Michiea Miller, El Dorado native, held the grand opening for her hair braiding business, The Grand Gripper, on Saturday, May 15.
Miller says she has been braiding hair since she was a child.
“I started braiding hair when I was seven years old,” Miller said. “My mother was a braider, so it kind of came naturally to me. By the time I was 12 years old, I was braiding hair and doing it well enough to make a profit off of it.”
Over the years, Miller’s skills continued to grow, and so did her clientele, so much so that she was living in Dallas, Texas working within the profession before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The pandemic significantly impacted her, like millions of other Americans.
“I got laid off during the pandemic so I came back home to El Dorado,” Miller said. “Once I got here it was so hard for me to find a job.”
The mother of seven said it was really stressful not being able to find a job, but it was her passion for braiding hair that helped to keep her spirit up and her family financially afloat.
“I didn’t have a job to pay my bills, but I could braid hair, and before I knew it, I was making enough money to support my family,” Miller said. “Once I saw that braiding hair was financially stable and that I could do this, I knew this was it. This is what I was supposed to be doing.”
Miller can do all types of hair but specializes in braiding Black hair, she said. Hair has oftentimes been a cultural statement and symbol of heritage for the Black community. It has also been a big topic of conversation in mainstream media and among legislators.
John Oliver, comedic political commentator and television host dedicated a 24 minute segment on May 9 during his “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” show to talking about Black hair and how it can be a source of discrimination. He highlighted how some employers view some Black hairstyles as unprofessional or not in line with Eurocentric beauty standards.
He also talked about how some states have had to adopt laws like the CROWN Act to protect Black people from hair discrimination. The CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act aims to prevent prejudice based on Black hairstyles. The act is currently law in seven states and has been filed for consideration in numerous others, but not in Arkansas.
Oliver’s segment on Black hair has already garnered over 3.5 million views on YouTube. Miller said she loves all the recent conversation around Black hair because it is such a staple to Black culture.
“This topic is very important to me,” Miller said. “Our hair, and more specifically braiding, tells a story of our heritage. It tells a story of who we are and where we come from. Black women specifically being able to pay homage to our culture in this way is extremely important… When you braid a Black woman’s hair, that is straightening the ‘crown.’ I’m in the business of straightening crowns, fixing smiles and boosting confidence.”
Miller also shared the story behind her business name, The Grand Gripper.
“I got the name years ago,” Miller said. “I’ve been braiding hair for over 20 years and that’s where the ‘Grand’ comes in. The ‘Gripper’ stems from me working with clients that have Alopecia, cancer, some of them take medicines that won’t allow their hair to grow. I specialize in helping those women look like they have a head full of hair even though they may be struggling with hair growth. When I’m finished with them, their confidence is booted and their crown is fixed as I stated earlier.”
Miller said she wants her business to be a staple in the community and to offer people jobs in the future. She also said she owes a tremendous thank you to her fiance Pete Thomas, friend Andre Ruck, Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer and her children.
“They have all been so supportive of me; even when there were times I felt like giving up they kept speaking positivity into my life and it helped to change my outlook and push me forward,” she said.
The Grand Gripper is located on 508 S. Washington Ave.