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South End Shamso Hair Studio caters to women of all faiths

Karen Morales
South End Shamso Hair Studio caters to women of all faiths
Shamso Ahmed has created a salon in the South End where observant Muslim women can have their hair styled in privacy. PHOTO: Courtesy of Shamso Hair Studio and Spa

For some people, getting a haircut is a normal task, checked off the to-do list without a second thought. However, for Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, having their hair styled at a public salon poses a challenge to their faith.

The newly opened Shamso Hair Studio and Spa in the South End, founded by local entrepreneur Shamso Ahmed, provides a space for Muslim women — or any woman of any faith — to get styled and pampered in a private, ladies-only setting.

Shamso Hair Studio and Spa. PHOTO: Karen Morales

Shamso Hair Studio and Spa. PHOTO: Courtesy of Shamso Hair Studio and Spa

According to their faith, Muslim women must remain modest and cover their hair with the hijab in the presence of any non-relative males, but salons in Massachusetts are open to both men and women.   

“It limits where you go,” said Ahmed in an interview with the Banner. “The only option for Muslim women around here was to befriend a stylist and have them come to your home.”

“There should be a place for any woman, no matter her belief, to feel comfortable and safe and get the privacy she’s looking for,” she said.

The salon, which opened in late February and is located at 1807 Washington St., has its wide storefront windows covered by neutral shades to ensure modesty for its clientele.

Because the space is in a historic building, Ahmed says it took her over a month to get approval from the state to black out the windows.

“Nothing in this process has been easy,” she added.

The salon’s interior is like stepping into your glamorous aunt’s boudoir, with lush and sparkling wallpaper, twinkling chandelier light fixtures, velvet waiting chairs and a soothing mini waterfall by the entrance.

Ahmed says she designed the place herself and invested in the buildout of the space, which used to be the office headquarters of her first business, International Translation Company.

Launched in 2011, ITC is now based in Roxbury and provides interpretation and translation services in over 110 languages and dialects.

“I’ve been interpreting since a very young age,” said Ahmed, who came to Boston from Somalia at age 9. “My parents did not speak English growing up, so I was always translating for them.”

“What pushed me to start the business,” she says, “was that I saw that there weren’t enough qualified interpreters helping people and I wanted to change that.”

The translation business ballooned, currently employing over 689 contract interpreters and eight staff members. “I outgrew this space,” said Ahmed about moving the business from the South End to Dudley Square.

A couple of years earlier, in 2013, the entrepreneur, who is also a Northeastern University grad, received her 1,000-hour cosmetology certificate and started thinking about opening her own salon.

Unable to find another space big enough and within her budget to house all of her beauty services, Ahmed transformed 1807 Washington St. into the salon of her dreams.

The studio is equipped with seven hairstyling stations, a Henna station, a nail station, hair wash and blow dry stations and a hammam spa room. The salon also offers facials, professional makeup, bridal packages, health and fitness consultation and hijab wrap services, in which the hijab is wrapped around the head in specific styles.

“They’ve been waiting for this,” Ahmed said when asked how she got the word out to the community about her new salon. Throughout her career in Boston, Ahmed has remained involved in the local Muslim community.

“My faith encourages me to be a businesswoman,” she said. “There’s the stereotype that Muslim women don’t own businesses, but I wanted to defy that.”

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