From being the highest earner at JCPenney to being a superstar celebrity hairstylist, this talented Texas southern belle keeps rising to the top! What a living jewel! Lena is an Angel sent from heaven. What a blessing to interview such an amazingly gifted woman!
Not only is she inspiration to me, but she is an inspiration to her community and the entire world. She is a proverbs 31 woman. On top of all her amazingness, she's produced her own Reality TV show, The Real Hair Junkies of Houston Tx. While interviewing Lena, several times, I was compelled to give her a standing ovation just from our conversation alone. Lena has a heart of gold. She will go out of her way to do anything for someone in need. To me, that's what makes someone a superstar! Not only is she a talented woman with a beautiful heart, but she is a woman who cares deeply about her family and the underserved children within her community.
Lena is one of the most talented hair stylists around! Her style, grace, knowledge, and skill has set her in a category above all others in her industry. From owning her own salon to being a platform artist and motivational speaker, Lena does it all! This boss lady has it going on! The best thing of all, she loves God. It's always wonderful to speak to someone who gives God all the glory. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to interview this remarkable woman. Here's what we talked about. Hi Lena, how are you doing today? I am fantastic. How are you? I am wonderful. Thank you so much for agreeing to take time out of your busy schedule to speak with me today. Yes, I'm excited. So am I! I’m inspired by you! You are amazing! Thank you so much, I appreciate that. Where are you located, Lena? Houston, TX. Is it cold out there? Houston’s weather is bipolar. When you leave home, you wear shorts and take a winter coat at the same time.
Oh no Lena! Yes, and now I'm peeling them off. This weather is extremely unpredictable. You have an amazing journey. Would you like to share with our readers a little bit about what you've lived? OK. My name is Lena, but everybody calls me Mingo. I'm from a small town, out of Alabama. I’m one of twelve siblings. What's even more exciting is that all of them are still living. My mom and dad were married for 53 years, before my father’s passing 13 years ago. They made sure that all of us went to college. So that's what we did, my sisters and brothers. From childhood, my parents installed in us the importance of getting a good education. My parents raised us military style. As soon as we got up, we had to make our beds. You may not believe this, but none of us wore the same size clothing. So quite naturally, that was expensive. But coming from such a large family, we had relatives that helped out. Because my aunt and grandfather had money, they made sure we had no lack.
We were raised on a farm, but we had plenty. We were always inspired by our parents to do our best. Therefore, we did just that, our best. So, as you can see, my father made a tremendous impact on all our lives. I love my family! I'm such a family girl!
What a wonderful thing to have a close family. Do you have any children? Yes, I have three kids and three grandchildren. They do very well for themselves. I'm extremely proud of all of them! Not only do we take care of each other, but we love and support one another. How did your family react to the news that you were going to be in your own reality series? When I first approached them about being in my own reality show, they looked at me as though I were crazy. They wondered where did I get that idea? But regardless of what they thought, being from a close-knit family, they supported me. This is the way our parents raised us. Knowing that my family is supportive of my dream is one of the most important things in the world. Tell me about your journey of where you came from, and where you are today? My first job as a hairstylist was assistant to Michael Kemper at Sakowitz. At the time I was still in Beauty school. Because of my ardent desire to further my education and expand my knowledge in hair, I chose to be his assistant. Michael inspired me! In fact, he inspired me so much that I wanted to stay. So, there came a time when he had to kick me out of the nest, and I wasn't sure what my next step would be after graduation. But being the amazing person Michael was, he made sure that I got a job. He assisted me in getting hired at Foley's. I worked there for a couple of years, then left to work at JCPenney’s Salon. During my time working at JCPenney Salon, I was the highest earner. I made $150,000 for JC Penny in the first year. I learned so much working for that company. They sent me all over the world for training. All my foundational training came from working for JCPenney. It was awesome! I loved that place!
What happened after leaving JCPenney?
