By Shirley Hawkins
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The COVID pandemic has forced many business owners to generate ways of staying afloat and some have brainstormed to come up with innovative methods to pivot during these difficult times.
One of those business owners is cosmetologist Sherlonda Hamilton, owner of the Pretty Lady Mobile Salon, who closed her brick-and-mortar salon in December 2020 to launch a mobile hairstyling service.
“When COVID started to spread, I realized that the public was no longer comfortable about coming into the salon,” Hamilton said. “Business had dropped and I was operating with only 40% of my clientele. But since I got the idea to convert my business into a mobile salon, the customers have really increased.”
Hamilton said she ensures that her mobile salon adheres to strict COVID standards.
“I installed a sanitation station with hand sanitizer which clients utilize as soon as they step into the van,” she said. “Clients must wear a mask and I wipe down the chair and sink after working with each client.
“I also use disposable capes and a local towel service so that there are always sanitized towels available. My daughter, Jewel, has a linen and towel service and she supplies my towels for me. Her business is called Women of Power Towel Service.”
The cosmetologist said that she loves the convenience of the cargo van, which she said has an eclectic decor.
“The ceiling is a soft peach color,” she said. “I have a colorful peacock decal on the wall. I have a custom designed shampoo station that is made of laminate rosewood and my styling chair is draped in a tan and white cowhide.”
Hamilton said that she had knee surgery when she was attempting to get the van in operable shape.
“I kept running into dead ends to get the van up and running,” she recalled. “One day I was sitting on my porch and one of my neighbors came over. I told him that I had been doing research about how to fix the van from watching YouTube videos. To my surprise, he showed up a few days later and said he had been watching YouTube videos and that he could help me.
“He used to install fire sprinklers and he had some knowledge of carpentry,” she added. “He offered to help install the carpet and he and my son got busy and worked it out. It took about four months to complete the van.”
Since she has been traveling the roads in her cheery white van with chocolate lettering, Hamilton has noted that her customers appreciate the convenience of getting their hair styled in the van.
“I can pull right up to my customers’ driveway,” she said. “My senior clients don’t have to get in traffic or find someone to bring them to the salon, so they really like it.
“Some even wanted to be the first to have their hair done so that they could tell their friends,” Hamilton said. “One neighbor, who is in her 80s, said she had never seen anything like it and could not wait to get her hair done in the van.”
Hamilton’s love of styling hair blossomed when she was still in her teens.
“I come from a family of women where there were a lot of cousins,” she said. “I would visit my grandmother’s house on the weekends and watch my cousins braid each others’ hair. When I got older, I started to help with the braiding.
“By the time I reached 16, I had my own clientele who came to my house,” she added. “They were mostly kids and young ladies, but I was always excited about the parents allowing me, a 16 year old, to braid their children’s hair.”
Despite her love of hair, Hamilton eventually set her sights on becoming a school teacher.
“I attended Cal State Los Angeles to be a teacher, but I was still doing hair on the side. Eventually I realized that hair was what I really wanted to do, so I enrolled in Pacific Beauty College.
“I can work with natural hair as well as do press and curl,” said Hamilton. “I do braiding and cornrows, and I have quite a few male clients. I do locs, some barbering, three different types of hair extensions and I also make hair pieces for clients who may need partial extensions.
“And if someone shows me a picture of a favorite hairstyle, I can recreate it for the client. I can create about 150 different hairstyles,” she said proudly.
When Hamilton still operated her brick-and-mortar location, she started a nonprofit called Pretty Lady Too to help her customers improve their physical, emotional and mental health.
“I found out that many of my clients did not have health insurance so they could not go to the doctor to get regular checkups,” she said.
“I started holding health workshops three times a year to empower women with the knowledge needed to prevent chronic disease and live a happier, healthier quality of life,” she said.
“At every seminar I had a specific topic. One topic we discussed was how to tell the difference between stress and depression. We also had counselors discuss breast cancer awareness and we also held a seminar on COVID.”
Hamilton’s women’s health fairs also offered workshops and classes on such topics as breast cancer, kidney disease, dementia, mental health, bullying, simple fitness in the workplace, healthy cooking, healthy hair and beauty tips.
“When I held the health fairs, I invited volunteer nurses from UCLA to take my clients’ blood pressure and perform accurate finger pricks for diabetes,” Hamilton said. “There were also fun topics such as inviting a chef/nutritionist to demonstrate how to make quick and healthy recipes and we invited a yoga instructor to demonstrate the art of yoga.” The health information is still available by accessing the website at prettyladytoo.org. Hamilton plans to reinstate her annual health seminars starting in March.
“What’s gratifying for me about being a cosmetologist is that I’m able to make my clients feel good,” Hamilton said. “I once heard a slogan where someone said, ‘When you look good, you feel good.’ I love it when I hear a customer say, ‘Oh, my husband likes this hairstyle’ or ‘I was out and this guy said he liked my hair,” she added.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.