Community Voices: In Conversation with Caraya Rose
Community Voices is a series shining a spotlight on Black-owned, small businesses in the Bay Area. We talk about the challenges and rewards of running a small business, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and how living simply and empathetically is our future.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a hair stylist?
I'm Caraya Rose and I'm the owner of Art of Beauty Hair Studio here in San Francisco. I consider myself a haircare connoisseur and an artist. My journey to becoming a hair stylist started during my childhood. I watched My Godmother, and my mom do hair all the time. I would play with my dolls’ hair, my sister and my cousins. And my godmother had a salon for as long as I can remember. I spent a lot of weekends with her, a lot of summer breaks with her, and so I became like her little assistant and a little protégée without even realizing it. I would shampoo her clients, I would blow dry them, I would prep them for relaxers. I would wrap their hair and just get them ready for whatever styling she was gonna do, and so I was just hands-on learning before I was even 11 years old. And so I knew, coming out of high school that I either wanted to be Beyoncé, or a hair stylist. And so, I went straight to cosmetology school, after high school, at Hill Top Beauty School in Daly City.
I had 16 hours out of 1600 left to complete and get my certification and graduate from beauty school, and I went into labor with my oldest son, and by the time I went to State Board to get licensed, I was pregnant with my youngest son. About four or five months after I tried to do hair full-time, initially. I got licensed in 2000, and it just wasn't gonna work for me, it wasn't conducive for me being a new mom and trying to build a clientele, it was just really a struggle.
And so I just went into the corporate world for many years. I worked in the mortgage industry, I was an administrative assistant for different companies, and then the big layoff happened for everybody in 2008, and so I still struggled to work here and there. I worked at Kaiser and I was just tired of getting laid off, and temp positions ending. And I was like, You know what, I'm gonna try to just do this. I need to at least give it a try, 'cause this other stuff isn't marking out for me, and so I ended up just taking that leap of faith, and I started doing hair full-time in 2009, and I haven't looked back since.
What is your philosophy or approach when it comes to doing hair?
Okay, so my philosophy and approach to doing hair is, I consider myself a hair care connoisseur. And I specialize in haircare, so I provide services that promote healthy hair and scalp. I utilize products that promote healthy hair and scalp. And my initial contact or interaction with the client is the mandatory consultation. I do that because I just want to learn about the client -- what their ultimate hair goal is -- so we can discuss where there hair is now, where I can take them, and the things they need to do in order to get there.
I go along with them on this healthy hair journey, and we discuss everything from hair products to regularly scheduled appointments, to their lifestyle, their diet, and just learning their hair, embracing their hair, and learning to work with what they have and the best things to feed it. People think that it's an overnight thing, and it's not, it takes time and it takes commitment. It's an investment, but it's the same thing as investing in a personal trainer. If you're trying to lose weight, then you're not gonna just go to the gym once a week, you're gonna go as often as the trainer tells you to, you're gonna eat the right things, so you can get the results you want to get, so I think it's really important to convey that to clients, so that they can understand the commitment that they are gonna have to stick with in order to reach those hair goals.
How do you help your clients feel good about themselves?
So I think I help my clients feel good about themselves by just being myself, you know, I'm just real... I don't put on any airs. No pretentiousness. I'm just down to earth. It's like a sisterhood when you come in here. It's like hanging out, but you're getting your hair done at the same time. I want to make my clients feel like they have a connection with me. I'm all about good energy, good vibes, good spirit, and I try to give that out because that's what I wanna get in return.
You know, when people come to get their hair done, it's not just about getting your hair done, it's about the entire experience, so I've gone out of my way to create a community within my salon where we can vent to one another. Typically, stylists are parallel to therapists, you know, people feel comfortable enough to vent to the stylist about the promotion they didn't get at work or some loser that they just got done dumping, or a new guy that they're dating, or family issues or just like deep secrets. And so they look to you for comfort, and I try to give that to my clients. I also always want to encourage them to just appreciate who they are and the unique beauty that they have, and the way that I do that is just simply showing them like, This is your hair, this is all you have, so work with this. Understand that this is beautiful, you don't need to do more... less is always more.
