Sisterly love

Abi Johnson’s talks to Dr Cornwall the founder of Sisterlocks, about her craft and today’s perception of natural hair

DR C Hair cape 2 lt

Dr Cornwall

What are Sisterlocks? Sisterlocks is a hair locing system that creates tiny, style-able locs in natural hair. The technique creates a stable, woven framework in a small section of hair using only the hair itself — that means no extensions or attachments are used. Once that framework is established, the natural interlocking process takes place, allowing the loc to settle into a uniform shape.

So how did you come up with the Sisterlocks idea? Developing Sisterlocks was a process that took about two years. First, I had to grow enough natural hair to work with. Then began the clumsy experimentation phase that involved lots of trial and error. At last, I came up with a set of techniques that worked. The compliments I got from the women around me confirmed that I was on the right track.

Before Sisterlocks how did you wear and style your hair? In my teens I wore relaxers. I did not go natural during the Sixties and Seventies when it was the craze, because at the time, that seemed too much like copying to me. However, I did wear my hair natural and short in the mid-Eighties after the fad had died down. Then it was back to relaxers and texturisers until the early Nineties when I started experimenting with locing, and eventually came up with the Sisterlocks technique.

What were some of the trials and tribulations of those early days? Having NO money to develop my ideas; having to work two jobs to support the business in its infant stage; having cosmetologists tell me that Sisterlocks was a threat to their businesses; having natural hair professionals denigrate what I was doing; having established loc specialists misinform clients that Sisterlocks were only suitable for ‘starter locs’ and being too weak to endure; NEVER finding any marketing specialists who truly understood how to position Sisterlocks in the marketplace; being ignored by magazines and TV, despite the revolutionary nature of Sisterlocks.

There was a court case a few years ago — what was the cause and outcome of this? In August 1999 Sisterlocks won a court victory against California’s cosmetology programme which has now made life easier for natural haircare practitioners. In the State of California, cosmetologists and hairdressers need to acquire 1600 hours of experience before they could obtain a licence. This ruling was unsuitable for Sisterlock practitioners because the practice was different to cosmetology and was therefore not taught in schools. After a long struggle of nearly two years, Sisterlocks won its case and the victory has set a precedent in other states too. Now Sisterlock consultants can practice freely without the threat of being attacked by the cosmetology industry.

How important was the result of the case for you? Extremely important! Our victory was in the Federal Court, which means that we have now set a significant legal precedent for natural hair practitioners throughout the whole country.

Some people say that Sisterlocks resemble traditional African styles. Did a particular tribe inspire you when you were crafting the Sisterlock idea? Many African Americans are under the impression that hair locing is common in Africa. This is not true. I have heard some people claim that Egyptian hieroglyphs show something resembling Sisterlocks, but I have never seen this myself.


A pretty bob style


Waist-skimming length


Wrapped and piled high










Can anyone learn to do Sisterlocks? By enrolling onto the official Sisterlocks consultants course anyone can learn to do Sisterlocks and retightening.

Can any hair type take to it? For instance are some hair types better than others? The more highly-textured (i.e. kinky, coily) the natural strands are the more efficiently the hair will loc. However, that’s not to say that looser hair textures won’t work too. During the Sisterlock consultation we test the hair for several factors to determine how well it will loc, and proceed based on what the test locs reveal after at least two shampoos.

Some people obsess as to how many locks they have. Do you know how many you have? I have around 550. I know this because years ago at a Sisterlocks meet-up at my sister’s home we had a contest: Guess the number of locs Dr Cornwall has on her head. Several women sectioned my hair and counted my locs to determine the winner. It was amusing to see the guesses — 1200 was the highest guess.

Having Sisterlocks are we subconsciously still trying to emulate the long moving hair of Caucasian and Asian women? The vast majority of women start Sisterlocks with short hair and enjoy the journey that leads to the abundance which is nature’s reward for health and balance. Caucasian women don’t own abundance, and yes, that is an important lesson for our sisters to learn. Once we experience this abundance, I think issues like that become irrelevant.

So having Sisterlocks can certainly change your mindset… It definitely leads towards a change of lifestyle. Those with Sisterlocks tend to become more conscious about dieting, exercising and other things natural. It seems to be freeing. From what I’ve seen some individuals are more inclined to pursue dreams that they felt were unattainable before.

Did you ever envisage the hairstyle being this successful? I knew from the beginning that Sisterlocks would one day be the haircare system of choice for the majority of black women worldwide. It came to me like a ‘calling’.

You’ve also invented the male version Brotherlocks. How’s that going? Most Sisterlock consultants have a few male clients with Brotherlocks. On the whole, men seem to be less committed to the longterm transformation than women — or in my experience they seem to be less vocal about it.

