“Without really thinking I could get the money together to start my business, I tried anyway.”
If you’ve ever wondered what an ass-kicking killer creative looks like, feast your eyes on Carla Lynn Brown. The entrepreneur opened up the first eco-friendly hair salon in Lexington, Kentucky, and she uses her business space to feature local artists, hold community events and benefit shows, and even as a practice space for the local community street band, March Madness Marching Band, of which she’s a member.
In her humble beginnings, Carla had dropped out of school in the 10th grade. Later on she earned her GED and studied art history, journalism, natural resource conservation and management in college — all while working various jobs in the restaurant industry. When she couldn’t find a focus, she decided to set the books aside and get licensed as a hair stylist to try to make better money, at least until she figured out what she wanted to do for a career. For 15 months, Carla went to beauty school 40 hours a week during the day while waiting tables at night. This hardcore schedule depleted her of a life, but it was all worth it in the end.
“Turns out, I should have gotten licensed long before,” Carla says. “I really love being a stylist. I love meeting new people all the time, listening to their life stories, forming bonds, and making them feel good about themselves. And I get to use my artistic side.”
Carla got her first job as a stylist at a high-end salon that was so stressful she would come home totally drained from the dramatics between coworkers and the “extremely negative energy” of the place. However, Carla benefited from observing the shop’s goings-on and made “mental notes of how to, and how to not run a business.”
A year later Carla found a smaller, smoother-paced and more intimate salon with a positive vibe. What’s more, the owner used natural, eco-friendly products on customers. “I already had a strong belief in using products [with] non-toxic, non-cancer causing ingredients,” she says, and sustainability was very rare for hair salons around this time. Thus began her mission.
One day a client of hers, who buys and restores downtown properties, was looking to sell a commercial space. Carla looked at the property, which had great potential for an intimate salon. “Without really thinking I could get the money together to make this happen, I tried anyway.” In retrospect she still doesn’t know whether it was impulsive or ingenious. “But from that point on I just believed it was going to happen and started making all the baby steps towards it, and tried not to get too overwhelmed with the huge task at hand.”
“I really love being a stylist. I love meeting new people all the time, listening to their life stories, forming bonds, and making them feel good about themselves. And I get to use my artistic side.”
To buy the building, Carla bagged loans from the bank and — get this — the previous owners. “I was very lucky that they were really cheering me on to become a successful female small business owner,” she says.
Carla opened The Hive in 2007. Using only organic, vegan, ammonia-free and sulfate-free beauty products, it was the first environmentally-conscious hair salon in Lexington. “After six years of business, I’m proud to say that people truly enjoy coming to and working for The Hive,” she says. “Customers always comment on the good energy of the place.”
The Hive carries out Carla’s values of a safer, environmentally-friendly beauty practice and her vision of bringing people together through the arts, music and culture. A true maverick with a relentless creative spirit, she inspires artistic expression in others and gives the people in her community a space to thrive.
“I really believe that if you love what you do, put out a good product, put back into the community, and treat people right — people will show support…”
Alisa Damaso: What draws you to hair styling?
Carla Lynn Brown: I’ve been cutting hair for friends and family members since I was a child. I actually gave perms to some of my friends when I was in elementary school, sneaking my grandma’s perm rods. When I was around 7, my best friend and I would conduct photo shoots, dressing and styling whoever would let us. I’ve been pretty intrigued with fashion and the art of styling since the beginning, I guess.
AD: Besides using environmentally safe products, in what other ways is your shop green?
CLB: I keep it simple and efficient, therefore less stress for everyone. Last year I decided to renovate the upstairs of the shop, which I rented out as office space before, and made it my living space. I [also] put a fence around the back yard, put in some raised bed gardens, and dug and planted a beautiful rain garden. I think my customers appreciate the fact that they know they are supporting a green business, especially in an industry that is rarely so. The choices we make in the products we sell, the tools we use, the way we conduct business, it all goes towards reducing, reusing, recycling, being more energy efficient, and having less impact on the environment [and promoting] people’s health. And above all else: We do great hair!
“Move along with baby steps so you don’t get overwhelmed with the big picture.”
AD: The Hive also serves as a popular place for people to hang out. Is it a big part of the shop’s success?
CLB: With loving the arts and having so many friends who are artists, I began using the space as not only a hair salon, but also a space where local artists could showcase their creations — anything from paintings, jewelry, organic makeup, etc. I open the doors on local gallery hop nights, [throw] benefits for friends in need, and sometimes bands from all over would play.
I definitely think using the shop as a community space brought more people in that might have never heard of it otherwise. I have only paid for advertising six months out of six years… so word of mouth and ye old Facebook have been the way for me. And I really believe if you love what you do, put out a good product, put back into the community, and treat people right — people will show support with their money.
AD: Do you have any advice for aspiring creative entrepreneurs?
CLB: Really believe in your idea. Do your homework. Keep it simple. Move along with baby steps so [you don’t] get overwhelmed with the big picture. Be ready to work your tail off. Keep your eye on the prize knowing it will all be worth it. And really believe that you are a rockstar from Mars!