confirmed, only then will you receive the address to Gennie’s studio.
Originally from Oakland, the generations of women in Gennie’s family made a lasting impact on her interest in hair. Her great-grandmother owned a hair salon in Louisiana before moving to California in the 1950s with her family. Her grandmother, also named Gennie, would tell stories about those days and it became a part of their family identity.
When Gennie was five years old, her mother bought what she describes as “little big dolls” that had coily and kinky hair textures for her to play with. She began styling the dolls’ hair and the traditions lived on. She then practiced on herself throughout her life but never considered doing someone else’s hair until she was in middle school.
“A friend of mine asked me to braid her hair because her mom didn’t know how,” Gennie said.
From then on she would regularly braid other people’s hair and then became a self-taught loctician at 19 years old. However, between 2013 and 2016 while earning her degree, she stopped doing hair entirely.
Gennie moved to Humboldt in August 2014 after transferring from Diablo Valley College alongside her sister. Graduating with a degree in psychology in 2016, she quickly realized how competitive her field was going to be.
“They don’t tell you about getting your hours in at a counseling center or anything like that. You have to build your experience while going to school,” Gennie said. “I needed to apply for anything in my field. I love children so I started there.”
She managed to land a job with an agency that offers services for autistic children, but was ultimately fired for having unreliable transportation. She then worked with another agency for a stint but it turned out to be overwhelming for her.
“It weighed too heavy on my heart, I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. The circumstances with some of the children in Humboldt County are horrific,” Gennie said. “After working these jobs I had to tell myself that I’m just not fit for this.”
That is when Gennie took a shot at working with an agency that offers services to adults instead. During the year she began working with adults she also worked with the Boys & Girls Club of the Redwoods. All the while holding her jobs, Gennie would also post listings on Craigslist offering to braid hair and style hair into dreadlocks.
Humboldt Naturalista was born.
“It was crazy. On the days I wouldn’t work, I’d do hair,” Gennie said, “Even when I worked short days, I would do hair.”
It was not until 2018 where Humboldt Naturalista really started to pick up. More and more people were contacting her to get their hair done. She would try her best to take one or two clients a week while holding her jobs. When she finally committed her time to Humboldt Naturalista, she started booking one or two clients per day. It might not sound like a lot but it is.
Dreadlocks can take anywhere between 45 minutes and two and a half hours. Braids can take anywhere between two and 12 hours depending on the person’s hair type. This quickly fills up Gennie’s time and regularly works seven days a week. Only now that she keeps a scheduling system, she can force herself to take a day or two off.
“It’s hard to take a day off. I love doing hair because it allows my community to breathe,” Gennie said. “There hasn’t been a place for us here. I’m trying to make that place for us.”
Gennie also crochets on the side. Primarily selling out of her studio, she also sells online through her website bak2rrootz.com. Most of her designs include color patterns inspired by the Rastafarian and Pan-African Movements.
“About 40 percent of my wardrobe I crocheted myself,” Gennie said. “It’s my second passion.”
It is easy to see that Empress Gennie’s identity heavily influences her hustle. Like her grandmother, she wants to carry a legacy of being a proud black woman. As Humboldt Naturalista, she is hoping to extend herself out to the community to make something larger than herself.
“Black Humboldt is a movement and it means me being black in Humboldt,” Gennie said. “I want to be proud and help create light for people like me.”
Got an interesting story about living the Humboldt Hustle? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. He’d love to hear it!