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CURL TALK: Interview With Trudie Mulalu of Curl Bar Beauty Salon

On an almost weekly basis, I’ll receive a text/email/DM/Facebook message asking for my opinion or recommendation on Toronto salons. The hair business is a sensitive one – clients want to go where they know they’ll get the best service and treatment for their hard-earned money, and the majority of stylists I chat with don’t take that lightly.

Back in the spring/summer of 2012, I started hearing from stylists at other Toronto salons that there was about to be a new kid on the block. They didn’t tell me with jealousy or competition in their voices – instead, it seemed like they were trying to give me the scoop on the low. I had held the assumption that the salon industry was cut-throat, yet here were stylists telling me to look out for a new natural/curly hair specialty salon that would likely be able to take care of me and my hair without breaking the bank. Finally, I heard that Curl Bar Beauty Salon was open for business – and the rest is pretty much history.

This downtown Toronto salon is multi-service (as noted by their extensive service list), but specializes in caring for all kinds of curly hair. I recently had the honour of interviewing Trudie Mulalu, Curl Bar’s owner, and will share part 1 with you today! Read on to get to know Trudie and Curl Bar a little bit better…

Curl Bar Beauty Salon’s Trudie Mulalu

Welcome to ’83 To Infinity! Tell our readers 3 randomly interesting things about yourself.

1. I am an entrepreneurial mother and have mastered the delicate balance of running a business, having a profession and managing my family.

2. I am patient, calm, personable,  and accommodating;

3. I am a basketball and soccer mom and a die hard Liverpool Soccer club fan:)

Tell us a bit about your own natural hair journey. Did you transition long-term or short-term? Or have you always been natural?

 

I have been natural for eight years but previously had weaves followed by wigs in order to transition back to my natural hair.

How did you get started in the profession of hairstyling? What are your biggest joys and struggles with the job?

My sisters had a hair salon in Zambia – I used to help out and enjoyed the salon ambiance and meeting all kinds of people. I opened my first salon (in the same location- 33A Sherbourne Street) as a business before I became a hairstylist. Watching the stylists at work, I developed a curiosity and wanted to learn about the science of hair. I subsequently did the training in order to enhance my understanding of the technical side of the science of hair. With this understanding came a greater respect for the styling process and its challenges and rewards and I found myself thoroughly enjoying being a stylist.

My biggest joy is being able to connect with my clients beyond servicing their hair needs. Each and everyone of them is unique and special and spending time with them always offers new, enlightening and fresh perspectives on the joys and difficulties of life in general. Before becoming a stylist I underestimated the importance and meaning of hair to people and my experience has taught me to respect the fact that hair is an integral part of their identity and is intrinsically linked to their self-esteem. The service has to be parallel to this and be the best possible every single time. This is the on-going struggle. To stay current and relevant with not only new and improved processes but also with ever evolving trends. Finding the time to stay on top of all this is a challenge and a struggle but it is always a great investment in the services we offer and ultimately and most importantly, it is a value-added service for all our clients.

Both you and Karlene (Curl Bar‘s head stylists) have trained at Lorraine Massey’s Devachan Academy in New York. Curl Bar is a Deva Inspired Salon. What does that mean?

Curl Bar is a Deva Inspired Salon, meaning that we are teaching people how to love and embrace their natural curls/hair by teaching them how to care for it. With a greater understanding comes greater appreciation and love for one’s hair and oneself. That is why our motto is “It’s not just about the hair but the experience!”

You’ve owned salons in both Toronto and Halifax, Nova Scotia – tell us a bit about your business journey, and how the two cities compared to each other.

I previously co-owned Mico’s Hair Design operating out of two locations - 33A Sherbourne St and 645 King Street West. I sold the businesses when we temporarily relocated to Nova Scotia for my husband to pursue his post-graduate studies in architecture at Dalhousie University. Halifax was a very good market as there were only two salons servicing the multicultural community and mine was one of the two.

Toronto is a lot bigger, busy, flat, and more multicultural, Halifax is smaller, intimate with a beautiful landscapes and the people are super friendly and always willing to help.

