by Cat Johnson (thefreelancecat.com)
Noelle Weatherwax grew up around hair salons. The daughter of a cosmetologist, her first job was sweeping up hair and answering phones. She was 12 years old at the time.
It wasn’t a big surprise, then, when Weatherwax decided to go to cosmetology school. The first haircut she ever gave, however, brought an unexpected lesson.
On the day of their first haircut, students were supposed to bring a model. Weatherwax didn’t have one so she walked around downtown Santa Cruz looking for someone who needed a cut. She found a homeless man, explained that she was a student, and asked if she could cut his hair for free. He said yes and explained that he was looking for a job and desperately needed a haircut.
Weatherwax took him to the school, cut his hair, and her instructor taught her how to trim his beard. When they were finished, the difference in his appearance was striking.
“He looked entirely different,” Weatherwax says. “He cried, and I cried. It was a really powerful moment. That was the beginning of my understanding that how we look is a lot more important and a lot more powerful than people give credit. It really can be something that is life-changing.”
The owner of Concrete Rose Salon, Weatherwax is a success story. She’s traveled around the world learning and teaching, and has had the opportunity to meet, as she puts it, amazing people. Her love of forward-thinking fashion and brightly-colored hair have made her salon a hit and established Weatherwax as an in-demand stylist.
As her career has taken off, Weatherwax’s focus on helping others remains. Concrete Rose has a Treat Yourself & Someone Else program where people can contribute to a fund to help someone in need get a cut or treatment. It also has a wildly popular Product Exchange program where the salon collects clients’ mostly-full shampoo, conditioner and other hair supplies that they’re not using, and donates them to the Rebele Family Shelter. In return, clients get a discount on new products.
When asked about her commitment to the community, Weatherwax says she understands what it’s like to go without. Her mom was a single-mother and her family was on welfare.
“Everything that was extra wasn’t really a possibility for me in my life,” she says. “I wasn’t really afforded a lot of opportunity. It was clear to me that anything I was going to build would have to be on my own and it was going to be a lot harder than someone who had a financial net behind them from their families.”
The name Concrete Rose is inspired by “The Rose that Grew From Concrete,” a Tupac Shakur song about overcoming immense odds.
Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet.
Funny, it seems but by keeping it’s dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.
Like the rose that grew from concrete, Weatherwax had to find a way when the odds were against her. She’s had great emotional support from her family, but, as she points out, when you don’t have money, big dreams can seem impossible.
“When you don’t grow up with money,” she says, “you don’t learn about money. You don’t learn how to make money, you don’t learn how to handle money. I think that’s a benefit of growing up wealthy that people don’t’ really acknowledge—it’s not just that someone can hand you money, but also they teach you about it.”
To learn how to start her business, Weatherwax found free and low-cost business classes and spent a lot of time at the library reading and researching. She sold her car and clothes to get Concrete Rose Salon off the ground. She ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised $6,000 preselling hair packages. In the end, everything came together and her determination paid off.
“It was an incredible amount of work,” she says, “but when you are determined, nothing can stop you. That’s the beautiful metaphor of the rose that grew from concrete—that even in the most impossible circumstances, it just sort of willed itself to be.”
Noelle Weatherwax will be a guest at Event Santa Cruz’s upcoming event, The Santa Cruz View.
Cat Johnson is a freelance writer and content strategist. She helps mission-driven businesses create content marketing strategies to stand out from the crowd. Get pro content tips at thefreelancecat.com