It was only day two of 20-year-old Cree Ballah's new job when she burst into tears.
Now Ballah says she is considering filing a human rights complaint and quitting her job at a Zara branch in Toronto because not just one but two managers took her aside to tell her her braids were "too extreme".
When she got the job in March, Ballah said she was told that no bright hair colours were allowed, and so she got rid of some grey extensions and made sure her braids were neat and tidy before she started.
Ballah, who identifies as mixed race, had ten braids pinned back into two ponytails. A manager took her aside and Ballah says she told her, "your hair is too extreme for the Zara store. Please take it down."
She reassured me, ‘We’re not trying to offend you, but we’re going for a clean, professional look.’ Then I asked her, ‘What is a clean professional look to you?’ And she replied, ‘natural colours.’
Ballah pointed out her hair was a natural colour, and that other employees working that day had brightly dyed hair in what looked like an obvious breach of the rules - at which point a second manager said that it wasn't the colour but the style they had a problem with.
She says they made her re-style her hair in front of other staff and customers until they were satisfied with a low bun.
Feeling humiliated and embarrassed, that was the moment she started to cry.
My hair type is also linked to my race, so to me, I felt like it was direct discrimination against my ethnicity in the sense of what comes along with it.
My hair type is out of my control and I try to control it to the best of my ability, which wasn’t up to standard for Zara.
She went to human resources over the matter, and is considering quitting.
In a written statement to Canadian media, Zara said it has "no formal policy regarding employees’ hairstyles; we expect all employees to ensure that they present a professional appearance that enables them to serve our valued customers.”
They would not comment directly on Ballah's case, but said the company had met with her.
That's not good enough for Ballah, though: she says the company needs to clarify what is and isn't acceptable to prevent discrimination.
The guidelines are not fair... My hair was deemed a problem, but someone with blue hair was fine, and someone with pink hair and a shaved side head was fine, and somebody who has two pigtails in straight hair is fine.