By Victoria Atterberry
Starting a business is a bold move for anyone, but for Alli Parker, her exceptional talent for braiding hair turned her skill into a unique venture. The mom of two fearlessly followed her passion to start her very own hair braiding business, PlayBraids, LLC.
It all began with the braids she wove into her own children’s hair. Originally aiming to protect them from lice, Parker often sent her kids to school with eye-catching braids she designed herself. From teachers to other moms at drop-off, everyone took notice –– and Parker received a plethora of compliments.
With a thirst for knowledge and an insatiable curiosity, she began a journey to improve her craft. The self-taught stylist continued to hone her skills through research; looking at other hair artists’ work on Instagram, watching YouTube videos about intricate braiding techniques and reaching out to other stylists for tips and product recommendations. Though it was a lot of trial and error, she never stopped working to master each of the styles she was learning.
As Parker’s amazing creations gained popularity, she began fielding requests from other parents asking her to braid their kids’ hair.
“Eventually, I started my company just by doing little birthday parties, and more and more people asked me to do more, like charity events,” Parker said. “I said to myself, this is turning into something serious.”
In a serendipitous visit to a local barbershop for her son’s appointment, the owner took notice of the detailed braids on the young boy’s head, and he encouraged Parker to bring her skills to work at the shop. Nervous about the proposition, she initially declined, but later accepted the offer to gain more experience. Parker later parlayed her experience at the barber shop into a position at a Trinity Aveda salon, where she currently brings her hair creations to life.
After a few more years working at the salon and continuing working private events with PlayBraids, Alli Parker was inundated with requests for braids and fades, as well as other barber services, so she made yet another bold decision –– to attend hair school and become a licensed barber.
“I realized that I should probably make this legit and get a license,” Parker said. “I said, ‘let me see what hair school is all about, so I can learn more about the industry from the inside out.’”
Setting aside trepidation about how she would manage her growing business and home life, Parker enrolled in hair school at Paul Mitchell The School Tampa. Ever the anomaly, she started her tutelage after having already worked in the industry –– and at the ripe old age of 40.
“It was fun being kind of a mom to everyone,” she said. “I was in class with 18-year-olds, and my teacher was 22. It was neat to make so many new friends and connections, regardless of age or gender. And I will forever have those contacts.”
The experience had a positive impact as she learned the industry’s technicalities from the inside and added breadth to her skillset. Parker continues to lean forward with her artistry, regularly adding new services to her repertoire, like her recent addition of microlocs.
The PlayBraids owner is clear on one aspect of the journey. “Staying fiercely curious and open to evolving, no matter how uncomfortable, is the secret sauce. Pivot, adapt and just keep living.”
As for future endeavors, Parker is focused on growing her expertise and business, and continuing to make her clients smile.
“It’s really nice to have a skill that I can use to serve,” she said. “I love being able to say ‘yes, I can do that’ and also being able to teach. There’s a lot of kids who want to know how to do hair. It’s just kind of fun to give back in that way and to see how my hard work can help other people.”
Parker takes appointments at the Bhāva Aveda salon in Trinity, Tuesdays through Thursdays. Email [email protected] to book your visit or connect with Parker directly through her Instagram, @playbraids.