While many African Americans in DC’s Black community are talking about the neighborhoods that are gentrifying at a rapid pace, one beauty salon owner sees an opportunity to cash in on the new money.
Chet Bennett, 43, CEO of Bennett Career Institute and founder of the C. Alan Salons and Spas decided to try his luck with the new community by offering beautifying services from head to toe. His latest venture the C. Alan Signature Salon located at 705 U St., NW in the District is catering to White clients while it maintains its specialty of caring for Black natural hair.
Bennett comes from a family of beauty experts who have taught hundreds of hair stylists across the country. The institute is the only Black-owned accredited barbering and cosmetology school in the heart of the District of Columbia.
“We want the newcomers of the surrounding neighborhoods to know that we cater to all textures of hair and skin whether they are Asian, Caucasian, or African descent,” said Bennett. “Don’t get caught up on the hype that Black hair stylists can’t do straight hair because we’re Black. We are accustomed to doing it all from bone straight to natural hair.”
The salon specializes in natural hair. “That natural straight and coarse hair,” said Bennett. “Our experiences dealing with the different textures of Black hair allow us to be versatile. However, most White stylists are limited to only the textures of hair within their culture and race which doesn’t make them better or unique but limited. We are experts.”
It is historically documented that enslaved many Black women who worked inside the homes of their masters on plantations were assigned the task of combing and styling the hair of White women.
“Black women waited on their master’s wives, mothers and daughters hand and foot, including combing and styling their tresses,” said historian, Dr. Mary A. T. Anigbo. “What makes today’s hairstyling any different? Hair is hair.”
Acia Williams, senior instructor at the institute now a stylist at the salon said coloring and cutting is big in White salons. She is excited about converting from the classroom to the shop. “Our biggest challenge will be gaining the trusts of the newcomers. Once we start turning out excellent hairstyles among the different ethnic groups, more new clients will be glad to come into the salon,” she said.
Williams said the stylists are required, like any other properly licensed salon, to maintain up-to-date certification by taking courses in hair coloring, cutting, shearing, shaping and proper maintenance of tools.
“What’s unique about the Bennett Institute theory and what’s set it apart from other beauty schools and salons are that it encourages and requires the stylists to take courses, attend workshops, demonstrations by the experts and hair conferences.
Bennett, known for his benevolent style, has a reputation for walking up to young girls with a whacked-up weave and asking them if they would love to learn how to do hair styling professionally.
“I’ve taken young girls on TANF and turned them into six-figure entrepreneurs who pay taxes to the government and can take their talents anywhere,” said Bennett.
Another great aspect of the salon is its skin clinic. Internationally known esthetician, Seven Brown travels from New York to the District once a week to provide skin and hair care for clients. She is licensed across the US and 38 countries. Brown and Bennett host a weekly talk show on WOL radio every Monday at 10am.
Raquel Smith, receptionist and student at the institute, Bennett inspires others to excel. “For me this is a change in careers and something I love to do,” said Smith.
Bennett said the salon has been recruiting new clients from the many nightclubs on the U Street corridor and plans demonstrations at different neighborhood events in the future.
“To be a successful business, you must adapt to the changes and don’t give up,” Bennett said.