Isa Rodriguez, a Dominican immigrant woman who came to the United States determined to achieve her American dream, talks with NEW LATINA, on her journey towards entrepreneurship, and the challenges and opportunities of being a business owner. We all have visited these local beauty parlors in our communities, and we know what an important part of our lives and communities they are. We celebrate all Latina beauty salon owners around the country, and thank them for their dedication to their business and trade.
NL: At what age did you immigrate to the United States?
IR: I came to the United States when I was 25 years old from the Dominican Republic. I came to this country with a positive attitude and a desire to improve my life.
NL: What was your first job in the United States? How was that experience?
IR: The first job I had upon arriving to the United States was in a lamp factory. However, I soon I realized that I did not want to do factory work at all. I decided to go back to doing what I loved, which is beauty and hair styling. It was then, that I started working in a beauty salon here in the US.
NL: How did you begin working as a hairstylist? Did you attend beauty school in Dominican Republic or in the US?
IR: Before I immigrated to the United States, I attended the Miss Kay Beauty School in the Dominican Republic. Once here, I began the process of obtaining my hair styling license and eventually started working in a hair salon. I also attended beauty fairs and conferences once in the United States to continue my education.
NL: What inspired you to be a hairstylist? Were there other hairstylists in your family?
IR: My uncle inspired me to work in the beauty industry. He was a representative for a beauty product company in the Dominican Republic. It was through him that I was able to visit various hair salons and begin practicing my trade while still living in the Dominican Republic.
NL: What motivated you to open up your own hair salon?
IR: After working in beauty salons for several years, I was motivated to open my own hair salon because I already had a strong following of clients- who I knew would follow me when I opened my own hair salon.
NL: How long have you been running your own beauty salon?
IR: I opened my first hair salon in 1985, in the Washington Heights section of New York City. It was in a very small space in the basement of a building. After some time, I moved the salon upstairs to a store front space. Little by little my business kept growing and in 2000, I moved the salon to a bigger locale in Fairview, NJ.
NL: Tell us a little about your experiences in owning your own business.
IR: I have to say I have had many positive experiences running my own business. When you are your own boss, you are able to set your own goals and put a lot of love and dedication into your work. Also if you are a good boss, take care of your employees, provide your clients with great service, and stay up to date in your industry, you will always remain passionate about your work. Even after all these years as a hair-stylist, I continue to build my knowledge and interest in my work by attending beauty events, fairs and conferences.
NL: What difficulties have you faced owning a business?
IR: In recent years, the state of the economy has been one of the biggest difficulties I have faced. But since I have many years of experience and a strong clientele, I have been able to remain in business. It has been difficult but you do survive and keep moving forward.
NL: Do you feel fulfilled in your career as a hairstylist?
IR: Yes, I feel very fulfilled in my choice to become a hairstylist. I was able to raise four children with the income I gained from my work. Furthermore, my husband and I have been able to overcome the financial hardships that present themselves from time to time thanks to my business and strong clientele.
NL: How has your profession and business allowed you to reach personal goals you may have set out for yourself?
IR: I have set out many goals for myself and my family which I have been able to achieve through my business. For one, my husband and I were able to buy a house. I was also able to buy myself a brand new car, which was a big deal for me at that time. Furthermore, having my own business has allowed my family and me the opportunity to go on several great family vacations. Although we are not rich, we are able to live a comfortable life. You can certainly say we have made the best of what having a business can do for you and your family. As a mother, it has allowed me more time with my children as they were growing up. Having your own business, allows you more flexibility in your schedule. So you are able to pick your children up from school, attend their events and spend more time with them.
NL: Through your business have you been able to help your community?
IR: I definitely feel as though my hair salon has brought me closer to the community. At the hair salon, you meet many people and over the years they become family. Through my career as a hairstylist, and the stories I have heard in the salon over the years, I have learned to be a friend, listener and even a counselor and psychologist at times. From all these experiences, I decided to launch a foundation ‘Soy Bella’. My foundation allows me the opportunity to work with the Latino community in particular women who have been victims of Domestic Violence. I started this foundation because through my work in the hair salon, I realized that I have made a living off of women and wanted to find a way to help women in return.
NL: Can you say then that owning your own business has not only positively impacted your life but now the lives of others?
IR: Yes, owning my own business has not only helped to improve my life and my family’s life but now the lives of women in the Latino community as well.
NL: What future plans do you have for Lisa’s Salon?
IR: I am planning on passing ownership of the salon on to my daughter Odalisa.Within a year or so she will be in charge of running the salon. Therefore, I will gradually be working less hours in the salon, and will have more time to dedicate to other interests such as my foundation ‘Soy Bella’.
IR: I believe this happens often because the children grow up in this environment and are familiar with it. For daughters in particular, I believe they are able to see how their mother worked and was able to provide for the family successfully. It’s almost a legacy that a mother passes on to her daughter.
NL: What advice do you have for women who have a desire to be an entrepreneur but in many cases are immigrants or do not have the resources or knowledge to start up?
IR: My best advice for Latina women who wish to open their own business is to become educated. Learn the language if necessary, become educated in your trade and obtain the necessary certifications and licenses in your field. Set out to gain experience and start the process of opening your own business. As long as you have a passion for what you do and put a lot of love into your work, you can make it happen for yourself.