On January 16, 2020, the blush-colored doors of The Curl Bar London officially opened for business. Then, on March 23, only a week after the natural hair salon’s two-month anniversary, owner Niá Pettitt had to shutter — London was going under lockdown due to COVID-19.
“Initially, I thought it would be a month, so I thought we’d reopen at the end of April,” Pettitt tells Allure. “But when it got to mid-April and there were still no announcements, that’s when I knew it’ll probably last until June or July.”
Twenty-two-year-old content creator Niá Pettitt has been dreaming of opening her own salon since she started styling and shaping natural hair in her mother’s living room in 2013. She went by FroGirlGinny back then, gaining a massive following on social media for her bright visual aesthetics, positive attitude, and enormous honey-blonde Afro. She quickly became one of the most recognizable faces of the natural hair movement, working with major brands and frequently collaborating with other natural hair influencers. She gained viral attention when she underwent the Big Chop in 2018 and launched her international empowerment campaign #IAmNotMyHair. Today, the internet knows her as NiaTheLight.
While Pettitt’s career as a content creator was taking off, so was her side hustle of styling natural hair: She had five clients a day, some flying in from different countries just for her services. Pettitt reached a point at which she struggled to divide her time between content creation, school, and doing hair. Ultimately, Pettitt decided she could only focus on school and her digital content.
“I had to pick two. Even though the hair business was so much fun in the sense that I was able to empower women, and I think life is a lot better when you know you’re living in purpose, I couldn’t have all three. Clients were messaging me saying that they couldn’t trust anyone else [with their hair] and they really wished that I would continue with it, but I just couldn’t,” says Pettitt. Then after experiencing a brief creative rut in spring of 2019, Pettitt impulsively decided to view a salon space that was for sale.
“Every time I think of the shop, I think of the work I put in and how much I learned. I was really grateful for the knowledge I was able to gain from it.”
Six months later, Pettitt was preparing that same space for its official opening as The Curl Bar London, and preparing herself to step into the role of full-time business owner. Reflecting on her entrepreneurial journey often makes her emotional. “Being able to have an idea in a notepad or a visualization in your head and then actually seeing it in real life is just the most amazing experience,” Pettitt says. “Every time I think of the shop, I think of the work I put in and how much I learned. I was really grateful for the knowledge I was able to gain from it.”
During the two months that The Curl Bar London’s doors were open to the public, the salon was always fully booked. Pettitt invested nearly all of her time into ensuring that her business was a safe, judgment-free space for the natural hair community she fostered online. The Curl Bar London is diligent about inclusivity, being sure to be especially sensitive and accommodating to their hijabi clients.
Since we can’t visit right now, Pettitt describes the shop’s mellow ambiance to Allure: fresh tea served to clients, incense burning every morning, a Polaroid mural of past clients that faces the waiting area, an escape from a busy street. “I really wanted to make [the salon] an experience as opposed to walking in, getting your hair done, and leaving. I wanted you to leave with a connection to the stylists or with a positive energy from the music that was played.”
By mid-March, The Curl Bar London had booked its 400th appointment. But the world has drastically changed since then. Pettitt’s booking milestone came right before the U.K. government mandated the closure of non-essential businesses as a part of social distancing measures put in place to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus (at press time, the United Kingdom had over 300,000 confirmed cases of the virus). London was going under lockdown, and The Curl Bar London would have to temporarily close until further notice.
Like millions of small business owners around the globe, Pettitt had to suddenly put her income stream on an indefinite pause — but she tried not to let it rattle her. “Although it’s easy as a business owner to be really sad about [closing], I knew that everything was happening for a reason. I’d never want to jeopardize health for money or financial gain. I had to trust in the universe, and I know that when it’s time to be back at the salon again, it will be the best time,” Pettitt says.
Social media has been flooded with tips on how to support small and local businesses like restaurants and beauty salons during the pandemic. However, Pettitt wasn’t concerned with whether her clients would support her business during this trying time. “I understand that my clients are normal people who have mortgages and student loans and different things like that,” Pettitt says. What Pettitt has asked of her clients is this: “Please do not try to cut your hair at home!”
“[Post-pandemic] I’m just going to slow down. I’m not going to put as much pressure on myself as I was before, because I was doing too much.
Since her salon’s been temporarily closed down, the content creator has fully immersed herself back into the digital realm, checking in with her team of stylists via a group chat and using social media to connect with both her fanbase and her clients. On her personal platforms, Pettitt rededicated herself to filming content for YouTube, hosted Instagram Live discussions, and brushed up on her photography and self-portraiture skills.
Pettitt emphasizes that although she’s been more actively creating content, her main priorities are listening to herself, attending to her soul each day, and learning how to be still. Her days at home are a drastic change of pace, but with extra time on her hands, she says that she’s been able to put aspects of her personal and professional life in perspective and meaningfully reflect.
“It’s hard to be an owner and a stylist, and in this time I really thought about my role in the business, whether I want to be so hands-on,” Pettitt shares. “[Post-pandemic] I’m just going to slow down. I’m not going to put as much pressure on myself as I was before, because I was doing too much. [During this time,] I’ve learned more about myself as a person than anything else. Life isn’t about working 24/7, making money, or achieving your goals. Life is actually what you want it to be and what makes you feel good. I found I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be the best boss, content creator, daughter, sister, everything — instead of being the best to myself. I would have probably burned out if I carried on the way I was.”
“I haven’t tried to prove myself to be stronger than I am. I’ve just come to realize that [the pandemic] is much bigger than me, it’s much bigger than The Curl Bar, and to be able to even survive through it…is the best achievement that anyone could have.”
As a young, first-time, woman business owner of color, there are systemic and historical obstacles to break through — an unprecedented pandemic introduces a different slew of hurdles. Yet, Niá Pettitt belongs to a resilient breed of wise, self-attuned twenty-something entrepreneurs. She is keeping calm and carrying on.
“I haven’t tried to prove myself to be stronger than I am. I’ve just come to realize that [the pandemic] is much bigger than me, it’s much bigger than The Curl Bar, and to be able to even survive through it and come out still with a peace of mind is the best achievement that anyone could have,” she says. “I believe that, as a business owner, because I’ve been able to survive this, I can survive anything.”
As of right now, London’s lockdown is slowly being lifted by the U.K. government and the first phases of re-opening began in June. Reopening for non-essential businesses is slated for early July, and The Curl Bar London recently announced it would be reopening its site for bookings. Pettitt managed to remain grounded during lockdown with her positive outlook, but she admits the prospect of reopening her dream salon in summer weather is definitely exciting. It will give Pettitt the opportunity to give back and resume The Curl Bar London’s journey.
“I think I would defo want to do an initiative to show my gratitude towards the community, like a spa day in the shop,” she says. “I think it’ll just be nice to reconnect with [the salon], find ways to improve it, and also appreciate it for what it is and how far it’s come. I’m looking forward to whatever lessons come my way.”
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Originally Appeared on Allure