The Salon Model Is Broken. Meet the Woman Who’s Fixing It.COVID-19 #SmallBizSpotlight | In Soho, a fashion industry vet turned esthetician is putting artists first. Published: July 13, 2021
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Sometime in the nightmare of peak lockdown, there was an outpouring of articles announcing the end of “dressing up.” Sweatpants were in, lipstick was out; showers were rare; grey roots were everywhere. The wide-scale rejection of socially sanctioned beauty codes was largely situational: there were few, if any, reasons to go out and look presentable, and even if you did have one, the salon was closed. But there was another reason, too: we were all depressed.
At this point in post-pandemic New York City, I’m observing a bifurcated impulse towards self-presentation: there’s an eagerness to peacock with fashion and beauty (just walk through the East Village at happy hour), but also a more reflective, dare I say intentional, filter for how we achieve that ineffable, oh-so-subjective state of “looking good.” After months of low- to no-maintenance beauty routines, we’re more mindful than ever of the cost, time, and labor of any non-essential primping. So now, when we do decide to shell out for a beauty-related service or product, we’re more inclined to consider its implications beyond mere aesthetics.
This more holistic approach bodes well for this week’s subject, Jasmine Imani of Jas Imani Beauty, a lash and brow studio in Soho. Since opening her eponymous business in 2018, Jasmine has committed to overhauling the salon experience for both clients and artists, transforming a largely transactional exchange into an empowering one founded on mutual respect and trust. When Jasmine reopened after lockdown, she discovered that people were more eager than ever to invest in their lashes and brows, to the point that she’s now planning a massive expansion of her business. Keep reading for our conversation.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You worked in corporate fashion for over 15 years; what prompted the career pivot?
Honestly, I got really bored. I felt like I was no longer learning the way I used to, at any position, no matter how complicated it got. One day I was literally at my desk and I was like, I want to do something peaceful. I'm going to learn how to do lash extensions. I thought I’d just do it on the side, because I'm always about doing something on the side. And then once I researched, I [realized] you have to be a fully licensed esthetician. I would have never seen my child if I went part-time, so I was like, All right, I have to go full-time. So I gave notice and signed up to get my esthetician's license from Aveda.
Did you already have plans to open your own studio when you went to school?
Yeah, right before I started school, I decided that I was going to open a small studio. But the way the teachers talked to the students and the guidance they gave them was just about getting your license. I found myself helping [fellow students] out with what they wanted to do when they got out of beauty school, exploring other channels besides just going directly to a salon and working your way up. Nothing is wrong with that, but a lot of people came in with bigger ideas and then I felt like the school, or at least the teachers I was around, didn't see the full spectrum. Things started bubbling in my head big time about the kind of space and foundation that I wanted to lay down. I have a lot of friends who work in the salon environment, and I didn't understand the dynamic of how they were being treated. We're living in this whole woman empowerment movement, supporting women and their businesses, but I don't think we get down to the micro level: Are you aware of the woman who's touching your feet? Are you aware of the woman who's massaging your scalp? Those people get looked over, and 90% of the time, those people are women. I find it a little hypocritical. I don't think it's something that needs to be yelled about, but it should be built into our practices and our businesses so that the environment can change. I think clients need to be shown how you should be treating artists, the people who are touching your body. It's a big exchange of energy.
How are you creating a more egalitarian environment?
It comes down to the space you create. The space should be considered not only for the clients, but also for the artist. I'm trying to work out math problems: How can my artists make up to six figures? Is there profit sharing? Are there bonuses? I don't understand why some of the [pay structures] I’ve learned within a corporate environment would not go over to a service environment. And then also engaging with clients and employees on the same level. A lot of our philosophies are [based on the premise that] the client always comes first. For me, that is not true at all. The artist comes first. If you take care of your artists and they're living well, they will naturally take really good care of [clients].
When and where did you officially launch?
I started doing house calls directly out of esthetician school, so 2018. From there I went over to White Rose Collective [a beauty salon in the East Village], which had a second space that I used to rent out. Now I sublet from Robin Evans, who has been known for brows forever. I keep evolving.
