Connie and LaTika are master natural hair stylists, salon and suite owners, and natural hair educators. During their teenage years, Connie and LaTika took the first steps in their natural hair care business by learning how to style and manage natural hair. Both ladies grew up around the hair care industry and they had dreams and aspirations to take their talents to the next level. After nearly 20 years of mastering their craft, Connie and LaTika are leaders in the natural hair movement, owners of Lucky You, Charlotte’s largest natural hair salon and suites, and rising stars in Charlotte’s business world. Below is my interview with two of Charlotte’s most influential naturalistas.
Phillips: What inspired the name “Lucky You”?
Tika: Before we became business partners, ‘Lucky You’ was the slogan that I would say on my voice mail. When I recorded it, there were birds chirping in the background and it was almost like the birds were my background music. My clients loved my voice message and the name ‘Lucky You’ seemed like the perfect fit. Also, when I was in cosmetology school, I created a business plan and I named my salon ‘Lucky You’. I didn’t remember this sample business plan or the name I selected until I stumbled upon some old homework assignments. So, I feel like the name Lucky You was predestined.
Phillips: When and why did you two decide to become business partners?
Connie: In 2013, we became business partners because we both were destined and determined to open a salon. We didn’t know it but we were both on the same path with a very similar plan. Our business relationship started with a phone call. I called Tika to refer one of my clients because my schedule was full. During our conversation, Tika said that she was looking to open a salon. I told Tika that we need to meet for lunch. Several days later, our one hour planned brunch turned into a four-hour meeting. I knew this was serious because both of us showed up with notebooks to take notes and compare our plans. Initially, we didn’t know whether we were going to partner up to just pay the bills together and have our own separate institution or establish one business together. At the time Tika’s brand was “Lucky You’ and my brand was “Love Our Culture”. After our meeting, we both realized that our short and long-term goals were in alignment so we decided to create a true business partnership.
Tika: When we became partners, we were very serious about taking our business to another level. We were both very good at doing hair but we wanted to become very good at running a business. We wanted to make sure that we were on top of our business by putting our financial affairs in order. We needed a larger space and someone to help us make sure that nothing slipped through the cracks. Before I made my decision to partner with Connie, I checked with other people in the industry and everyone that I spoke to said that she was very professional and “about her business”.
Phillips: When did you transition to natural hair? Did you ever have a relaxer?
Connie: Growing up, relaxers were all that we knew. So, yeah, I had the “creamy crack”. In high school, when I was 16 years old, I started working in a natural hair salon with my “cream crack” relaxer. At the time, I was proud of my nice straight hair. My boss would always tell me “You are never going to pick up any clients with a relaxer. How can you relate to their struggle, educate them on the dangers of chemical relaxers and you’ve got a relaxer?” Some people might call it peer pressure or social pressure but I call it a business decision. Back then, I wasn’t so concerned with damaging my hair but I was concerned with damaging my purse. So, at the tender age of 17, I transitioned to natural hair.
Tika: Since elementary school, I had a relaxer. Growing up, getting a relaxer was the trend and it was perceived as an easy way to manage textured hair. When I got my first relaxer, I didn’t really have a choice. It was kind of like a rite of passage in my family.
As a cosmetology student, I was working with natural and relaxed hair. During this time, corn rows was a very popular style for men. Some of my male clients who wore natural hair would come in to the salon to get shampoos and get their hair braided. When I would take their hair out, it was thick, long, and beautiful. Sometimes, the ladies would get jealous because the guys had thicker and longer hair than they did. I told them that the guys had thicker and longer hair because they weren’t using chemicals on their hair. Back then, I knew that natural hair was healthier but I just wasn’t ready yet. When I moved to Charlotte, I transitioned to natural hair.
Phillips: How did you get into the hair industry?