I opened my own salon. I ran my own salon for 20 years. Although my business was extremely profitable, I got tired. As much as I enjoyed only owning my salon, after a while, it became stressful. It got so bad that it began to affect my health. My doctor even told me that I had to make the choice either to close the shop, or live. Quite naturally I chose the latter. So, to alleviate the stress and pressure, I decided to rent my own room and conduct my business from there. Additional opportunities did open for me. I traveled the world as a platform artist and motivational speaker for about eight or nine years. I went everywhere! My journey has been exciting! My journey has been exciting! It gets better every day! That's wonderful! So, you spoke about your new reality series coming out. And you also shared with me about how your family has been the biggest support system in your life. Yes
So, you are the producer of your own reality series called real hair Junkies in Houston, TX? Yes I've seen some of the reality series that they have on television. Some of them are quite interesting, but some are quite disturbing. Personally, I'm not a fan of how they portray beautiful successful black women fighting one another. There's always roses and the beginning, but in the end, lives and reputations are destroyed. My question to you is, if you have done so much to build a solid foundation and a great reputation within your community, are you at all concerned about the chaos and backlash this could cost to your career and character If your reality series takes the path that previous reality series have? Absolutely! I was very concerned about that. I say that because this younger generation needs positive role models to look up to. At the same time, I feel as though we are not so far gone where we can't bring them back in. My clients have always viewed me as being positive, uplifting, caring and integral. I am determined to uphold my integrity. Furthermore, in our salon, we don't act like that. My clients have been coming to me for over 30 years. Not only do I do my clients, but I am also a generational hairstylist. I style the mother, the children, the grandchildren, and the great grandchildren. My clients are like my family. They only see the best in me, and I give them the best of me! My clients are the best!
How does a salon owner keep their staff working together as a cohesive team? I don't gossip and I’m a great listener. As a hairstylist I understand the value of confidentiality. Although many of my clients share intimate details of their life with me, our conversations are always confidential. A long time ago, I used to gossip, but I don't do it any longer because gossiping gets you in a lot of trouble. Another thing is I don't talk negatively about other hair stylists. When clients come in and share their experiences with other hair stylists, I simply tell them that everybody does things differently. And that's where I conclude that conversation. If there's something they need done, and I'm unable to fulfill that task, I will refer them to another hairstylist. My model is, treat people the way you want to be treated. This is a lesson that my father instilled in us, and I still live by it today. I've heard that you've styled some celebrity hair. Who have you styled? I've styled Aliyah before. The crazy part is that I didn't even know it was her. I met her through a friend of mine who did her makeup. He told me he wanted me to stall her. What's this? Unfortunately, I didn't get credit for it. Even though they accredited someone else for the job I did, I was OK with that. But I've styled a lot of people! It's too many to remember. Anyone who came to Houston, came to my salon, because it was the #1 salon in Houston, Tx. As a stylist, what are your specialties? Many stylists shy away from styling natural hair. I must admit, in the beginning, I was one of those stylists, but now I embrace it. Styling natural hair is now my number one thing! When it first came out, everyone was saying I don't like it, but I believe the reason they don't like it is because they don't know what to do with it. Once they learned what to do and how to embrace it, they became more comfortable with it. Once you learn what to do, everything becomes easy. So, the field is wide open. See, when wigs came out, it almost killed the hair industry, so something new had to happen to save our industry from completely crumbling. Within the last few years, how has your business been affected by all of the major changes that have happened in our world? When the pandemic first hit, I was discombobulated. I couldn't get a grasp on what was going on. Honestly, I was unsure as to what my next move would be regarding my future. After being in the house for almost two months, I lost it! It was especially hard on me because I’m a people person. I felt like I lost communication with the entire world. As hard as I've tried, I couldn't figure it out. One thing I will tell you, in the end, I knew God had everything under control. The thing that I needed to do was to change my negative thinking and start seeing things differently. I told myself, “When you go back into the salon, you're going to do something different.” So, I chose to tap into natural hair 100%. That's what catapulted my business back into a solid state.
