Name: Johari Mills
Alma Mater: I attended Texas Southern University for my undergraduate degree and graduate school at Prairie View. I like to claim both to piss people off, but I’m a Tiger at heart.
Business Name & Description: FlowerChild’s Studio Salon. Houston’s premier & most unique boutique coiffure salon. Flowerchild’s stylists are skilled to set the trends. It is a privatized haven for clients to feel secure, relaxed & confidently rejuvenated to conquer the world with stress free hair.
What year did you found your company? I’ve been a stylist for eighteen years and a salon owner for five years. I opened FlowerChild’s Studio Salon in 2011.
What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? The day I decided to quit my career as an educator, along with teacher benefits and a consistent paycheck, to invest all my money and time into building and opening a salon was the scariest moment ever. I wanted to see if that movie Field of Dreams was correct: “If you build it, they will come.” So I built it – and they came. I’m grateful.
What made you want to start your own company? Two reasons. Honestly, I was juggling a lot at the time. I just had a baby, teaching and doing hair at a salon after I left the schoolhouse. I wanted time to spend with my baby boy and I wanted to call the shots. The moment finally came where I felt I had to choose, so I figured I had to give something up and since giving up being a mother would make me a dead beat (joking-calm down), I gave up teaching. Giving up being a stylist was never an option. The other reason was because I knew there was something bigger in store for me. My mother was a teacher and it’s an honorable profession, but it wasn’t enough for me. I was raised under a spiritual system that helps practitioners follow their destiny and through divinations as a child I was told I was to be a boss and carry on the legacy of many entrepreneurs in my ancestral lineage.
Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? I will narrow it down to one professor I had. Her name was Professor Oates. Forgive me because I think she became Dr. Oates, but this was a lady who saw who I was and saw what I was doing to hide who I was from others. She dropped a book down in my face one day called the Isis Papers by Francis Cress Welsing and told me to write her a paper on it. By pen and paper, my upbringing was unleashed. I knew I was different but she made that okay for me and as she would put it, “They just gonna have to understand.”
How do you handle complex problems? I have not mastered this at all. As I mature though I notice the first thing I do is consult a close friend or my YeYe (mom) to make sure I’m not turning something simple into something complex. Often times people do that without noticing just how simple it could all be. Once deemed complex, I become introverted. I like to say I try to find resolve immediately by thought first and then action, but I’m not perfect. I like to fix things as soon as the problem arises because my grandmother made it apparent that you don’t put things off for tomorrow because tomorrow has its own set of tasks. However, depending on the matter I feel it best to consult spirit for a solution. After all, I am only a spiritual being in a physical vessel. This is key to me in all things and it proves to be beneficial to remember that when problems arise.
What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? How strong and capable I am. Every loss cannot be prevented. Eventually we have to experience downfall in order to know what it feels like on the upside. I know I cannot prepare for everything – there just isn’t enough preparation in the world for what is predetermined to happen. That being said, I wish I would have known that while I was worrying, crying, and sweating, that this too shall pass and I’ll land on both feet soon. I wish I had known that going in because then I believe I would have had tougher skin. Then again, those experiences, that blood, sweat and tears are what gave me a thick coat – a catch 22.
Operation Blossom, which your site talks about as a day for underprivileged young girls to experience pampering and luxury they might not otherwise have an opportunity too, seems especially near and dear to your heart. What prompted this project? How do you see it evolving in the coming years? My YeYe taught us that giving is the ultimate way to receive. I like to think I have a talent, so I plan on using my talent if nothing else to be of service to others. I really haven’t thought of where it’s going as much as I want to make sure it continues to keep going. For the foreseeable future, I just want to focus on being consistent and Que Sera, Sera (whatever will be will be).
The African-American hair care industry, especially as it relates to women, has become something of a battleground over the past few decades with African-American ownership within the industry on what has been a precipitous decline. The move toward more natural hair seems to have potentially stemmed that tide. Is there an ownership renaissance happening in African-American hair care and can the natural hair care movement take credit for it? No, because there really hasn’t been an increase in ownership. However, there has been an increase in nonprofessionals profiting off of the movement. Like anything else that’s hot and popular everyone saw a trend and saw dollar signs. Now you have more people making products, starting blogs, posting Youtube videos that have never even been active in the industry. But because the focus is on natural hair now – everyone is trying to get a piece of the pie cause they figure, “Well my hair is curly – I guess I have some experience enough to talk about it.”
Very rarely do we see African-American owned hair salons grow into multi-city chains, but with natural hair care appearing to be a trend on a continued rise across the country it seems as if the opportunity is there. Do you believe this national scale could happen or are African-American salons not interested in this type of size? I actually have never met a salon owner that says they want a chain of salons. You know why? It’s work! And I don’t mean just work. I mean work work. It’s enough to try to juggle your clients, your stylists, your stylists clients, and the upkeep of one building. To add multiple locations to that dynamic? Whew! I find the reason it’s difficult is because it’s hard to find people (managers and stylists) who are like-minded in terms of how you see the businesses’ vision and as honest as you. You get the feeling that if you want it done correctly, then you have to do it yourself and that’s challenging. Luckily, after years I have found a professional group of ladies who respect this profession just as much as I do. So most salon owners I know are proud to say they are keeping one salon a float. That’s a huge accomplishment in these times.
Outside of the obvious (money) is there anything else you believe is holding back more African-American ownership or growth in natural hair care industry? The industry is no longer professional and those who get into the industry don’t treat this industry as a serious career. Hairstylist use to be looked up to and stylist conducted business like they were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. This generation can’t even show up to work on time, are unorganized and don’t feel like they have to work hard, which is why there is not a growth in ownership. However, “Keke” can hook you up in her kitchen sometime on Saturday, when she puts her kids to bed or she will post a how to video on Youtube for you to do it yourself.
What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? I always believed schools are too caught up on books. It’s been proven that black children learn best when they can move around, touch and experience things. That’s why our boys struggle with being still in classrooms, but that’s a whole other story too. I believe every major needs a requirement to go out into the field and witness the work under an owners tutelage. The worst thing they could have done (but by design) was take learning a skill out of high schools. Classes like sewing, cooking, auto shop, and wood shop took away the chance for kids to explore and discover what they are good at. If you throw an aspiring journalist into an office from the start, they may find out it’s not for them.
How do you deal with rejection? I take it and move on. Lesson learned.
When you have down time, how do you like to spend it? What is down time? Where does that exist? Just kidding. I try to travel, I try to make efforts to dance, and I have a non-profit called JLS Events that promotes African dance and drum in Houston and surrounding areas. Lastly, I love to catch up with friends to re-energize my spirit.
What was your most memorable HBCU memory? First thing that comes to mind, non- academically, is pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. And taking over the line after mine.
In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? Be true to yourself and be willing to walk your own path even when others may not understand.