Posted on March 19, 2019
Sola Salon Studios
Ours is a self-segregated industry, which has never made sense to Chissel Espinal, our 2019 Faces of Sola stylist from New Orleans, who grew up in a family of hairdressers. “My mother had a diverse clientele, and what I learned from her is that hair has nothing to do with the color of your skin,” says Chissel, who loved the arts but wasn’t sure she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Admittedly they were big shoes to fill because “my mother is amazing.”
Instead, she studied photography, dabbled in jewelry design and learned how to do makeup. Her ah-ha moment came when she was hired to do hair and makeup for a commercial shoot where everyone on set was amazed at the transformation.
So she went to beauty school with the intention of becoming a multicultural hairstylist just like her mother. Still, she struggled with the realization that “clients wouldn’t come to you if you didn’t look like them.” Inspiration came from Keya Neal, an artist, educator and master colorist with the American Board of Certified Haircolorists, who brought her Texture vs. Race Summit to New Orleans.
“Everything she said reinforced what I’d been feeling in my gut and in my heart for years—that hair is not race,” says Chissel. “Hair is a fabric, not the color of your skin. It’s what I learned from my mother and what I’ve been preaching to my own clients for years.”
Customizing the Salon Experience
Before she opened Chissel’s Beauty Studio in 2015 in Metairie, the largest community in Jefferson Parish, Chissel worked on commission in traditional salons and often under someone else. Then clients started complaining. Oh, not about her services, which they loved, but about not being able to see more of her. “They wanted more one-on-one time with me,” says Chissel, who found Sola Salon Studios to be the answer to a question she hadn’t even been asking: How can I give my clients a better salon experience?
After renting a large single studio, Chissel hung out her shingle and began customizing each appointment right down to the music her diverse clientele hears while having services. “I’ll play jazz if that’s what they like,” says Chissel, who also offers a glass of champagne to those so inclined. “It’s a quiet, comfortable space where they can do school work or use their laptops if they want.”
Chissel admits that when she made the decision to open her salon, she was waiting for the “catch, the small print” and was pleasantly surprised when there wasn’t any. “It was move-in ready. All I had to do was bring my supplies.” Chissel likens Sola Salons to owning a condo instead of a house, which is a brilliant analogy when you come right down to it.
“We have a property manager, who takes care of everything, which is why I can walk away from the salon for an extended period of time with no worries,” says Chissel, who did just that when she visited the Dominican Republic for three weeks recently. “I didn’t have to worry that I forgot to pay the electric bill or that a pipe might burst while I was gone. Sola handles all of that so I can concentrate on what’s really important, which is building and maintaining my business.”
While Chissel still hands out business cards to clients, who use them to refer their friends, she finds that most of her new business comes from Instagram. To make the most of social media, she monitors her posts to see what the audience responds to, say, posting “after” photos only on one day and “befores” and “afters” with step- by-steps the next.
“I’m always looking for hashtags that promote what I do to generate business,” says Chissel, who has uses #curlyhairspecialist to her advantage.
So Chissel’s plan is to continue with Sola because they give her a platform where she can grow as a stylist. “I’m not only part of the Sola family but part of the larger beauty community,” says Chissel, who plans to move into a double or two-room studio within five years, which would allow her to hire an assistant, and if she moves into a triple eventually, she can hire another hairdresser to work for her.
“I can grow with Sola,” says Chissel, who knows one thing for sure: She has no plans to open a traditional salon, not after working with Sola where the possibilities are endless. “If you have big goals, Sola can help you achieve them, and if you hit a wall, it’s because you’re not giving it your best.”
Case in point: Chissel took over Sola’s Instagram account for one day this week, posting photos of her studio and offering advice on their corporate page. Now that was huge, but she was more than up to the task.
So what advice does she have for beauty professionals, who let self-doubt get in their way? “Acknowledge and embrace self-doubt; it’s part of being human, but it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Self-doubt can keep you sharp, focused and inventive, but you have to remember that doubt is not your truth,” she says. “All that matters is where you go from here. What’s your next move?”
What she knows for sure is that hairdressers can transform someone’s mood, build their confidence and even make their day. “That’s why I continue to live in my purpose,” says Chissel, who leaves us with her favorite quote. It’s from Henry Ford, who knew a thing or two about success: “The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what is one’s destiny to do, and then to do it.”
So what are you waiting for?