Toronto is bigger in terms of demographics but other than that, from a business/stylist standpoint, customers have the same hair needs. 

What made you want to own your own salon? What advice would you offer other budding entrepreneurs?

Being a mother I wanted to have more flexibility with my time. The advice I would offer to other budding entrepreneurs is what is generally known but rarely practiced – do what you love! If you are that invested in it, the countless hours invested in making it a viable and sustainable business will be well worth it. It’s not easy but perseverence and hard work have their own rewards.

Tell us about Curl Bar. What were your goals and objectives for opening this salon? What sets Curl Bar apart from other Toronto salons?

Objectives: To provide a nurturing and professional environment where services are provided in a timely manner using an education-based system of empowering clients to be able to maintain their hair at home.  

Difference from other salons:

  • We care greatly about what we do and treat every customer like they are our only customer.
  • We are not only providing excellent professional service in a timely manner but are committed to building long lasting relationships.
  • We strive to impart valuable specific hair maintenance information to our clients to help them manage their hair in between salon visits – and we make ourselves available for post-visit consultations by telephone, email or better still, drop-ins.

What has the response been from your customers? Do you find that more women are embracing their kinks and curls?

I am grateful that the response has been good and very encouraging. More women are certainly embracing their kinks and curls. There really is a curl-volution happening!

What are the top three hair concerns that naturally curly girls come to you with? What advice can you offer?

The three top concerns are: 

 a) dryness and frizz

 b) not knowing the right products to use and how to use them

c) Shrinkage/lack of length

My advice to them would be as follows:

a) Developing and following a moisturizing regiment using the right products for your hair type and needs. Sticking to it will eventually balance the moisture level in the hair and get rid of the dryness and frizz. It starts with the right cleanser, followed by a leave-in conditioner and some pure penetrating oil and then a styler to seal the moisture in and hold the curl.

b) It is worth it to invest the time to go to a professional for a consultation as to what works best for your SPECIFIC hair needs. A person may have different curl patterns on one head that need to be addressed separately. 

c) Shrinkage (sigh) It is what it is, one just has to accept this and work with it. You can only stretch your curls/coils so much. Accept and work with what you have.

Don’t worry – there’s more to come! Part 2 of my interview with Trudie will be up next week! In the meantime, be sure to follow Curl Bar on Twitter, like their Facebook page, and check out their website! You’ll be able to see before/after client shots, get hair care tips, and other goodies! 

Salon Reviews: Pearson Lanes Hair Studio

I feel good, y’all. You know why? Because I think I’ve found my new hair home!

I’ve found a stylist who works with my hair SO WELL – and the results are always on point! Allow me to introduce you to the work of Keren at Pearson Lanes Hair Studio in Whitby, ON.

I first met Keren back in April, when she was hired to be the hairstylist for my cousin’s wedding. As I was a bridesmaid, she hooked me up with an awesome side-swept style with luscious curls (see pic 1 above). My hair was already flat-ironed, and she whipped that style into shape in no time. Whatever tactics she used enabled the style to last for DAYS, and my hair had zero heat damage.

For my own wedding in August, I knew I had to have Keren on board. She came solo and took care of myself and the bridal party with no problems. She was able to manipulate hair of various texture (natural, weaved, permed) into gorgeous styles that held up on that hot summer day. You can see my retro curled updo in pics 2 and 3, and my niece’s cornrow/twist combo in pic 4.

This weekend when I needed a trim, I decided to head east to Keren’s shop. I had no issues booking an appointment with her earlier in the week, but it was something she did on Saturday morning that really impressed me:

My appointment was for 2pm. Keren gave me a call around 11:30am, stating that she was running a bit behind with other clients…would I mind coming in half an hour later? I had no problem with that, and was very impressed that she had the forethought to call me in advance so that I didn’t show up at 2pm and then twiddle my thumbs for 30 minutes.

