Josephine White and her salon earned a LocalMotion Award from Local First earlier this year. The honor recognizes businesses for their commitment to social, environmental and economic responsibility. Photo by Michael Buck
Josephine White said many African-American women face a familiar inconvenience: you go to a salon on the weekend and wait for hours in line for a hairstyle that takes several more hours to finish.
Then sometimes, you get home and you don’t like the hairstyle, so you redo it.
Growing up in Detroit, this was the norm.
“Detroit’s the hair capital,” White said. “I would sit in the salon for eight hours on Saturday and would watch the stylists and think, ‘I could do that.’
She experimented on her own hair and then began doing her aunt’s hair and hair for other family members at age 16.
While studying human resources management and business at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, White started doing her friends’ and their parents’ hair, as well.
“I had a hair business in college with a sign on my door that said ‘JoJo’s House of Beauty,’ she said. “Everyone knew that was where to go.”
After graduating from WMU in 2007, White briefly worked as an executive team leader at Target. But her dream kept knocking.
She enrolled in cosmetology school at Chic, now Empire Beauty School, in 2008.
“I was working part time at a call center, Directions in Research, making $8 an hour. It was hard,” she said. “People were like, ‘You have a degree, why are you in hair school?’ I was like, ‘Sometimes, you’ve got to follow your dreams.’ It was a big sacrifice. I was broke, and I struggled a lot.”
After graduating and earning her cosmetology license, White put in her time learning the craft at Hairacy Salon, 1801 44th St. SE. Within five years, she bought the business and renamed it JoJo’s House of Beauty, a multicultural salon for men and women of all hair textures.
The salon, which serves 80 to 100 clients per month, has four stylists and offers extensions, relaxers, perms, color, cut, steam treatments, thermal press, taming systems, sewn-in extensions and tape-in extensions, as well as accessories, such as sunglasses, satin pillowcases and scarves.
White said she grew up with low self-esteem and knew that a salon experience could make or break a client’s self-perception.
“It’s crazy how you can change somebody’s day by making them feel beautiful,” she said. “Our mission is to uplift, motivate, inspire and educate our clients. It’s more than just hair.”
Since JoJo’s is a relatively small salon, White said she is not simply the owner. She is an educator and stylist and pitches in with sales and marketing — even cleaning sometimes.
She said she learned how to work hard and efficiently since she was 14, holding down jobs at Kroger and KFC, working as a filing clerk for Wayne County and an HR co-op intern at Kellogg Co. in Battle Creek.
“God is awesome, because everything you do builds character,” she said.
Joining Delta Sigma Theta sorority in college was a pivotal moment for White.
“I learned a lot about sisterhood and that no matter what, even when you’re struggling, you still have to show grace,” she said. “It shouldn’t be written all over your face what you’re going through, even if it’s hard.”
White still stays active in the Grand Rapids alumni chapter of Delta Sigma Theta.
She has a lot to be thankful for, as she enters her third year in business.
Local First in January selected JoJo’s as one of nine winners — out of 56 nominees — for the annual LocalMotion Award. The honor recognizes area businesses for their commitment to social, environmental and economic responsibility.
The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce also nominated the salon as a 2016 Minority-Owned Business of the Year EPIC finalist. White was featured on the front page of Epic Magazine (not affiliated with the EPIC Awards) and has appeared in Women’s Lifestyle Magazine.
For White, the awards and media attention are fringe benefits. Her real focus is on serving people.
“This is what God has called me to do,” she said. “Sometimes, you realize that your purpose is not for you but for other people.”
That purpose includes fixing the frustrating things about the black experience with hair, White said.
“The black experience is that you wait for hours in a salon, and if you don’t like your hair when it’s done, you go home and fix it.
“I didn’t want that for my customers. People come in here and say, ‘How long will I wait?’ I say when it is your time, you come in and you don’t wait. I say you don’t have to wait for hours; it doesn’t have to be that way. Because of that, I’ve had great retention.”
Another thing White tries to do is welcome multiracial families, such as white parents who have adopted black children and are not experienced with caring for their hair.
“I had a client come in for an appointment and say, ‘This is the first time where me and my daughter can get our hair done at the same time,’ since she was white and her daughter was black,” White said.
“We do education on how to create that bond and make sure the children know it’s not a burden to do their hair; it’s a blessing.”
Noticing a shortage of healthy hair products on the market, White created her own line of hair care products in 2014.
“JoJo’s Hair Essence is a hair oil and scalp stimulant that helps soften the hair; it’s a blend of essential oils,” she said. “I’m also coming out with a scalp refresher for if you have extensions or braids. It helps clean the scalp and give it a nice smell.”
White said she plans to expand her services as her client roster grows.
“We’re looking for stylists, an aesthetician, someone who does lashes and someone who does nails. And I would love for the spa room to get used,” she said.
She aims to nurture the talents of her employees and learn from them.
“I like to empower my stylists. I’m not a micro-manager,” she said. “People say you should hire people who are smarter than you so you can learn from them. Right now, it’s very difficult for me to see what’s outside of me because I’m in it. I’m working five days a week and paying bills. The (other stylists) help me to see outside of me.
“Whatever they know, I like to make it fit with the salon so it makes sense.”
Going forward, White said she would like to add more events.
“(We want to do) education on ‘going-out’ makeup or how to maintain your curls or hair,” she said.
“We have a class coming up May 6 for anyone interested in learning how to do makeup. Bring your own bag of makeup or bring your own brush, and we’ll show you how to use it. The name of the event is Bombshell Beauty Bar.”
Wherever the salon heads, White said she is committed to sticking with her dream.
“When you’re called to do something, no matter what happens, you’ve still got to show up, even when it’s hard,” she said. “It’s literally your attitude and how you handle it. Either you can fold and quit, or you can push through it.
“God is doing something great. Something is in the works, and I want to make sure I don’t miss it.”