And I just want them to always feel like they could come in here and just have self-care, just me time. They can read books in here about their hair and educate themselves while they're sitting under the dryer or the steamer getting a hair treatment. We talk about current events and politics and the latest reality show that's on, and we talk about so many various things, and it's just a good time. So... when you're in good spirits and in a good environment, you automatically are gonna feel good about yourself, you know. You have other clients that are complimenting your hair when it's done and when you walk out the door, your hair's blowing in the wind, and it just gives you that extra boost of confidence. And so I think just being myself, being warm, inviting, not making them feel like they're on an assembly line, like they're just being passed from this person to that person for different services throughout the process, just having that one-on-one time and making a connection with them. Starting at the consultation is a good foundation of just creating a rapport with them right off the bat, and so I think they feel good, they look good, and that's how I accomplish that.
What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?
So the challenges that I have faced as a small business owner… Whoa, not having any money to start my business. I had a great vision, but I didn't have a substantial amount of money, and I didn't get a bank loan. This is my second location. My first salon, I had opened in 2011. It was in a small studio, it was just literally like blank walls. There was nothing about it that said “Salon” but I'm creative so I made do with what I had. I opened it with about $4000. So I purchased equipment that kinda cleaned out the majority of that, and then I just would build on it as I would make more money, and so I found ways around that struggle.
I did the same thing here. I didn't start off with everything that's in here, I just kinda had the same bootstrap mentality that Madam CJ Walker had, where she just started with what she had and it grew. And it also actually makes you appreciate it, I think, a little bit more when you know that you've built it kinda brick by brick, and then you see the fruition of everything that you pinned on your Pinterest board or that you dreamed about and that you prayed about, so it just definitely is a struggle when you don't have money to open a business.
So I had a struggle financially, but I also had a struggle with discrimination. Trying to find a space in San Francisco with no money is one thing, but also being a Black woman trying to open up a small business is another. Because my name is Caraya, I mean clearly, I'm Black, when you hear that name, it’s unique... it's beautiful, I love it. But all my life, it's been a struggle for people to pronounce it correctly and so on and so forth, and so I've always kind of defaulted to Rose, which is my middle name. I had an experience where I called for a space to rent, and I initially said my name is Caraya, and they were like, Oh, you know, this is already leased. And so I was like, Okay, let me just see. Maybe it's all in my head. Let me just check and see if it's all in my head and I called back later from a different number, it was like, Hi, this is Rose, and it was like, Oh yeah, it’s available, when would you like to come see it? And so, I was just like, I'll never find a space if this is what I'm dealing with out here. But I didn't let that deter me, I was determined to have my business because I knew that what I could offer to people was needed. There was a niche for what I offer. And so I wanted to just get somewhere and get established and so, yeah, you have your struggles, whether it be financial or discrimination or whatever you may need to deal with, but you get past it and you persevere...
What do you love about being a small business owner?
What I love about being a business owner is it makes me feel just extremely empowered. I've worked for other people, and I just never felt like I was a good fit in anyone's company, and it was because I really am a born entrepreneur. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. As I mentioned before, my godmother, she had a salon for many years of my life… my grandmother was an entrepreneur… my dad... my aunt ran a whole Shell gas station that she owned. And so I always had a sense of pride watching them have their own businesses.
Having the control of your destiny, being able to dictate what happens day-to-day, setting the tone, creating your own vibe and just being able to feel like I created this, and this is a passion of mine and it's serving a purpose that's bigger than myself. I love being a blessing to women who, when they get done getting their hair done, or when they see the progress of their hair growing and getting healthier, they're like, You did this! And it's just very fulfilling to be able to provide that for people, and so, more than anything I want to make my son's proud.
I believe that entrepreneurship is the pathway to generational wealth, and I want to leave my mark on this Earth. I wanna leave a legacy for my children, their children, their children's children's children, and I appreciate and love the fact that I'm a Black woman who owns a business in San Francisco, which is very rare, there are a very few Black-owned businesses in San Francisco so I'm very proud of that. There was a time, many, many years ago where as a Black woman, I may not have been able to be afforded an opportunity to be a business owner, there were so many challenges involved in just surviving, and so I don't ever want to have my ancestors and predecessors efforts and hard work and sacrifice be in vain. I want to make them proud. I want to make my children proud, I'm want to make my family proud, and again, I just want to leave a legacy that my children can remember and be proud of.
You are also an artist, tell us a little bit about your art and the inspiration behind it?