The cute, quaint, and clean shop is easy to find -  just a few minutes drive from the Brock Street exit off the 401. I showed up, and Keren was ready to go! Let me tell you, she did not disappoint! I went in for a simple wash, style, and trim, but the care and knowledge that Keren used made all the difference. No yanking my hair to detangle, no scratching the hell out of my scalp while washing, no burning my hair off with high-heat appliances, and no mistaking a “trim” for a “haircut”!

I almost let out a sigh of relief when I left the salon (did I mention that I didn’t leave broke either?) – I felt like I finally found a professional who I can trust with my hair, and THAT is hard to find these days. Next up for Keren and I? My long-awaited colour…in light of the recent news about harmful PPD products in hair dye (like my girl Ro talked about here), Keren confirmed that all of her professional hair colour products are PPD free!

If you’re looking for a versatile stylist, especially my natural-haired ladies, you might want to give Keren a try! Check out Pearson Lanes Hair Studio’s Facebook page here, and if you have any other questions, feel free to hit me up!

Update on the Urban Textures Situation

Photo source

So, I just got off the phone with Christos Cox, owner of Urban Textures Salon. After playing a bit of phone tag, I finally got a hold of him and let him know about my recent experience at his salon – if you missed it, here ya go.

I have to say, Christos is a true professional in how he handled the situation. He allowed me the time to detail the story, and relayed back what I said to ensure that he understood clearly. Never once did he minimize my concerns, as so often happens when a customer files a complaint with a business. I let Christos know that his other staff, namely a stylist named Jody (real name, no alias) has always treated me right, so at the very least, a few people could stand to learn from her.  Here’s the kicker though – it seems that Margo has another similar incident under her belt, so this is likely the end of the hair grease and hot comb train for her. Meh. I don’t feel bad.

Christos has offered me the full service that I originally came in for, and after speaking to him today, I will likely take him up on that offer once I get back from honeymooning. After that, we’ll see what happens. Y’all know how hard it is to find a good salon that does what you want and does it well, without murdering your wallet. However, the respect that I’m due as a client is worth much more to me. I’ll give Urban Textures a chance to make this right, but after that, I’ll be much more selective. I work hard for my money, and lost time can never be found. Respect that, and we’re good to go.

Thank you, Christos!

Rants, Raves & Reviews: Why You Won’t Catch Me At Urban Textures Salon

Here are a few things I hate:

  • making meticulous plans and having them fall apart
  • being disrespected
  • having my time wasted
  • being disappointed by people/a company which has never disappointed me before

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll explain to you how all of the above happened to me on Friday, and why I’ll subsequently never set foot in Urban Textures salon in Scarborough again.

In recent posts, you may have remembered me alluding to some new, exciting thing I was going to do with my hair. I didn’t just have you all waiting in suspense – the husband, my mother, and my best homegirls were all waiting with bated breath to see what look I was going to reveal this weekend. I’ll just cut to the chase and say that when I walked into Fashionably Late on Friday night, everyone was like, “Oh…that’s it?” Here’s the story:

Two weeks ago, I contacted my go-to salon, Urban Textures (Scarborough location) to set up a hair appointment. No spots were available for me on the Saturday I requested, so I ended up moving the appointment to this past Friday. Thursday afternoon, I got a courteous call to confirm that I would be arriving for my 6pm appointment. Now, imagine my surprise when I received a call Friday at noon, asking if it would “be better” for me to come on Wednesday of this week. I politely explained that if Wednesday was better for me, I would have booked on Wednesday. I needed my appointment, and had booked well in advance. The caller stated that there had been a mix-up with the stylist, but there would be no problem with me keeping my 6pm appointment.

I headed out of work later that afternoon, and made the stop-and-go trek across the 401 to Morningside. I arrived at the salon at 5:30, checked in, and waited for my stylist. A few minutes later, she came and introduced herself (we’ll call her Margo). We discussed my plans – to get a bright, sunshiny, multi-dimensional colour similar to Tanika Ray’s:

(source)

We went to the colour bar, looked at various swatches, and picked out the dyes. I got dressed in my salon cape and got a fresh glass of orange juice. Margo mentioned she just had to finish a client’s blow dry job, and she would be right with me. Here’s where the clock started ticking and things got funky.

