Cherish Stewart, 24
Owner and stylist, Uptown Curl, Kennebunk
The last six years have been busy for Cherish Stewart. After graduating from Kennebunk High School in 2009, Stewart went straight to Empire Beauty School in Portland. In 2010 she became a licensed cosmetologist and in 2014 opened her own salon, Uptown Curl, in Kennebunk.
In between, she went to Albuquerque, N.M., to apprentice at her aunt’s hairdressing salon, had a baby – her son Isaiah is 31?2 years old now – and came back East, where she worked as a stylist at the Spa at River’s Edge before opening her own place.
Stewart first considered the possibility of starting her own salon while helping a friend through the process of opening a business.
“It gave me the confidence,” said Stewart. “The fact that she did it and that I could do it, too. And the time I spent with my aunt helped me fine tune my skills and learn more about color.”
Confidence and a passion for her work propelled Stewart, who is just 24, forward with her dream of running her own salon.
“I love the artistic side of the art of hair color and cutting,” said Stewart, “and making people feel beautiful.”
When she’s not working Stewart enjoys spending time with her family, her pets – she has a dog and two cats – and being outdoors. She is also an avid photographer.
“I had an internship with photographer Robert Akers when I was at Kennebunk High School. It was fantastic. I had thought about going into the field but really enjoy the styling world,” said Stewart. “I may focus more attention on photography in the future.”
One of six girls and three boys in a blended family, Stewart credits them with helping her to grow her client list and for being supportive of her work.
“I used my family for practice,” she said. “I would do haircuts and there are some siblings that would try wild colors.”
Uptown Curl is a full-service salon offering cuts, color, full body waxing, facials, manicures and pedicures. Stewart is also certified in hair extensions.
“I’m one of the few master hair extensionists in Maine,” said Stewart. “I work with lots of different people. Some people do hair extensions for special events, like my sister, who is in a Miss Maine pageant. Some have thin, fine hair. Then there are those who have had cancer and I work with them as their hair grows back after treatment. Hair extensions provide that instant gratification that makes you feel good.”
Extensions generally last four to six months, according to Stewart, who said the process, which involves fusing individual strands of hair that have a keratin tip with the client’s natural hair, can take six or more hours for a full head.
“I spent thousands of dollars for education in this service. It’s very time consuming,” she said. “It’s human hair. I work with S.O. Cap hair extensions. There is no damage to the hair. We just heat (the extension) and slide out to remove. We don’t want to hurt the hair.”
Styling hair for wedding parties is another area that Stewart specializes in.
“I love doing weddings. It is so fun to be a part of the day for people and have an influence on the pictures the couple will look back on to remember their day,” she said. “One of my clients flew me to San Diego to do the hair for the wedding party. They paid for my hotel, the flight, and I went to the wedding. It was beautiful and an amazing experience.”
Stewart said she travels all over Maine for weddings and her salon participates in bridal shows whenever they can, such as a recent event at the Double Tree Hotel in Portland.
When asked what qualities are important, especially for a young person in starting and managing a business, Stewart said it’s all about hard work.
“I’m an independent, driven, strong young (single) mother who wants to be successful,” said Stewart. “You have to set goals and work hard.”
Stewart said her first year in business has been better than she thought it would be.
“I started with minimal equipment. I didn’t want to go into debt so I didn’t take out any loans,” she said. “I bought used equipment when I could and as the year went on I reinvested the profits back into the business. I’ve upgraded slowly, not all at once. That way my overhead costs were kept lower and more affordable. I haven’t had any issues paying the rent or my bills. Bill paying is easy as long as I keep a to-do list and stay organized.”
The young entrepreneur did have an established client list before she opened Uptown Curl. And she has a comfort level with social media that other salon owners might not.
“There’s a younger vibe here in Kennebunk. We take advantage of all the social media and marketing available to us,” said Stewart. “It has made a huge difference in our growth. We use it every day.”
Three stylists and a nail technician have joined the salon, with a fifth team member set to join in December. Supervising staff has been the biggest challenge for Stewart.
“Managing employees as a young leader has been hard, but I’m getting better at it. And I learn more and more each day about people, personality and work ethic,” said Stewart. “Training younger people fresh out of school is time consuming and I realized early on I needed people with experience. Two of my stylists have 20 years of experience each. They really know the industry and are amazing at color and dealing with clients.”
Stewart said that although she had little experience managing people before opening her salon, she tries to take each issue as a learning opportunity.
“I have learned to go with my gut and address issues when they happen, not wait until it becomes a bigger problem,” she said. “My biggest struggle is sticking with that. You want to always give people a chance. And it’s hard being a young boss, whether people are the same age as you or older you have to tell your employees what you need and expect.”
What advice would Stewart give to other young women about starting their own business?