I primarily paint, beautiful, powerful, extraordinary, fearless, strong Black women who I admire, like Erykah Badu, Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Solange. They are just, to me, so unique in their being, and looking at them, listening to their music, their clothing, it's all art, and so it draws you in. And so I just started painting one day because I had a need for art work in my salon. When I came up with the concept of Art of Beauty Hair Studio, I wanted it to be partly a gallery as well, but the artists whose work that I really loved, I just couldn't afford it at the time, and so I said, Let me just see if I can do this. But the first painting that I did was like a kindergartener finger painting. And the second piece that I did, it just blew me away that I could do it. It's called Happiness. It’s a picture of my little cousin, she had her fro out, she had no make-up on, she just looked really natural and happy and she was glowing, and I was like, That, I'm gonna paint that. And so the results were beautiful and it was almost unbelievable that my hands could create something like that. And so I just was drawn in at that point.
I have a friend who is an amazing artist, and I admire him so much, and he once said that, “Creativity is you and God without a middle man.” And I truly believe that, because when I'm painting, I'm in the zone. I just light some candles, play some good music, I might have a glass of wine, and I'm just going in and I don't hear or see anything else around me, it's very euphoric, it's very relaxing. It became like my solace, because for years being a mom, my children were my priority, and every mom kinda loses themselves in motherhood. And so my kids were getting older, they were doing their own thing, and I needed to find something for myself. And so while most people see my art work and they're like, You need to sell this and you need to get this in galleries! For me, if that happens, great. But for me, it's what makes me happy, it brings me peace, it brings me joy outside of being behind the chair and interacting with clients, it's like that thing for me that doesn't have a price on it. It's priceless to me. And so I love painting, and it's a gift that God has given me, and I hope that I can be a successful artist one day when I'm tired of doing hair, I could just go in to being a fulltime artist, 'cause honestly, if I could just paint 24/7 that's what I would be doing.
What would you like to see from the Bay Area and across the nation in terms of supporting Black-owned businesses?
Okay, what I would like to see in the Bay Area regarding supporting Black-owned businesses is pretty much just coming together. Be more unified, supporting one another, promoting each other's businesses. You know, there are people who have large followings on social media and they charge you to post about your business, but we should be screaming about these businesses from the mountain top just in support of each other. I think it's really important, especially at a time like this, for us to be unified, and it starts at home, and we should be operating as a family, that's how we're gonna grow as a community. And not only that, I don't want people to just support my business or our businesses, just because they're Black-owned, we should be providing exemplary service, it should just be, I wanna support that business 'cause it's a great business, I had an amazing experience there, and it happens to be a Black-owned business.
What would you like to see in terms of supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement?
When it comes to the Black Lives Matter Movement, I feel like it's really important for people to understand why this movement has to exist. It's about doing the work, reading, doing research, having real conversations about what our experience is in America and abroad. It's really, really important that you understand that you have to learn for yourself, you can't expect for us to suffer through this and then also give you all the information and insight. Like if you really want to learn, then learn. There's a million companies now, creating more diversity and inclusion positions and to me, that’s kind of pacifying us. That's fine, but put us who are qualified, in those higher positions so that we can be behind scenes, making important decisions, so that you don't have to create a position specifically for diversity. That doesn't really make sense. I think it makes more sense to just understand that we're all human beings and we're all qualified in our own ways. We're all just wanting to live on this earth together, productively, as people, and I think it's really important to just gain that insight for yourself so that you can understand why this movement has to exist.
As a black woman, the Black Lives Matter movement means everything to me. The fact that there are people on the front lines fighting for justice, supporting all of us who aren't brave enough to be out there on the front lines, this movement came from a place of deep pain, frustration, and mostly anger. That's what I feel every time I hear about a Black person being murdered by a racist police officer or just a racist person. I have two sons, and my sons could have been Ahmaud Arbery or Trayvon Martin, my uncles could have been George Floyd. I could be Sandra Bland or Breonna Taylor. That's the reality we live in every single day that we leave our homes and not even... We don't even have to leave our homes… And to know that there's a possibility that my sons could walk out the door and be murdered just for being Black, and then the cop doesn't even have to serve time, they just get desk jobs or whatever happens? It's just when people respond to Black Lives Matter, and they say, “all lives matter”… We don't want to have to say Black Lives Matter, but we're the ones being gunned down in the street like roadkill… To watch that... for the world to see that, and then these police officers don't have to face any jail time... it makes me so mad. It pisses me off. I know I'm crying, but it's not sad, it's anger, it's frustration because we've been dealing with this FOREVER. It's very heavy. And could you imagine going through a pandemic, like what we're dealing with, this is all new to everyone, we're trying to learn how to navigate through COVID 19, and in the midst of that, to have a man who wasn't doing anything wrong, be murdered like that? To look at that man's face while he was dying, to look at the police officer's face while he was murdering him, it’s unfathomable.
