Tammy Moll ran the pointy end of a comb along Fred Williams’ scalp. She separated a small piece of hair and rolled it back and forth between her palms.
Sitting in her hair studio on a February afternoon, Williams said he appreciates that there are services for him in Duluth, a city that is primarily white.
“Tammy, she’s white, but it’s still someone that caters specifically to African American or Black people.
“I appreciate Tammy a lot,” he said.
Twisting dreadlocks is Moll’s specialty, which led to her dual businesses, Loc’d Up Kreationz and LUKS Beauty Supply, in downtown Duluth.
This is the first entrepreneurial venture for Moll and her husband, Kevin “Junior” Gregory. While other businesses have had to trim back during the pandemic, they’ve expanded.
On Jan. 2, they moved their retail supply shop of Black hair goods into the former Pineapple Arts space at 124 W. First St. — conveniently located two doors down from their hair studio. It was an upgrade sorely needed.
“It got too crowded, then COVID hit,” said Gregory, who is in charge of the retail side.
“We’re selling more of our products because people can actually look at it,” added Moll.
Williams, a University of Minnesota Duluth student, drove home to the Cities for hair care before he asked a Northland barber where to go.
The answer: Loc’d Up Kreationz Studio, and he’s been coming ever since.
“The first couple times I came, we tried a couple hard styles, and that was sort of a test,” he said.
“Oh, you were testing me?” Moll said.
“Tammy did super great,” Williams said.
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Dreadlocks, aka locks or dreads, are twisted strands formed by twisting or braiding hair. The difference in the name depends on whom you talk to, said Moll, who prefers to call them “locks” because it feels more appropriate to her. Some people are offended by the term “dreadlocks” or “dreads” due to a former association with being “dreadful,” Moll explained. Some people say they’re not dreadful; they’re powerful.
“I enjoy that notion, where it’s locked up, you’re stronger,” Williams said, adding: “It’s a form of reclamation by keeping the term ‘dreadlock.’”
While popular, this hairstyle isn’t for everyone, Moll said. It’s a commitment. Locks take patience and maintenance, but they have deep significance for those who have them. Moll has worked with people who survived a tough time and felt there was a lot of negativity in their locks, so they cut them off to start over. Moll said she believes in that.
Locks can also signify a change to the wearer, such as the start of one’s recovery or some sort of closure. Williams started his locks when he graduated from high school.
“I can look back at pictures and know that when my hair was a certain length, that’s when I was doing this in my life.
“It’s fun to watch it grow with you,” he said.
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Moll learned how to do basic twists from her husband. She went on to doing his and her step-daughter’s hair. She took classes, researched and started adapting her own way to twist the hair. Along with meeting many Fond du Lac students from bigger cities looking for someone to service their hair, Gregory knew firsthand the need for this in his community. There was nobody in the area styling this type of hair when he moved to the Iron Range from Cleveland to attend school and play football.
“When I first came up here, I left my braids in for so long, I had a bald spot,” he recalled.
Teaching his wife was a treat, he said, because he didn’t have to do his own hair anymore.
“My arm would be hurting when I’m trying to twist my own hair. She took it over, and it’s even better now. I can still do it, but it doesn’t look nowhere near as good as hers,” he said.
The Cloquet couple went mobile in 2012, traveling for client visits. It wasn’t the most comfortable process, being in people’s houses for hours and not knowing them, Moll said. Feeling burned out from nursing gave her another push.
“I asked him, ‘Am I good enough to be doing this as a service?’ And, of course, he said ‘Yes,’” Moll recalled.
Eventually, she moved to J. Lydia Salon.
“I was known for, ‘She’ll get your hair clean.’ Sometimes, I will spend 45 minutes. I’ll wash it six times. You gotta get the product, it could be sweat, flaked scalp, I try to get it out,” Moll said.
She likes to wash, twist, dry and style. She doesn’t use conditioner to avoid build-up, but she does apply a homemade oil to the scalp and the locks to help seal in moisture.
She got busy enough to expand. They found their space downtown and opened Loc’d Up Kreationz Studio in September 2018. (It’s not a salon; her services are specialized and not regulated by the state.)
Moll works on clients of all races, and they come from Canada, North Dakota, Michigan and Iowa. She was having trouble keeping up with demand, so she recently hired help, and is looking to hire one more person.
Depending on the hair texture, twisting dreadlocks can take four hours to well into the double digits. “I actually worked on somebody’s hair for 22 hours, nonstop in my early days,” Moll said.
Today, if the process calls for more than six hours, she’ll split up the sessions. It makes it easier on everybody.
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As the work grew, the Northland community asked for retail products: wigs, weaving hair, track hair, beads, eyelashes, colored contact lenses. Moll and Gregory expanded their products to the point that it nearly fills their retail space.
During a News Tribune visit, LUKS carried straight, curly and wavy ponytail wraps in black, brown and red; braid yarn; clips and barrettes in every color; argan oil, beeswax and hair glue. Wigs are popular one month, then track hair the next, said Gregory, but: “Braiding hair is the No. 1 thing because it goes for all age groups.”
Markeyla Echols is a return customer. After moving to Duluth, Echols drove to the Cities to buy her hair goods. She found LUKS online about a year ago.
“I do my husband's hair, my five kids’ hair, so when I found this place. … it meant the world,” she said. “The prices are wonderful, way better than the Cities’ prices, so when I come here, I stock up.”
Echols had purchased nearly $200 in “braiding hair, some gel, some everything.” During the shutdown, Echols said it helped a lot that Moll and Gregory offered deliveries.
“You don’t get that nowhere. Ain’t nobody fitting to help nobody, and they do,” Echols said.
The couple has loose plans to open another studio location, or to launch mobile or delivery services on the Range. And while it's nice to see business is good, they said they gain as much from the quieter moments of the work. People come in with their hair bundled or covered up, and when they leave, more than their hair has changed.
“It boosts their self-esteem. It makes them feel good when they get their hair done,” Gregory said.
Added Moll: “It makes me feel good.”
MORE INFO: Facebook.com/Locd.Up.Kreationz12