Today, Nancy V. Brown, entrepreneur, hair stylist and mother of four, has a salon on Boston’s posh Newbury Street and has plans to travel the world to share her diverse skill set. But her journey has been anything but easy or straightforward.
After giving birth as a teen and dropping out of school, Brown discovered her love of hair styling while working in a salon. She eventually went on to earn her GED, attend cosmetology school, and gain certifications from numerous prestigious institutions including Harvard’s Medical School. The fruits of hard work and determination: Her work has appeared in several high-profile magazines and national ad campaigns.
Not content with “just being a hair stylist,” Brown is also an educator, philanthropist and entrepreneur. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with her to talk the lessons she learned on her path from teen mom to the owner of NV My Hair Salon and why no one should let challenging circumstances undermine their future.
BlackEnterprise.com: When you had your first child at 14, you dropped out of school to work. What kind of support did you have at the time?
Nancy V. Brown: My mom was my only support system. I didn’t have much in the way of adult support because most of my family was still in Costa Rica. I had to work to take care of my daughter.
You first started working in retail at a boutique inside a hair salon. How did you work your way into actually doing hair?
One of the stylists in the salon messed my hair up. My hair was breaking off. I started doing different things trying to camouflage it and people liked what I was doing. I started getting customers after that.
So you were an unlicensed, teenage, high school dropout with a devoted following. That’s impressive. How much were you charging people?
I was charging about $50 to $60 a head. I basically just tried out the different techniques I had learned from doing my own hair and, of course, I paid attention to the older stylists in the salon.
You did eventually get your GED in your late teens and go to cosmetology school, but you took the extra step of getting certified in hair restoration techniques and medical wig installation. What prompted you to do that?
A lot of the clients that were coming in were coming for beauty purposes, but others were coming for hair loss. That feeling that I got from my clients was that they just wanted to be happy with their hair and overall appearance. It makes a big difference in self esteem. So, [I thought], how can I help everyone, even those with no hair? That’s when I started really investing in learning how to deal with those issues.
You are one of the first female entrepreneurs of color on Boston’s famed Newbury Street. How long have you been at that location and what were your biggest challenges getting it off the ground?
I opened in 2008. The biggest challenges were people who didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. I just went forward though. Originally, I opened up the space to house my nonprofit Charmed Boston, which supplies medical wigs and hair restoration services to people battling illnesses. That was my main purpose, but [at the time] the economy was at its worst and I didn’t have financial backing, so I just started with the for-profit business, the salon, until I could get enough money to get the nonprofit going. I really didn’t have much financial help. I used my savings and my unemployment to secure the salon space. Now both the for-profit and nonprofit are open.
If you could go back and do anything differently, what would you change?
I wouldn’t have had children so early. I would have been able to focus on my goals. That really set me back. I made a lot of money mistakes, too. Now I know the importance of taking advice from people in a position to give advice. Now I know that I need to talk to people who already have their own businesses and have real experience. You can’t take advice from everyone who gives it.
You have a super busy life between your kids, your salon, your non-profit work and your role as an educator. How do you keep it all together?
I’m Nancy V. Brown in my professional world, and I’m NV in my artistic world. When I’m NV, I’m having fun. I’m enjoying my creative process and making people happy. I’m not really a downtime type of person. I need to be on the go. I’m always thinking of Nancy V. Brown though and making sure I have everything together.
What does the future hold for you?
I have two books in the works. It’s a little early to talk about them in depth but basically, one is a memoir and the other is an educational book for hair professionals. I’ll be going to Africa soon as well, giving workshops on proper haircare.
What advice would you have to a teen mom today who is contemplating dropping out of school?
I already speak to middle school-aged kids, but I want to get to high school kids and speak to them about the importance of education and sticking to your goals. I know what it’s like growing up in a rough neighborhood. That’s where I came from, but now I’m on a different path. You can be doing the same. Stay in school. I’m still in school now! Even if you’re an artist, you should have something to fall back on. Staying in school is a must.
What’s your life’s theme song?
Hmmm, good question. The first thing that popped in my head was, “I Will Survive.” That’s my life’s theme song because people didn’t expect me to be here. They didn’t expect me to make it, but I’m here.