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Utah hairstylist fills niche for black clients

By Cimaron Neugebauer

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 30 2011 3:40 p.m. MST

MURRAY, Utah — Angel Bumpers moved to Utah nine years ago with her husband and noticed one big problem.

As a black woman, "It was hard to find hair products," said Bumpers, who's originally from Alabama.

And it was hard to get a job if she couldn't do her hair, she said: "It's like a crazed Afro!"

Black people's hair is naturally drier, curlier, coarser and more brittle than hair among other ethnicities, which leads to different hair-care needs, Bumpers said.

"If you put a comb through (the hair), it won't lay down," she said, describing how her hair looks if it isn't styled with the right product or hair extensions. "It's going to rise back up."

She decided to start her own business called Beyond Beautiful, selling synthetic and human hair, wigs and hair products for blacks. Her local business really began to take off after a mistake in a radio advertisement also said she styled hair.

"My phone was ringing off the hook," Bumpers said, adding she was getting more calls for styling hair than for buying products.

Bumpers said there are now a few more local salons in the Salt Lake valley that specifically do weaving and braiding for women of color than when she moved here nearly a decade ago. But she said blacks still can't get their hair styled at large chain salons or department stores in Utah, though some of those places are now selling hair products. Bumpers said black women are a small population in Utah, but the need remains.

Other ladies in the area, who Bumpers talked to when she first moved here, had the same problem finding hair products and would either go to a salon in Las Vegas or stock up when they visited family on the east or west coast.

Realizing there was local demand, she decided to "put it right here." She took out a small-business loan eight years ago, started up a salon inside the shop and hired a cosmetologist.

Cosmetologist Emaily Espinoza has styled hair at Bumpers' shop for seven years.

"I love doing what I can do, because not everyone can do it," Espinoza said, adding that she was trained in California how to style black people's hair; Utah beauty colleges don't extensively teach how to style it.

She said she also buys products and other supplies locally to return the favor.

"I shop local so I can support my clients, just as much as they support me," Espinoza said.

Espinoza said styling hair gives her a chance to sit down and get to know clients and network with each other. "A barbershop is a way to communicate," she said.

Since styling hair for blacks is so complex and time-consuming, there is plenty of time to get to know clients. Some hairstyles can take eight to 12 hours to do; others take at least two hours. Some hairstyles will last for two months or as long as one year.

Denise Howard said she used to try to do her hair herself, but it didn't work very well. She has been coming to Beyond Beautiful for the past seven years after meeting the owner and loving the way the stylists did her hair.

"There are other places in the valley you can go, but I like it here," Howard said as she got her hair styled at the salon. It took 2-1/2 hours for her to get corn rows in front and a weave in the back.

Howard chooses to shop local because of the combination of price and quality.

"Other places will gouge you and don't do half as good a job," she said. "Larger chains can't do what local stores can do. They just can't compare."

Bumpers said she also has white clients who want hair extensions, or cancer patients who need wigs.

She adds that white families who have adopted black children will come into her salon to have her do their hair. She said the parents often didn't realize their children's hair was so different and how hard it was to style.

Kristen Lavelett, marketing assistant for Local First Utah, said shopping local offers customers more than an intimate and social shopping experience.

"It is actually better for our economy to purchase things from our local stores," she said, noting that money spent locally helps city budgets and local jobs. "I know it helps my economy here where I live . and affects my quality of life."

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