Hair entrepreneur hooks up clients with esteem-building styles

Realistic Manes creates cuts that help stretch a buck


By Dwight Hobbes

Contributing Writer


Realistic Manes Hair Boutique & Salon Studio ( owner-proprietor-lead stylist Kanika Baker is, indeed, a motivated, self-made businesswoman successful in more ways than one.

A current endeavor entails doing male models’ hair for Simply Fabulous One Accessory Boutique-Harold Pener Men of Fashion’s “First Annual Walk in the Park Fashion, Hair and Catwalk Extreme,” September 8 at St. Louis Park Recreation Center.

It’s hardly her first show. “I like doing stuff like that,” she says. “It’s a chance to explore your creativity outside my usual work [at the salon]. Any opportunity I get to do something like that, I do.”

It’s a logical question: Has Baker, a statuesque six-footer with camera-friendly face and figure, herself done a bit of modeling? She has. Far from bragging, she reluctantly speaks on it with a self-effacing smile.

“When people ask, I do shows for them. But I’m not a professional. I just help out when I’m needed.” On those occasions, she is well received, she admits. “It’s just the height, that’s all.”

Challenged on that point, Baker does acknowledge that her body type is a plus in an arena where, even today, plenty of Black models are as coat-rack thin as the White ideal. And she enjoys that, when she’s in front an audience, her presence reinforces a departure therefrom. “You can see it more and more in magazines.”

Kanika Baker Photo by Charles Hallman
Kanika Baker
Photo by Charles Hallman

Taking center stage, ultimately, is not her thing. She’s even somewhat uncomfortable, while certainly pleased, to be the focus of a profile, but manages to relax and smile for the accompanying

Photo courtesy of Realistic Manes
Photo courtesy of Realistic Manes


Before the start of business for the day, Baker sits in the client waiting area as eight-year-old twins Emmanuel and Khia entertain themselves and husband Lashon Johnson makes a brief appearance, then busies himself elsewhere. She reflects that her strong motivation came early in life.

“I started being interested in hair, I remember, when I was my daughter Khia’s age, so I had to be about seven, I didn’t have a lot of hair when I was little. I’d look at women — this was the ‘70s — at their nice, beautiful hair. My aunt, stepmom, my mom. And was always drawn to it.”

Indeed the 1970s saw a vast rethinking of Black women’s hairstyles, resulting in a range that lasts today, from long and short Afros, to cornrows and braids, to dreadlocks to you pretty much name it.

“My mother couldn’t do hair, so I would go outside with just braids sticking up. Celie [from The Color Purple] braids. I can’t tell you how it ended up, it was natural. One day, I decided to put my own pony tail in. After that, that was it.”

At 15, she caught the entrepreneurial bug. Some teens sell magazine subscriptions, peddle cookies, what have you. The enterprising young Ms. Baker came up with a home-grown idea. She braided

hair for family, friends and neighbors. To quell typical teenage restlessness, pursue her love of hair and, it happens, fulfill obligations of motherhood.

“I’d had my daughter Tannett, she’s 23 now. It was a way to support her. I wound up doing it for a few years, but hadn’t really thought to do it professionally.” She was reticent, feeling she lacked the necessary “people skills. Also, I didn’t want to [do hair] for 25 years, walk away and have nothing to show for it.”

Eventually, she went for her hair stylist license at Scot Lewis Schools, then cut her professional teeth working at J.C. Penny before taking a booth at Juanita’s Hair and Nails. The best education being hands-on experience, when Juanita’s closed her doors, the ambitious Baker decided she had sufficient knowledge to set up her own shop, Realistic Manes. She adds, “I had enough clientele [that] felt I could sustain it.” The past seven years, she has not punched anyone’s clock but her own and hasn’t looked back.

Along with enjoying her business success, Kanika Baker derives great satisfaction from contributing to a cultural aesthetic and to clients’ well being, neither of which puts a dime in the cash register. “It’s not always about money,” she says. “It makes me feel good. So many women do not have a healthy self-image. They have issues of self-esteem, depression.

“A lot of times people are so beat up in their spirit, but something as simple as getting their hair done can help them hold their head up. Anytime I can help make somebody feel beautiful, make a difference in how they feel about themselves, I’m going to do it.”

The website catches even a casual eye with fascinating images and gives a thorough description of how Realistic Manes will expertly hook up your do. Baker and staff provide varied services — extensions a specialty — including but limited to Indian, Filipino, Mongolian, Vietnamese and Brazilian hair.

She adds that, in this cost-conscious day and age, Realistic Manes can help the client stretch a buck. “You don’t have to have a haircut that you can’t keep up with at home. We can give you a cut where you won’t have to always run back and spend more money so that it stays attractive.”

With the success of Realistic Manes Hair Boutique & Salon Studio, Kanika Baker has taken a personal goal, turned it into a profession and, in the process, found a way to make a difference for her clients.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403. 
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