To have people be willing to say, we are sick and tired of being sick and tired, we are going to try to do something about this, it makes me feel proud. I'm grateful for it. I'm grateful for every single protester that goes out there. I'm grateful for allies. I'm grateful for people who are trying to make a difference. And I think this particular incident created more unity amongst human beings. And it's maybe because it was a time when we were all still, and people were actually able to watch it, 'cause sometimes, you know in the past when people have seen these things... it’s like it doesn’t happen. Like it’s a movie, and it's not a movie for us.
When you can see yourself in that person, the fear that overcomes you, you just can't even describe it, and I hope that this movement makes a change. I don't want it to just be a moment, I want it to be a movement that changes the world. I really feel like it has made some changes, but we still have a long road ahead of us. I'm proud when I look at the Black Lives Matter rolling down Fulton Street in my city of San Francisco, that makes me really proud. But we need to do something about the police training, that's really important. And I know Mayor Breed is absolutely 100% going full force ahead to make some changes, and so I'm proud of her for that, and appreciative of her for that. But across the country, in every city, there just needs to be some major changes so that these cops can be brought to justice and that they can be trained to not be so fearful for their lives, so where they feel like they're intimidated by a kid with a pack of Skittles in his hand, or a guy coming from the liquor store, or a man sitting in the car… You know Philando Castile was murdered in front of his daughter, I watched that on Facebook Live, Facebook Live. And those cops are not in prison. Everybody saw it, the world saw it, Facebook is world-wide, international, and those cops got off. So if it's filmed and they get off, what about if there's no cell phone around and they can just kill you? And that's it, they get off.
This movement for me is more than just a hashtag, it is real life, it is our daily experience, it presents a lot of side effects, almost PTSD-type of issues… anxiety, depression, we're gonna all need therapy when this is all done, because you can't just be going through something like this and think, Oh, we'll be fine on the other side of it. No, you need somebody to talk to, you need somebody to vent, and so I definitely feel like this movement gives us an opportunity to also educate ourselves on local and state government who are in those positions to make decisions about police being brought to justice.
We are learning more about organizing, about pulling together as a community, creating businesses is really, really important in that because we wanna be able to sustain in this economy as a people. The movement as a whole, to me, it's not just about fighting against police brutality and people being murdered by racist cops and racist people, it is a whole life-changing, enlightening, existing… We have to just exist in a different way, we have to live together and we need to learn more about one another so that we could treat each other the way we want to be treated, ultimately, at the end of the day... This is a very touchy subject for me, 'cause... it just makes me angry at the end of the day, that's what it really boils down to. I get angry 'cause there shouldn't even be a reason for us to say it.
Who inspires you and why?
Okay, I'm inspired by God, because I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am in life without God. I'm inspired in business by all the women who paved the way for me, like Madam C.J. Walker, Annie Malone, Marjorie Joiner, Christine Howell, Rose Meta Morgan. They overcame challenges of racism and classism at a time when it seemed impossible. They broke through the bondage of oppression and innovation and creativity and shifted the culture of beauty standards and practices that created businesses that educated and employed and empowered other Black women and it really uplifted our people. And so that's what I aspire to do as a business owner, as a stylist, as an artist. I want to create a pathway. One of the things I want to do with my business is create a side business where I open up my salon to hosting an event for young, emerging Black artists.
We're not always given an opportunity to show our work in high-end galleries or even have a space that we can afford to put on an art show, and so I want to do that for young, emerging black artists, because I know if I was young starting out, I would want that opportunity for myself. And they inspire me, I'm inspired by other artists, and so I wanna create just a platform for them. Any type of hand I can land and helping them with exposure for their art work, that's what I wanna do because that's what my predecessors did. They paved the way for me and I want to be able to do the same.