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San Antonio braid artist celebrates decades of twisting African American hairstyles into city culture

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After watching her mother’s friend braid her older sister’s hair, Davette Mabrie started the trade at age 14. She braided her hair for hours on the porch of her family’s home in South Central Los Angeles.

“Sit quietly,” she would tell loved ones as soulful music blared from the radio.

She sang imaginative creations as Al Green sang that he was tired of being alone. She intertwined zigzags in her hair as Aretha yelled at people to hold their ground. She intertwined rows of pearls as Marvin Gaye lamented an injustice that made him want to scream.

Now, every six weeks, LaShonda Hollins reserves the lounge chair at Davette’s Braids and Locs on the northeast side of San Antonio. For over four hours, Mabrie revisits Hollins’ micro locs hairstyle.

“This is passed down from our ancestors,” said Mabrie, 59. “It soothes my soul and takes away my anxiety and stress.”

Davette Mabrie does a technique called palm rolling during a session with longtime client LaShonda Hollins. Mabrie runs her own business, Davette’s Braids and Locs, and has been braiding hair for over 40 years.

Jessica Phelps / Staff Photographer

Behind the living room’s red front door dotted with green ivy and ferns, African wood afro spikes line the walls of the home studio.

And what is said behind the red door stays behind the red door. Mabrie offers her clients a haven of peace during private one-on-one sessions.

For Hollins, a speaker, social worker, life coach and yoga teacher, dating is about care and support.

“It’s her,” Hollins, 35, said. “It’s a lifestyle change. You’re in for the long haul. I wanted to live life without a comb.

Davette Mabrie does a technique called palm rolling during a session with longtime client LaShonda Hollins.  Mabrie runs her own business, Davette's Braids and Locs, and has been braiding hair for over 40 years.

Davette Mabrie does a technique called palm rolling during a session with longtime client LaShonda Hollins. Mabrie runs her own business, Davette’s Braids and Locs, and has been braiding hair for over 40 years.

Jessica Phelps / Staff Photographer

As Mabrie rolled the Hollins locs, they talked about the early ’70s when neighborhoods watched over each other and young misdeeds reached their parents before they left work. Rolling eyes at an adult meant, at the very least, a lick.

Braiding hair has been Mabrie’s livelihood for over 40 years. One of San Antonio’s leading braid artists, she advocates African American hairstyles that all races choose for function and fashion.

Mabrie is a living embodiment of her work, favoring shoulder-length locs that frame her face. She works six days a week by choice. It has more than 400 customers a year and is booked two months in advance. Forty percent of its clientele are men. Prices start at $120 and increase depending on hair technique, length and texture. Mabrie does not have a walk-in business. It has required customers to post a bond since 1980.

“You have to schedule time for me to do your hair,” Mabrie said. “If you don’t show up, I lose. If you leave $50, then I know you’re serious.

Davette Mabrie does a technique called palm rolling during a session with longtime client LaShonda Hollins.  Mabrie runs her own business, Davette's Braids and Locs, and has been braiding hair for over 40 years.

Davette Mabrie does a technique called palm rolling during a session with longtime client LaShonda Hollins. Mabrie runs her own business, Davette’s Braids and Locs, and has been braiding hair for over 40 years.

Jessica Phelps / Staff Photographer

In 2020, Mabrie founded the San Antonio Natural Hair Society to support the natural hair styling community. His goal: to teach others how to build a profitable business with more and better customers. The company offers certifications for natural hair braiding and different techniques. In 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill deregulating hair braiding and requiring enrollment in cosmetology school to obtain a state license.

“They recognized that what we do is hair and art,” Mabrie said, “not hair and chemicals.”

Mabrie spoke on behalf of braided hairstyles in Texas and across the country. In 2017, CNN and The New York Times published his contribution on the military’s abandonment of the ban on dreadlocks. Many of his clients are active duty military and veterans.

