The beauty of writing your own paychecks
When Essence Shabazz first started her career as a hairstylist, she saw her services as a gateway to helping her clients celebrate their inner beauty. Since opening up her first salon location, E.bazz Hair Loft, in St. Paul in 2017, she has gone from selling bundles with her services to stocking an array of beauty products.
Now, she has set her sights on opening one of the first Black-owned beauty supply stores in North Minneapolis. Envisioning more than a store, Shabazz sees E.bazz Beauty Supply as a base to support the growth of the local Black beauty community.
MSR talks with Shabazz about the merit of empowering through beauty and the importance of building a solid foundation for other Black beauty workers and entrepreneurs.
MSR: Doing hair is one thing, but what inspired you to make it your own business?
Essence Shabazz: My family. My grandfather owned a small farm in Florissant, Mo., and he’s always taught us the value of business ownership. When I got out in the real world and started working nine-to-five jobs, I started realizing I needed to be in a position where I could create my own lane and do what I want to do without anybody telling me when I could eat, when I could wake up, things like that.
MSR: What do you consider your business’ most sought-after service or product?
Shabazz: The raw Cambodian hair is the most requested product. I’m always out of that. I specialize in old-school traditional sew-ins. It has a nice, clean foundation of braids guarded by a protective net over it. That is my specialty. I started off with it at school in Atlanta around 2010.
MSR: What’s the biggest challenge owning the business?
Shabazz: Staying motivated and not trying to compare myself to anybody else’s journey. In our generation, dealing with social media, we see a lot of fast growth. In reality, it’s not that easy. To have a business long term, it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears, motivation and constant education.
MSR: What does that education look like for you? Why is that so important?
Shabazz: I went to Regency Beauty Institute in St. Charles, Mo. I am now in business management school. I graduate this year.
You really need to learn your industry and the background of business in order to stay relevant and sustainable. It’s not about just social media. Let’s study the industry. Let’s study the best in that industry so that we can supersede them.
MSR: What would you say is the most rewarding part of owning your business?
Shabazz: The freedom to be a full-time mom, not missing those moments with my family. And also the feeling of accomplishment — knowing that you can be successful and can write your own checks.
We believe we need to work at a corporate office and certain types of jobs to survive. But you can do it [own your own business] if you really put your mind to it. So that is probably the most rewarding part, doing something they told our people that we couldn’t do.
MSR: What does your vision for success look like?
Shabazz: To always maintain the salon, because that’s where I started. My vision is to help other young women learn the same skills and then show them the business so that I don’t have to be behind the chair every day, all day.
And with the beauty supply, I just hope that this is gonna be something great for the community. It will be one of the first Black-owned beauty supply stores in North Minneapolis. I’m looking forward to collaborating with other Black-owned businesses. I want to create a pathway…for other young girls and boys that are coming into my field.
MSR: What does that look like?
Shabazz: I want to connect with young women and men and teach them about the entrepreneurial life of customer service — an ambition we often are unaware of in our community. As Black entrepreneurs, we need to start helping our youth who are trying to do the same thing, but help them do it better.
MSR: What other ways can your business impact the community?
Shabazz: I feel like I have a strong voice with young women. I’m trying to help teach them — even though I specialize in hair extensions and wigs and can totally change your look — that focusing on inner beauty is more important. Hair, as far as weaves and wigs, is just an accessory, not a necessity. I’m impacting my clients by just giving that positive, uplifting inner spirit, and that’s what I think more stylists need to do.
With the beauty supply, I hope to give back to the community. Over the years, we’ve experienced other cultures taking over our hair industry. Hopefully, I can show our Black community that we can take our industry back and not be apologetic about it.
You can own your own store, you can own your own products, sell to your people in a classic way, and just buy back the industry, buy back the block.
MSR: Your North Minneapolis location is still in the works. When do you open?
Shabazz: I’m finalizing the location now. We will be holding pop-up shops the end of summer and into fall.
MSR: What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
Shabazz: Do not try to push forward too fast. Build that foundation first before getting into glitz and glam. Finish school and all the paperwork; then start your business.
MSR: Anything else?
Shabazz: Get your credit together. You can’t do anything without getting your credit right. I’m not saying you need to have a bunch of money. You don’t need to have $50,000 in a bank. But even if you have $500, get some business cards, get some free marketing classes, and start that foundation before you start accepting clients.
And find a mentor! You definitely have to keep those people that are 10 toes down for you and make sure you actually listen and put their advice into play.
E.bazz Hair Loft is located at 2075 Ford Pkwy in St Paul. MSR readers who book a sew-in service before August 31 will receive two 12-inch bundles of hair for free with service. For more info, visit ebazzhairloft.com.