Connie: I grew up in the hair industry. My mom and my aunt were beauticians so the hair industry was always around me. I didn’t take an interest in hair until my 14th birthday when I asked for a mannequin so that I could learn how to braid. In the 10th grade, I enrolled in a program that allowed me to earn my cosmetology license while in high school. Mrs. Shirley, my former boss, came to our class to speak with our class about natural hair. Also, she offered to hire some students to work in her salon. I completed an application and Ms. Shirley took me under her wings. I really appreciate Ms. Shirley for giving me an opportunity that led me becoming an entrepreneur.
Tika: My story started out at the age of eleven. I believe I had a God given gift with hair because I taught myself how to braid by practicing on my hair. We had people in my family who were kitchen stylists but none of them were licensed. So, I followed the family tradition of styling people’s hair at home. I was the girl in the hood, on the front porch braiding hair. I was braiding the guys in the neighbourhood. I would charge them $5 a head if they wanted straight back corn rows and $7 for the sides. By weekend, I had enough money to take the city bus to the mall, buy a pair of sneakers or a new outfit. In my teenage years, that $5 service turned into $20 service. After high school, I decided to go to college instead of cosmetology school. I thought my college degree and corporate experience would take me away from the hair industry but it didn’t because I was doing hair on the side every day. They called me hair on wheels because I kept my travel bag in the car and I would see my clients after work.
Phillips: What advice do you have for women that have negative views or perception about their natural hair?
Tika: The first misconception that women of color have about their natural hair is that it is nappy, unruly, or so kinky that they won’t be able to deal with it. A lot of times, they are comparing their natural hair with the ends of their hair that has already been straightened and relaxed. We are comparing our new growth which is curlier and kinkier with chemically treated hair. Without the guidance of a professional, many people suffer breakage so they say, ‘oh my hair is bad I can’t grow it out’. It’s not that you have bad hair or that it won’t grow, often times people don’t have the right method and aren’t keeping the right amount of moisture to promote proper hair growth.
Connie: I recommend that your readers find a stylist and get a consultation. A lot of times people come to us after they have exhausted all of their options. They have tried a thousand products and listened to unlicensed YouTube hair bloggers. In the process, they might have damaged their hair and become frustrated which leads to negative beliefs about their hair. People need to know how to comb their hair. If you have relaxer, you are probably combing your hair with a small tooth comb. Once you go natural, you can’t use that small tooth comb anymore. Either your hair is going to break the comb or you are going to break your hair with the comb. It’s easier to love your hair once you understand your hair.
Phillips: What business advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Tika: It’s always good to do your research. It’s very important to know your market and find your niche in the market. After you have done your research, don’t be afraid to take it slow. When you jump into a business too fast, you may run into problems that you didn’t expect. For example, if you are a hairstylist or a barber who wants to open your own business but you are still at the stage of building your clientele, that’s not the time to open up a new barbershop or salon. If you open up a salon or barbershop before your client base is established, you and your barbers or stylists may end up fighting over who gets the new client. I’ve seen people jump into businesses too quickly and fail because they make the big move too soon. It’s good to have a mentor who can help you see things that you might not see. I’m thankful for Wanda Riley, my mentor who taught me the importance of being personable and providing good customer service. Ms. Riley said “People don’t always remember how you did their hair but they will remember how you made them feel.” Ms. Gwen Browers was another expert and mentor who provided me with excellent business advice. She wasn’t in my industry but she understands the business world. It’s good to have mentors, experts, and people in your network who are inside and outside of your industry so that you can get a full picture of what’s going on inside and outside of your industry.
Connie: I definitely agree with Tika on the importance of having a mentor. It’s a lot easier to get advice from someone who has a blueprint and experience as opposed to trying to figure everything out from scratch. In business, especially if you have a partner, it’s important to be whole and comfortable with who you are. You have to be comfortable with where you are in life to be truly happy for other people. If not, jealousy will come into your business relationship. Recently, Tika was offered a position as a natural hair instructor at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC). Before she decided to accept the position, she asked me what I thought about her accepting the position. I supported Tika in her decision to teach at CPCC because teaching was something that Tika always wanted to do and it’s good for our brand. Tika wins because she is the first natural hair instructor at CPCC and I win because she is my business partner. As women, if we focus on winning, we will have less time to be jealous of each other.