Last updated: Thursday, September 4, 2014, 10:13 PM
Y OLANDA Keels-Walker, 32, of West Philadelphia, owns Suite Extensions hair salons in Germantown and Norfolk, Va. She also owns Pink Label Beauty, a line of hair-care products. Keels-Walker, a divorced mother of two young girls, grew up in Virginia. She worked as a contract negotiator for the CIA in Langley, Va., for four years. She's also a recent Daily News Sexy Single.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea for the biz?
A: I read in Entrepreneur about Drybar and their blow-dry concept and thought, 'How can I transform this into something for African-Americans?' We love blowouts, too, because a lot of us have natural hair. My ex-husband and I started the Weave Bar in West Philly in 2011 and a second one in Germantown. After the divorce, I got out of the West Philly salon and rebranded the one in Germantown.
Q: As Suite Extensions?
A: I wanted it to feel ladylike and hotelish. Prices are affordable and we take the time to build relationships with clients.
Q: What's special?
A: We do extensions and we're big on natural hair. Although most of our clientele is African-American, it's diverse. We have athlete wives to exotic dancers to first ladies of churches.
Q: Types of services?
A: The most popular one is called Covergirl. That's $50 and it's a sew-in weave where we braid the hair, sew the weave and flat-iron it so it's more of a straight style. We do microlinks, which is a braidless sew-in popular with our Caucasian and Asian clients. At a top Philly salon it costs $500, and we start at $150.
Q: Your customers?
A: Mostly women. The clientele is about 65 percent African-American, 15 percent Caucasian and the rest Asian and others. We have older Jewish women who want some curls or wigs.
Q: Pink Label Beauty?
A: It's a luxe hair-care brand I created for hair extensions. I want clients to use products that sustain the integrity and longevity of hair. We wholesale to salons like Louis Christian, Urban Celebrities and beauty-supply stores and retail online.
Q: What's iBeard?
A: One of my clients who's a barber asked me to make something because his customers have dry beards. It's all-natural and original. We sell it online but we're working with some major barber shops to carry it.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge growing the biz?
A: Starting over and rebranding. I work every day to build the brand. A lot of single mothers work here, so I'm compassionate about their needs.
Q: How big a biz?
A: We have 12 employees here and seven in Virginia.
Q: What's next?
A: A beard butter and a shampoo bar. A natural-hair product line is coming.