This week’s #SupportSeattleSmallBiz blog celebrates a successful Black-owned business in Seattle: Six17 Salon, which is owned by Jackie Christian. With over 20 years of experience in the hair industry, Jackie moved to Seattle less than two years ago and has successfully built a local clientele of “more than 300 women and a few men” all of whom “want natural hair[care].”
Jackie has been involved with and committed to the natural hair movement for 12 years. Six17 Salon, as she explains in this interview, “specializes specifically in natural hair—hair that has not been chemically treated with any products that will straighten the hair.”
Family upbringing provides a foundation for Six17
Jackie built her business values on the foundation her parents provided. She grew up in a tight knit family and community in Louisiana, in a house numbered 617—the inspiration for her salon name, and the home where her parents still reside in today.
“Family was everything growing up,” says Jackie. “I wanted to pay homage to my parents, who raised seven kids and told us all chase your dreams – whatever that means to you. My parents have always supported me and cheered me on.”
After a stint in the U.S. military, Jackie attended beauty school to pursue her dreams in the hair industry. She credits her upbringing with helping her “determine some of my rules and how I run my business today. My parents ran a tight ship. They set high standards growing up.”
To this day, she is guided by a standard of excellence and professionalism that clients can expect from Six17 Salon. Jackie is reliable and committed to each client. She ensures her appointments run on time and her schedule is not overbooked. She also provides hair education to each client based on their hair type and hair goals.
Filling a gap in Seattle’s hair care industry
In 2018, Jackie came to Seattle for the first time to visit her sister. At the time, she was running a successful salon in Atlanta. During her visit to Seattle, Jackie and her sister began to discuss the difficulty women in Seattle had finding someone who specialized in natural hair care. Women in this community, she discovered, “were flying to other states to get their hair done.”
After returning to Atlanta, Jackie conducted soft market research on Seattle hair salons. She decided to hold a “pop up” at a Bellevue salon in January 2019, where for six days she rented a single chair and serviced 48 clients. She knew then there was a strong and untapped demand for a stylist with expertise in natural hair care in the Seattle region. People loved her work and were asking how soon she could come back.
“I just couldn’t stop thinking about those sisters in Seattle who had been left behind. I knew we had a community of black women who were struggling,” she says. “We’ve been in this movement for 12 years down South.”
After repeated requests, Jackie decided to return to Seattle in February 2019. She took a leap of faith when she returned and rented a one-chair space in the Mosaic Salon and Spa in Downtown Seattle. For four frenetic months she maintained salon spaces in Seattle and Atlanta, flying back and forth a total of nine times to respond to the demand for her services in both locations.
Finally, Jackie’s dad told her, “you’re going to kill yourself.” Though she was exhausted, she also was exhilarated by the growing enthusiasm for her work in Seattle. In May 2019 she decided to permanently relocate to the Pacific Northwest and commit to her new salon.
Establishing and growing Six17
Jackie comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Her great grandfather owned a store, her niece has started a business, and her brother-in-law owns a businesses in Atlanta. His business acumen helped her establish a strong foundation for Six17 Salon. According to Jackie, “entrepreneurship can be taught.” Jackie began building her business in Seattle through word-of-mouth connections.
Within two months she hired one employee to manage her social media platforms to reach a broader audience. Within two weeks of making that hire, she booked 25 new clients. According to Jackie, hiring someone to manage her social media presence was the “best investment I’ve made concerning my business.”
Growing Six17 Salon’s presence on Facebook and Instagram has increased her clientele, and created space to share photos of client’s styles and hair care tips. It has also been key in maintaining contact with customers throughout the current pandemic.
Staying resilient throughout COVID-19
When Governor Inslee issued the ”Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, Jackie shut her salon’s doors and wondered what was next. Her worries were eased significantly when her landlord announced that he would not collect any rent “until this blows over.” With rent and potential debt worries off her shoulders, Jackie focused her energy on securing emergency funding and communicating with her clients.
“Reaching out to my clients was my first priority. I knew that I needed to communicate with them quickly and we did just that. I think I had an email out within one hour of the Governor’s press conference announcing salon closures. The hardest part as it relates to my business was not knowing how long the quarantine would last, and the impact it would have on a brand-new business. I didn’t worry about not reopening because I know the resolve I have, but financially it was scary!”
The savings from the rent relief allowed Jackie to keep her social media employee on payroll, and on Facebook and Instagram, she frequently shared live videos and self-care tutorials to keep Six17 Salon relevant.
Throughout the closure, Jackie remained in close contact with clients, sharing product recommendations and at-home hair care regimens. In addition to keeping in touch with her clientele, Jackie applied for loans and grants to keep her business afloat. She applied for and received a grant from the City of Seattle through the Small Business Stabilization Fund.
She also applied for a Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan—a process that was more complicated and disheartening than the City grant process. Initially, Jackie applied through a national bank that holds her business accounts but became frustrated after five weeks of “unproductive discussions, waiting, and blatant racial discrimination.”
She watched in dismay as a “white friend and counterpart, who opened her salon around the same time and has the same credentials on paper” received a loan from the same bank, while Jackie’s application was inexplicably stalled.
“I did everything right, everything white business owners do,” she says. Jackie’s sense of outrage was exacerbated, she says, because “I’ve served my country [in the military]; my brother, sister and father also served. I’ve done everything right and I was still treated so poorly.”
At the apex of Jackie’s frustration, a friend told her that Key Bank was making a point of helping Black-owned business owners. “Key Bank heard that Black-owned businesses weren’t getting a fair shake. They put together a team of people so they could help.”After contacting Key Bank, she received her PPP loan within seven days.
Reopening under Phase 2 of Safe Start
The PPP loan helped Jackie pay her landlord and prepare for Washington state’s phased reopening. She purchased personal protective equipment including masks, face shields, aprons, and a thermometer.
She’s also changed how she operates her salon to adhere to public health guidelines outlined by the State and Public Health – Seattle & King County. Jackie no longer takes walk-in-clients, changes aprons between each client, and does not let the next client enter the space until she has fully sanitized. These changes have required her to add time between appointments, making it hard to meet the current demand for her services.
Since reopening, new and old clients have rushed to secure appointments with Jackie. In the first week back she serviced 50 clients, 10 of whom were new, and several of whom found her while browsing social media during the stay at home order.
Exhausted by the unprecedented demands, Jackie has temporarily cut back her hours to re-adjust to the rigors of standing on her feet all day and working under the salon’s fluorescent lights, and to reduce her risks of exposure to the virus. The funding she received from the City, “makes it easier to make these decisions, to be able to cut down on hours and take care of myself.”
Jackie’s experience trying to get a loan has invigorated her commitment to teaching and mentoring others. She has decided to start another business alongside Six17 Salon. In 2021, she plans to launch a consulting career to share her knowledge with other Black-owned salons.
“Many of them don’t have business coaches. I want to make that available to encourage other Black-owned businesses to establish themselves correctly from day one.”
Jackie plans to educate business owners about topics like getting business licenses, opening bank accounts, long-term planning, investments, and growth. She explains, “I want to share what’s made me successful with other Black business owners.”
And, of course, Jackie will continue styling hair and supporting community members who want to confidently wear their natural hair.
“Six17 Salon was born out of a love for healthy natural hair and those who choose to wear their natural hair. We are all about empowering and educating our clients as it relates to their hair and almost always, the information we provide trickles into their daily lives and yields the most amazing results,” says Jackie.
“I will be celebrating my twentieth year in the beauty industry in November and I have never been so proud and humbled to be a part of this industry at such a time as this.”