Organic Hair Salon Makes Home in U of M Area
  • Added: (2011-05-30 08:08:06)
  • Upon entering Dena Walley’s salon along the Highland Strip near the University of Memphis, customers are sure to notice colorful walls, unique decorations hanging from the rafters and a hand-painted floor greeting telling them to “Have a Great Hair Day!”


    Walley built the business from the ground up. She filled the salon with recycled furniture and knickknacks. Many of her necessities, such as barber chairs, were obtained from a salon that was being remodeled. Walley rebuilt the chairs, including the hydraulics.The shop only uses organic products. Signs hanging throughout the business discuss the benefits of going green.




    When asked why she started the business, Walley’s answer was simple.“People,” she said. “People need to be treated like people. That’s why I’ll never charge $45 for a haircut. People need to be able to take care of themselves before they can have the energy to give and take care of others.”


    Even though she said some may call it “vanity,” Walley said she believes people’s outer appearance helps their inner selves gain confidence.“And there are a lot of people that can’t afford to take care of themselves right now, so they never get that extra confidence,” she said.


    Walley opened the salon Feb. 14 and it has experienced steady growth, particularly since mid-May. The 100th customer walked through the doors May 12. It took just three weeks to get 130 more.


    Walley said she loves the U of M area. “The energy here is just unreal,” she said. “I have seen … all different colors, shapes, sizes, hairstyles walking together, talking and laughing. It’s amazing; it’s just a great place to be.” Walley is a Michigan native who moved to Arkansas in her teens and later to the Gulfport, Miss., area, where she worked as general manager for a chain of Fantastic Sam’s stores for 12 years.


    During that time, she said she “got behind the chair and learned everything (she) could,” not just about hair, but about marketing, business operation and advertising. Now, she runs her business her way. “This isn’t a chop shop that wants your money, and it’s not a place where someone’s going to say, ‘OK, that will be $400,’” Walley said.


    The salon’s walls are decorated with donated artwork, and by the front door she has a local artist’s handmade incense bottles for sale, as well as some of Walley’s own jewelry. She mainly wants her customers to feel comfortable and at home. Walley sometimes even will work on a barter system with her neighbors along the Strip.


    “People say I’m never going to make any money this way. ... I just need to pay the bills. Right now, if I’m hungry and don’t have any money, I can go knock on the neighbor’s door. That’s incredibly rich. I don’t know how much more you can have,” she said.


    The organic process

    Many customers initially are attracted to Walley’s business because she uses organic hair care products. “Finding organic products is easy,” she said. “Finding affordable organic products that I don’t have to sell at $30 a bottle is not.” Her supply of organic products sells so quickly, she said, she “can’t keep them on the shelves.” Walley said she eventually will have a “refill bar” where customers can bring in their own bottles and refill from a large container in the store, keeping trash as well as prices down.


    Walley uses products from two organic hair care lines, United Hair Care and All-Nutrient. But by their nature, many hair care products – especially coloring products – can’t be made using only all-natural ingredients. Using organic products causes a different – and safer – process to occur in the hair.


    Each hair strand has a little shaft at the root end with a cuticle. When hair gets wet, the cuticles open; when the hair is dry, the cuticles are closed. In traditional hair coloring, Walley said, color is often put in dry, dirty hair, which is coated in dirt, conditioner and other grime, and chemicals such as ammonia and peroxide are used to blow those cuticles open. “It’s like a mini-explosion; there’s damage done to the hair,” she said.


    With the products Walley uses, a clarifier first removes the dirt and other things clinging to the hair. Then, when the hair is wet, the cuticles open naturally. After that, the color is put in to help swell each cuticle, which keeps the coloring in. The final step is to use a color sealant.


    “Instead of taking these chemicals where you cause a chemical reaction in order to make things explode so that you can shove a bunch of fake stuff in there, they’re using natural elements that would do this anyway,” Walley said. “It’s a lot less aggressive on the hair.”


    Feeling of success


    Walley was able to open the business and operate it successfully without the use of a business loan or a credit card. “I hope that it gives somebody who thinks that they can never be anybody that they can,” she said. “Lord knows they told me there’s no way I’d ever succeed.” Right now, she runs the salon on her own. One stylist is lined up to start this summer, and Walley said she is looking for more stylists, in addition to a manicurist/pedicurist and eventually a chair masseuse.


    Walley is pleased with the salon since her Valentine’s Day opening. But most importantly, she said her customers are satisfied. “I have people who leave here and go running out saying, ‘This is so cool,’ and the next day they send me more people, because they felt welcomed,” she said. “It’s incredible to be a part of that, to be a part of that smile that walks out on the street.”