I noticed that there was a family of about 5 who were all in various stages of getting their hair done. Margo was tending to a few, and another stylist (let’s call her Tina) was tending to the others. As everyone flitted about with this family and ignored me, I realized what must have happened. It was confirmed for me when I heard the Mama Bear of the family say to Tina, “Thanks so much for taking us on short notice!” DING DING DING!!! Urban Textures figured they would try to bump me, one lowly customer, to make room for the last-minute booking of 5 clients. Mo’ money = mo’ problems, so they tried to fix the problem by trying to get me to move to Wednesday. I started getting hot, and at about 6:50, I was about to take off my cape and hit the door. All of a sudden, Margo looked over and was jolted back to the reality of my presence. I saw her pull Tina and the front desk girl into a pow-wow, with all of them nervously looking at me while they spoke. Mama Bear and her crew were finally heading out the door, when Margo came to speak to me.

“I’m SO sorry for the wait,” she began. “So, it’s 7pm now. We close by 9pm, and I leave soon… Unfortunately, I won’t be able to start your colour, but we WILL do a wash and style for free (insert big Kool-Aid smile here)!”

“A wash and style….for free.” I repeated. She nodded excitedly, waiting for me to jump out my chair and praise God that I wasn’t going to come out of pocket. I think I said it again. “A wash and style, for free.” I felt myself getting so mad that I bypassed yelling and cussing mode, and was going into silent mode. When Margo began babbling about rescheduling my appointment to later in the week or next weekend, I cut her off and let her know that wasn’t possible. I was going on my honeymoon. When she started babbling about me coming in first thing the next morning, I let her know that wasn’t possible either. I was going to London to visit my sick cousin. I let her know that this is all why I booked my appointment for the date it was set for. I could see on her face that she felt horribly, and tried to give me a hug. I’m not a hugger, especially with strangers who have wasted my time, so that didn’t go well. She quickly hurried off to pow-wow with Tina again to “see what they could do.”

After a minute or two, Tina came over. She apologized. She rolled her eyes and started badmouthing Margo. She offered me a free deep treatment in addition to the wash and style to make up for my lost time. I let Tina know that I would accept the free services, but they in no way made up for the fact that I did not get what I came for. I let her know the only reason I was accepting the service was that I had somewhere to be later that night, and had no time now to go home and style my hair properly. The apologies went in one ear and out the other while she did my hair. Other customers seemed to be waiting for me to blow up, probably hoping they’d be able to submit a ratchet video to Worldstarhiphop.com, but I was so mad, all I could do was be silent. I get like that sometimes. Plus, I knew that making a stink wouldn’t do anything to make an impact. That’s why I chose to stay silent, and planned to vent with this blog post, and with the phone call and email that the owner, Christos Cox, will be receiving from me on Monday.

About an hour later, I left the salon with a free, fresh blow-out and flat iron. However, Tina continued to annoy the hell out of me by trying to sell me $80 worth of product “to take on my honeymoon” (I guess she wanted to help me spend my extra money), and by letting me know once she was finished that my hair needed a trim, which she promised to do when I came back for my colour. Which will be never.

Here’s my before:

And here’s my after:

Don’t get me wrong – I worked the hell outta that flat iron at Fashionably Late, but the point is, it wasn’t what I wanted.

As I mentioned at the start of this novel of a post, I hate plans falling through. I hate being disrespected. I hate my time being wasted. And I hate being disappointed by someone who has never disappointed me before. All of my past visits to Urban Textures in Scarborough (there is also a location in downtown Toronto on Gerrard) have been amazing. I’ve sung their praises and referred other friends and acquaintances there as well, but after this episode, all of that will come to an end. You’ve gotta give the good with the bad, so this is a story that people will also hear if they ask for my thoughts on this salon. Christos will need to educate his staff on the proper way to handle clients, and remind them that chasing after quick money won’t always end well. Hopefully Mama Bear and her cubs will become consistent clients at Urban Textures Scarborough, because they’ve lost me.

Have you ever had a terrible experience at a salon? Did you ever go back? And since I still need a colour done, any recommendations on where I should go?

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