In the past there has been a negative attitude towards locs from the media, do you think that’s changing? Attitudes about locs are changing, but there are still issues about it in certain professions and even families.

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Light reflecting highlights

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Sweeping fringe loc style

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Ombre style










When you travel to other countries do you notice different attitudes towards locs and Sisterlocks? Like most Americans, I was surprised to learn on my first trip to Jamaica that locs were generally not well received, however I did notice that natural hair was much more common there than in the US. As far as the UK is concerned, I never saw many women with locs or natural hair; it’s mostly relaxers and weaves.

What’s your opinion on the Sisterlocks community in the UK? Honestly, I feel a bit divorced from the UK Sisterlocks scene. I don’t know if this is because there are no meet-up groups (that I know of) there, or an active, charged-up Sisterlocks community. I would love for that to change. For example, I would love for a group of Sisterlocks consultants to contact me to collaborate on a major Sisterlocks event or a book signing, just something fun and creative that would shine the spotlight on the craft.

What’s your opinion on Sisterlock websites? I find the online communities that focus on Sisterlocks (and other locs) a bit puzzling. Women seem to be driven to reach out to nonprofessionals with very intricate questions about their haircare. A good number of these would-be gurus are giving really bad advice. This is one reason why we established a Facebook page. We wanted to create a more legitimate forum, and direct people back to our website, which is the most authoritative source of good information. We also have plans to expand into the blogosphere in the near future in an effort to provide good information more broadly. We’ll be video-blogging too and hosting focused conversations on Sisterlocks. Visit for more information.

How do you upkeep your Sisterlocks? I trim my hair every year to keep it about waistlength. I also keep it layer-cut for fullness and I generally shampoo it and set it in ‘bantu knots’ to curl it. I usually wear it loose-curly or curly-tied back during the week as I never like to wear it in a ‘freestyle.’

For you what’s the best thing about having Sisterlocks? Lots of things: the ease of care; versatility; abundance; uniqueness; it doesn’t require a lot of products; having no more ‘bad hair days’; receiving lots of compliments; setting a new beauty standard for our women. The list goes on…

For more details read Dr Cornwall’s book: That Hair Thing: “So, How Did You Come Up With This Idea Anyway?”



  1. by J Richardson on 09/11/2018  4:27 PM Reply

    I've had sisterlocs about a 2 1/2 years now. I like them a lot but not completely "in love" with them YET!!!! My hair was barely at an inch when I had them installed so they have come a long way but I'm eager for them to grow into the lovely locs I see on different websites. Also, I've noticed my sisterlocs aren't as thin as some of the sisterlocs I've recently seen. The thinner locs seem to be more versatile. I'm not regretful of my choice........just impatient!!

  2. by Josina on 14/08/2018  3:00 PM Reply

    Sisterlocs are really beautiful, but I must say being an African I know we have been braiding, twisting, matting, plaiting, and locking our hair in various ways since time began, the Maasai of East Africa have had micro locs for centuries, and many other tribes have had method sof interlocking similar to this, perhaps not in such an organized way.

    • by Lauren Shepherd on 23/09/2018  9:20 PM Reply

      You're right, so I don't know why she replied by saying that "I have heard, but not seen", all she has to do is research it.

  3. by Neecee on 15/07/2018  3:39 AM Reply

    Is a latch hook safe for forming Sisterlocks? I think the use of a latch hook is doing damage to my Sisterlocks.

  4. by SammyJo on 08/02/2018  9:31 PM Reply

    Thank you for this inspiring and thoughtful interview. And a very big thank you to Dr. Cornwall, for creating such an impressive technique and network, I hope that this empowering mindset becomes more widespread. Lol, I feel like I've been living under a rock, since I am only now discovering this type of locking system and I am in love! I become an official Sisterlocked woman in a couple of weeks and I can't wait to have a new freedom and way of hair. Ive been fighting it to be straight, or stretched with time consuming detangling and twist outs etc.. lol no more of that :)

  5. by Fridah on 19/07/2017  4:40 PM Reply

    Perfect for me

  6. by Rosalyn Williams on 07/06/2017  6:05 AM Reply

    Should a Sisterlock consultant install more than 1 test lock???

    • by ANTOINETTE S LEE on 10/01/2018  2:32 AM Reply

      Yes, at least 4

  7. by Olu on 10/07/2016  6:26 PM Reply

    Where in South Africa are you, cos I live in Lagos Nigeria and I want my locks retightening pls?

    • by IShelley on 11/07/2016  1:02 PM Reply

      Hi Olu

      There are many Sisterlock consultants around the world. The best thing would be to look up the registry on the website: and see if there are any in/near your area.

      The BBH Team

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