Let’s talk about the pandemic. How did the shutdown impact you?
I canceled over 100 appointments.
Oh my gosh.
I remember thinking, Are people even going to want their lashes done after this? Maybe I'll switch [careers] again. I have a lot of friends in hair and they were like, "My clients are bugging me. They want to know if I can come over to their house." No one was bugging me.
What were you feeling while you were out of commission?
I didn't have a big rent to pay, so I still felt very mobile. It was like, Well, what's next? I also had an understanding that no one knew [what was happening]; it just needed to play out. I thought of it as a time to recharge, because I had just been going, going, going. I needed to shut down in order to get clarity. I took time to rest. I really did.
When did you reopen?
I think it was July. That made me more nervous than being locked down, because it was like, How do I go back and feel comfortable? And then having to buy all the PPE stuff …
What did your reopening look like?
I did a really reduced schedule ... I think I only took five appointments a day. I wasn't used to working in a mask and gloves all day; we’re trained for that as estheticians — you have to wear them consistently in school — but [it’s different when] there is actually a pandemic going on.
Were your clients rushing to get back?
Yeah, I've been busy since last July. People came right back. All my being paranoid that people wouldn’t want lashes was silly. I also saw a major uptick in brows — tons of new clients who had never touched their brows.
What do you think is behind that spike?
I think being on Zoom all day and looking at yourself is exhausting. [People were] like, What can I do to feel a little better about things? And for people who aren't big into beauty treatments, getting your brows shaped is really basic and easy.
Tell me about your upcoming expansion!
I am looking to build out a space and add on artists. There will be an area just for brows and a little bit of retail space. I'm currently talking to investors. I want them to all be women, if possible; I want to keep a certain [feminine] energy to it. I'm trying to raise $500K to start. I launched a crowdfunding campaign for $40K of it, and I'm looking to knock that out ASAP because I want the space open by this fall, hopefully in the Soho area.
Are you the only artist on your team right now?
Yes, right now it's just me working on clients. I'm looking to bring on four to five people and teach them my techniques. I want to build the foundation for what a safe space can look like within the service environment for women, where there’s room to constantly elevate your craft. I want to support the artists with health benefits and wellness stipends so they can be their most creative selves. One day I would love to [create] a mentorship summer program for girls in high school.
How is fundraising going so far?
I've had a good amount of people reach out to me, which has kept me very hopeful. I'm at the part right now where I have to set up all my IP, so I've taken a slight pause while all that's getting set up with the lawyers. I feel like it's a wonderful concept — I wouldn't have left a career for it if it wasn't. The lash space is missing [a studio] where you can get your lashes worked on and feel comfortable and confident in the environment you enter. I think lashes have been left at the wayside when it comes to beauty, but it's also one of the most profitable markets. So to me, it's like, This is going to happen whether I do it or not, and I want to do it.
I got a lot of clarity during the pandemic to not be afraid to shake the shit up, because it needs to be shook.
How did the hardships of the last year and a half inspire your expansion plans?
It's always been in me. Being a black woman, I've always had a different viewpoint within the environments I've worked in. Many around me didn't notice, but I realized how I was being treated or someone else around me was being treated. And you know what really shook me? A lot of women business owners stepping down from their positions for being called out. It really broke my heart to see people not step up and take responsibility to fix things. I felt sad for them, and I felt sad for the people who worked under them. Employees from brands I shopped from were coming out and saying how they felt, and I've lived through all those moments; I’m sure we all have. It brought up a lot of work trauma that I’ve probably suppressed since ... I've been working since straight out of high school, either starting businesses or working for other people. It was like, I remember that time when someone said this to me; I remember crying over that; I remember feeling like I wasn't good enough. That is all still going on. And the women who are heading these companies, they came up [under those conditions] too, and they haven't dealt with the trauma of how they came into their position. Maybe it's me being a mom, but I just wanted to hug everybody. But on top of that, it made me realize that foundations must be set in place so we can really care for one another. I got a lot of clarity during the pandemic to not be afraid to shake the shit up, because it needs to be shook.
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