I’m sure you had to work hard to get your clients hair back into a healthy state after the pandemic. Yes. The age range of my clientele is between 9 and 92. My older clients had the biggest challenges integrating back into normal society. Even now, I still have clients who are hesitant about coming to get their hair done. We do everything we can to make our clients feel welcome and safe. We are serious about creating a healthy environment. Some of the measures we put in place are hand sanitizers and mask wearing. When I step into that salon, I realize that it's not about me, it's about the client. Serving my clients and making them happy is my priority. That's amazing! I totally agree! Customer service is something that's difficult to find these days. What's the key to longevity in this industry and keeping your clients happy and satisfied for four generations? Your kindness. Kindness is everything! Simply treat people the way you want to be treated. Do you know that kindness is in the Bible 365 times? Whatever my clients need, I do my best to accommodate them. You know what Gina? I stay excited about life. Everyone says I'm the life of the party. Someone asked me one time. Do I have any problems? I told them if I do, I take them to the Lord. I've had some rough times in my life, but God has brought me through them all. God has been good to me, so I extend that love to my clients. I treat them like royalty from the time they step into my salon until the time they leave. Did you ever experience fear of failure when you first decided to open your salon? Absolutely. I think most people do. I was so excited I didn't see the red flags. I know I'm going to get in trouble for this, but. Part of my apprehension was that a lot of black people don't like to pay to get their hair done. They want their hair to look beautiful, but they don't want to pay for it. When it got to the point where I had to make a choice whether to pay my rent or my house note, it was time for me to leave.
So, you have two boys and a girl, how did you manage raising them and becoming a top hairstylist? I beat myself up about working long hours more than my kids. This is something that people need to understand about kids. As long as your children can eat pizza and hang out with their friends, they're good! Sometimes I would have ridiculous schedules. There were times I would go into the shop at 6:00 AM in the morning and leave out at 4:00 o'clock AM the following morning. One thing I will say is that my children had good fathers, so that made a significant difference. Most definitely. They used to tell my children. Your mother loves you so much! She just loves to work. And I did. I loved my job! You are such a kind and inspirational person. Have there ever been times when someone misunderstood your kindness? Yes, I've worked in a few other salons with stylists who prejudged me upon my entrance. They automatically decided not to like me. I didn't understand that. One girl told me that I was too much for her. I kept pondering that statement over and over in my head. I couldn't understand that because everywhere I go, I'm well accepted. I've even been accused of being too nice.
Are you involved in any types of charities? I give all the time. I'm extremely passionate about giving! My family is the same way. It breaks my heart to see people hungry. Any opportunity that I have where I can be a blessing to someone, I take advantage of it. I've had people tell me that they wish they had the type of clothes that I had. So, I do my best to give clothes to those who are less fortunate than me. Another thing, my motto is no child should go to bed hungry.
I do my best to make sure the children in our community have adequate school supplies and have their hair healthy and well kept. You would not believe how many children’s hair I style for free. Because their parents cannot afford to get their children's hair done, I donate my services.
You know, some kids can be very mean and bully other kids. I don't want these children to experience that because their hair is not done. I want to use the talent God gave me to help others. I give from my heart. I remember meeting a beautiful young lady at Olive Garden. She was our server. She was a genuinely nice young lady. I told her. Why are you so nice? You're actually nicer than me. She told me that she left everything she had, and moved here from Minneapolis, MN as a single parent mom with five kids. She went on to say the reason she moved here because her six-year-old had a knot on his neck and they found out that it was cancerous. So, she had to drop everything, and they flew her son here for treatment. She's been here for about two years now.
Her mother came with her, but her mother is now past. She doesn't have any family here either. So, as you can imagine, she's struggling. So, what I decided to do was to raise enough money for her so that I could help her for Christmas. I wanted to make sure her and other families like her are taken care of.
God bless you! What a beautiful and amazing heart you have! What a beautiful and amazing heart you have! Her story touches my heart! Thank you
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