Salons across Canada have struggled during the pandemic and one of those communities is Toronto’s own Little Jamaica.
Located in East Toronto (on Eglinton Avenue West from Keele Street to Marlee Avenue), Little Jamaica is full of culture. However the vibrant community was hit hard by the ongoing Metrolinx construction, which only added to their pandemic-related hardships.
We chatted with Simone Drayton, owner of Glamour Cuts Hair Design, and Nadine Matthews, owner of Nadine’s Hair Studio, who share their stories of resilience, and how they’re adjusting to the new normal with the help of the federal government as well as the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA).
The BBPA is a charitable organization with the goal of advancing Canada’s Black community by helping to deliver federal funding. The Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario announced a $1 million investment over the next three years dedicated to the revitalization of Little Jamaica and its many small businesses.
Among them are Glamour Cuts Hair Design, a salon that’s been open for 25 years and Nadine’s Hair Studio, which has been open for 14 years.
For both Drayton and Matthews, their journey in the beauty industry originated from pure passion and a love for doing hair.
“The transformation is my favourite part of my job,” says Drayton. “Seeing the client come in looking one way and having them leave looking totally different while feeling great about themselves is amazing.”
“The gratification of seeing someone happy and confident and feeling beautiful when they leave is amazing,” adds Matthews. “I enjoy playing with hair and getting to do something that I love every day.”
Although their love of hair is what keeps them going, the past few years have not been easy for the two salon owners. “With the Metrolinx construction and the pandemic, business is slowing down,” says Drayton. “Both of those things have impacted our ability to get new clients and share our culture as well as our business with those new clients. I’ve seen so many stores have to close their doors because of all of this and it’s really sad.”
Celebrating their culture has always been important to Drayton and Matthews, and is one of the reasons why they decided to open their businesses in Little Jamaica. “It’s predominately West Indian and Black folks, so being with your own people is great and another reason why I picked this location,” says Drayton. “It’s beautiful when people of the same culture can come together to embrace and celebrate that culture together.”
“I’m from Jamaica and this is my community,” adds Matthews. “I wanted to support the community and the people who live here. Our clients come from all over, but it’s great to be able to share our culture.”
In addition to the community being full of culture, hardworking business owners and inspiring stories of resilience, Little Jamaica is also home to strong and supportive residents. “Being on Eglinton, what I would love to see is more Black entrepreneurs and Black-owned businesses,” says Drayton. “I want us to stick together because we’re a community and we’re a strong one. We support each other, so having a place where we can share our culture and encourage each other is such a positive thing.”
In addition to these two salon owners being impacted by the construction and the pandemic, they’ve also seen a lot of their neighbour’s businesses being affected. “There are a lot of mom-and-pop shops, and now they are starting to close down,” says Matthews. “Over 150 places have been lost, so there’s a lot of empty spaces, which is very sad.”
“My business started and was running organically. I just had a lot of clients, so it worked. Since the construction and the pandemic, our clients and their habits have changed. A lot of our old clientele has stayed with those avenues of wearing their hair natural or having a stylist come to their home to do their hair,” adds Matthews. “This means we’ve had to go and find new clientele, but those new clients are very different. They’re much savvier, younger and more aware so we have to change a lot, including things like our decor. Before we were word-of-mouth but now we have to advertise with social media.”
“I had to find a way to bring new clients in since we lost all of our walk-in appointments due to everything that’s going on,” says Drayton. “I’ve been trying to offer a lot of discounts and specials, but that hasn’t been able to make up for the walk-in appointments that we aren’t seeing anymore.”
The partnership between the federal government and the BBPA is a lifeline to help struggling businesses in Little Jamaica. “The BBPA had given us a grant last year that helped me quite a bit. I was able to pay off some bills I had and I was even able to do a bit of a renovation,” says Drayton. “It’s also allowed a lot of the other businesses to keep their doors open.”
In addition to delivering federal funding, the BBPA has been helping the salon owners learn about other funding options, advise them on how to apply, and assisting with the overall restructuring of their businesses, tax reviews, as well as marketing strategies. “The BBPA has helped a lot when working with my business plan development and cost analysis,” says Matthews. “They’re helping us figure out how we can move forward to recreate a profitable business again.”
The Importance of Education
With the uncertain and ever-changing times due to the pandemic, both salon owners emphasize the importance of education to refine and elevate your skill sets.
“Education is important to get started because you need to know the basics, but you also have to keep continuing to learn to keep up with the trends and know how to work with all hair types,” says Matthews. “A big challenge with education is that not a lot of course content focuses on or even teaches how to work with textured and coily hair. It’s so important to add to the curriculum; even curly hair in general isn’t really covered. I get to bring my knowledge into the courses I teach, and I’m able to teach what isn’t covered in the textbooks.”
Both stylists agree that it’s crucial for every hairstylist to know how to work on all hair types and that they should know how to serve every client who walks into their salon. “Stylists shouldn’t limit themselves,” says Matthews. “It doesn’t only have to be Black hair or textured hair; there are so many different kinds of people who have curly hair.”
“There’s so many different hair types, textures and styles. Times change, and trends change so you have to keep upgrading your skills,” adds Drayton. “In addition to that, it’s about being able to service any client who comes into your salon and not only clients with a particular hair type. For example, I also service clients with Caucasian hair. You have to keep upgrading your craft so you can be good at it, and so you can welcome every client and are able to provide them with the styles they want.”
Both Matthews and Drayton have goals for themselves, their salons and their communities that they hope the BBPA and federal funding will be able to help them achieve.
“I want to go back to how it used to be,” says Matthews. “I want to have a business that supports itself and supports its growth. I want my employees to be successful and my salon to be the buzzing place that it used to be.”
“I want to expand my service offerings and add things like lashes to our salon,” adds Drayton. “I also want to create a product line of styling products.”
In the meantime, Drayton encourages other salon owners who are facing similar challenges to hang in there. “Stay strong, work hard and continue to preserve” she says. “We’ll all get over this bump someday, and hopefully that someday is soon. Do some promotions, advertise your businesses, and hope for the best.”
Matthews advises other salon owners not to overlook the administration aspects of being a business owner. “Keep up with the times because when I started I was focusing on hair because that was my passion. I encourage others to have everything on the business side taken care of so then they can just focus on the hair. For a business to succeed, you have to run it like a business.”
For more information on Toronto’s Little Jamaica community, click here.
Click here to find out more about the BBPA and how they’re helping the community.