She attributes her success to precursors. Mabrie’s Bible is Willie L. Morrow’s “400 Years Without a Comb” book. It deals with the history of black hair care from slavery to modern times. She studied with Lula Irving, who learned from Christina Jenkins, known as the first woman to weave hair in the United States.

Davette Mabrie (left) steps out of her red door with longtime client LaShonda Hollins.  Mabrié who runs, Davette's Braids and Locs, has been braiding hair for over 40 years.

Davette Mabrie (left) steps out of her red door with longtime client LaShonda Hollins. Mabrié who runs, Davette’s Braids and Locs, has been braiding hair for over 40 years.

Jessica Phelps / Staff Photographer

Everything needed for the hairdressing of Mabrié customers is at hand. Disinfectants and an air purifier to sanitize the workspace. Moisturizers, oil shine and spray to spray twists, locs and braids. Clips, combs and brushes fill transparent containers.

At 23, a seminar put her on the path to entrepreneurship. She earned $50,000 a year, but rent, phones, and light bills took most of her money. Saving money was not possible for Mabrie in the early 1990s, with the high cost of living in California and a recession that cost many clients their jobs.

In February 1990, Mabrie moved from the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles to her hometown of San Antonio, where the economy suited her fledgling business. She got off the Southwest Airlines jet with $1,600 in her pocket, a cosmetology license, and an unforeseen scenario — few San Antonians knew about braids.

She styled the hair for free so people would publicize her Afro-centric hairstyles. From 1992 to 1994, Mabrié worked between 80 and 100 hours per week. She has been a waitress, bartender and worked at a temp agency. For two and a half years, she drove her daughter Pesha to school at 7:30 a.m., worked on clients’ hair from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., took a break and braided until 1 a.m.

Mabrié had no social life. She was busy achieving her goals: a house, a new car for her mother, and financial freedom.

The hours of work took a toll. She was admitted to Northeast Baptist Hospital with walking pneumonia and placed on a ventilator for a week. With a weakened immune system, she was unemployed for two years.

Davette Mabrie does a technique called palm rolling during a session with longtime client LaShonda Hollins.  Mabrie runs her own business, Davette's Braids and Locs, and has been braiding hair for over 40 years.

Davette Mabrie does a technique called palm rolling during a session with longtime client LaShonda Hollins. Mabrie runs her own business, Davette’s Braids and Locs, and has been braiding hair for over 40 years.

Jessica Phelps / Staff Photographer

Mabrie’s family and clients have rallied behind her, stepping up to help pay the bills. Her late husband, Isaac Hughes, drove up from Waco to take care of business — he couldn’t see her losing everything she had worked for.

His return to work took time. Loyal customers would sit on the floor of Mabrie’s room so she could do her hair. One of the reasons she founded the company was to give braiders the same care that others gave her when needed.

“Through positive thinking and obedience in this lifetime, good things will come to you,” Mabrie said.

A 22-year veteran of the Air Force, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. By observing and listening to San Antonio, he finds intriguing stories to tell about ordinary people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.


She encourages new weaving artists to pay attention to their posture and wear the correct shoes. She learned in the salons of Los Angeles to pause, stop and breathe. On average, Mabrié works between 10 and 12 hours standing. She sees a chiropractor once a week and a masseuse once a month.

Mabrié’s daughter, Pesha, 40, is also a master locomotive engineer and braider. She recalled how Mabrié braided hair for free to build up a clientele.

“I want people to respect the industry,” Pesha said. “I understand your cousin might, but don’t try to justify why you should make someone feel guilty for paying less.”

Mabrié’s clients agree with her on their hairstyle. She offers documentation that explains what they pay for and how to take care of the style.

Hollins said she was inspired by the braid artist’s quest to continue learning after four decades in the hair care business.

“She encourages me,” Hollins said. “She not only supports braiders, but the growth of her community and her customers. You feel the care she has for you.

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