With her sculptural, gravity-defying braids and twists, Fesa Nu-who has worked with musicians and actors like Mereba, Chika, and Yara Shahidi-is a self-described hair poet. “These days, I actually get offended when people consider me a hairstylist,” she says. “No disregard to hairstylists out there, because that’s where I started.” Nu went to cosmetology school at Royal Beauty College in Los Angeles, California, where she learned about the specifics of skin, scalp, and hair care. Now, her focus is on editorial work that evokes an emotional response. “A lot of times when styling, we’re put into a box, where we’re expected to do what everyone else wants and rarely get to showcase what we love. I call myself a hair poet so that people know what they’re going to get when they book Fesa. You’re going to get some poetry.” Her work is rooted in traditional African styles-taking inspiration from Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, and her homeland of South Africa-while still being distinctly hers: flat twists flow into spiral-shaped faux locs that trace the center of the scalp like a mohawk; a braided crown cascades into hanging braided hoops. “I love to create African-inspired hairstyles, and revamp them and really make them my own.”

Nu didn’t consider a career in hair until later in life. “I feel like it was more so a survival mechanism for me,” she says. Growing up in Texas, her hair was less about expressing herself and more about appealing to the respectability politics of her environment. “I felt I had to do it in order to get through school, and to attract the right type of friends and not feel embarrassed,” she says. Eventually, she found joy in doing her own hair. “Me and my friends would try to match each others’ looks by coming up with the same hairstyles to wear to school,” Nu remembers. “And later, I started realizing that I actually have a gift. It became a creative art for me.”

Throughout her time in school, people were always asking Nu to braid their hair. “I started charging people like $10, nothing crazy,” she says with a laugh. “My friends were always supportive.” After eight years of honing her craft with private clients, she started working at the beauty counter in Macy’s, then enrolled in cosmetology school. Later, she began creating and producing her own editorial shoots for the Instagram series, The Art of Hair: African Woman Edition. “My goal with this series was to pay homage to the divinity of African culture. I take pride in knowing who I am and where I come from.”

She finds additional inspiration from music, especially afrobeats and Portuguese music. “Rhythms, colors, beats, nature all really get my brain flowing. I feel like I draw the most inspiration for my work when I’m in my car and I’m driving to set or to work,” she says. “I try to find beauty in those details and bring them to life.” As for her favorite products to use? She recently fell in love with the Moroccanoil brand, especially their curl cream and hairspray. For edges, she swears by R&Co and Style Factory.

Up next, Nu is working on a coffee table book that will be a compilation of her work and inspirations. “I’ve been working on it for quite a while now,” she says. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” Consider it a book of poetry.