(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another article on a participant in Cohort 4 of “100Knoxville,” an initiative from the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. The program aims to help Black-owned businesses grow by $10,000,000 in five years. Look for more stories in upcoming issues of teknovation.biz and find our previous coverage here.)
By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA
For more than two decades, April Hardin has been cutting hair and doing community outreach in the Knoxville area. Her latest ventures, Dream Institute and Dream Beauty Academy, are meant to help her pass on her knowledge and continue running a salon.
But the hair industry wasn’t always her goal, in fact, Hardin thought she would work in the corporate world when she first attended college. When her school had an accreditation issue preventing her from graduating on time, Hardin decided to take a cosmetology course as a placeholder. That was when her passion for hair care was born.
After finishing cosmetology school, Hardin worked in the field at different salons. Four years later, she opened her own, Turning Heads Beauty and Fashion. In addition to haircuts and styling, Turning Heads featured accessories, shoes, and more.
“I’ve always been the one where I’ve been really creative and liked doing things that were a little bit different,” Hardin said. “When I started my salon, it was always about all things beauty. My whole pitch was ‘one-stop beauty shop.’”
Hardin’s journey took a roller coaster route from there. At first, the business grew and needed larger spaces. But in 2006, she said she closed the salon portion of Turning Heads for three years. “I thought that was going to be the end of everything I was doing,” she said.
When she reopened in the Knoxville Center Mall, however, the business once again started to grow. She added a tattoo studio to that space.
“Every time I grew, I added something different to the salon,” she said. “I felt that if I couldn’t be any different, then there was no need for me to do that.”
In 2017, the mall started to have problems, and Hardin said she felt like the business went back into restart mode. She also felt that she had reached a plateau in what she could do in the hair industry. Her clients pushed her toward teaching. In 2019, she changed the name of her business to Dream Institute and began the state board process to be a certified school. Bringing the salon and school together is “all the things I’ve done as Turning Heads Beauty and Fashion, but now it’s the institution of all those things,” she said.
Having the school also provides Hardin with the opportunity to train qualified stylists to potentially work in her salon. As a business owner, she said she often had a hard time finding qualified stylists to work at Turning Heads, and when she did, the stylists wouldn’t stay long. She added that many people see the beauty industry as a “side hustle” and not a career. They don’t realize that you can make a good living cutting hair.
“I see this industry getting left behind professionally. People don’t tend to revere our profession as a true job or career,” Hardin said. “For me, that became my drive and my passion behind what I do, is to uplift the profession and give it the integrity that it really needs.”
Hardin has also been doing some outreach work on that front, working with local schools and the Boys and Girls Club to offer a 16-week summer hair braiding certification. Students can earn that license at the age of 16. With school programs, she added that it also helps for students to see a positive example of someone working in the beauty industry.
More than anything, Hardin sees Dream Beauty Academy as a place where she can provide opportunities and give people a chance to succeed.
The salon portion of the business will be downstairs, with academy classes upstairs. Hardin said she will offer classes for a full cosmetology license, as well as certifications on specific courses. For the everyday client, she’ll also offer online classes that provide how-tos for salon styling at home.
Hardin has always prided herself on knowing all things beauty and wants the same for her students. For this reason, Hardin will offer beauty classes for all hair types, so her students learn how to work with more diverse clientele. People taking classes can also continue working in the salon even after completing course work, like “training wheels,” Hardin said.
As a member of Cohort 4 of the “100Knoxville” program, Hardin said it reiterated a lot of what she already knew in business but taught her to apply it in new ways. She added that as a sole proprietor, she wears a lot of hats. The “100Knoxville” program has helped her to set boundaries so she can focus on different parts of Dream Institute, like the academy.
Harding is also hoping to bring back Beauty Xplosion, a beauty health expo that she ran before the pandemic.