Eden Dessalegn – Eden Stylz
Born in Ethiopia, Eden Dessalegn moved to Australia as a six year old. After many years of being uncertain of the path she wanted to take in life, Eden has created a business around the things she loves most – braiding hair and people.
The Westies chatted with Eden at her salon in Condell Park and, over a cup of tea, learnt how her path has been anything but straight and taking a step into the unknown has been equal parts scary and rewarding.
the fact that I was meeting new people every day, and I could talk to them, and share ideas and I could teach them something and they could teach me something, that’s my favourite part about braiding.
The Westies : Have you always know that you wanted to open a hair braiding salon?
Eden: No. I was in corporate [businesses] for eight years of my life. Four years in logistics, and four years in government health. On the side I was braiding, hair-braiding is something that has been very consistent in my life, and I kept pursuing it, and getting better at it. I thought “I need to figure out a way where I can make my own money and take my own time off”. I knew I always wanted to own my own business, I just didn’t know what in. Eventually, I took the plunge, and went full-time mobile with hair braiding. I did that for about three years, alongside having casual work, because it wasn’t sustainable. Then I did a particular festival in Bondi. We were really busy, we had our first one-hour queue for hair-braiding, and I thought, “Holy Moly, this is awesome! I have to make this bigger and better!” As I was driving home from work one day, I had a big epiphany, and I thought – the Sydney Royal Easter Show, why don’t I just call them? So, I called them, told them about my business, which at the time wasn’t very big.
The Westies : This was before you opened the shop?
Eden: Yes, much before. Opening the shop was not even in my mind at all, because I really didn’t know what path to take in life. I was really confused, I had all these ideas – I wanted to do events, I wanted to work with children, I wanted to dance, I wanted to run a café.
So I contacted the Sydney Royal Easter Show, and they said, “Oh, it’s perfect, we have one more spot left, and it’s going to cost $6,000!” I was freaking out – that’s ALOT of money!
I had a big think to myself and thought, “You know what, this is could be something that’s going to tell me what path to take in life”. So I took the challenge – within a couple of months I rounded up some staff, I got all my materials, and we did it. It was very successful. We had three chairs, and we managed to do about 900 people’s hair in two weeks.
Running a business is tough, no matter how much you’ve read or you go to uni, you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into
The Westies : Fantastic! That seems like life was telling you clearly what path to take!
Eden: Yes, it was really challenging. It was hard, but it was a lot of fun and it taught me so many things and not long after I came across my shop. It was a run-down grocery store. It was really, really terrible, it hadn’t been touched in years. I had a vision of how it could be so I got the rental papers and a couple of weeks later I moved in and started the renovation process, not knowing where I was going with it. It took me about six months to renovate top to bottom, inside out, paint it, do all the floors and the awnings – everything. At that time I was close to finishing my degree as well, so it was so challenging.
The Westies : Oh, while you’re doing all this, are you still studying?
Eden: Yep, I was in my final year of my degree, and it was so stressful. One second I’m doing an essay, the next second I’m doing someone’s hair in an unfinished shop!
The Westies : What were you studying?
Eden: I did my masters in business management at UTS. My mother always wanted me to go to the uni, just for the sake of going to the uni. But I didn’t want to do a degree that I wasn’t certain in, or I didn’t even like. Finally at 25, I decided, “You know what, I want to do events and I want to learn how to run a business.” And then I found this course which kind of fulfilled everything. It was a business management degree majoring in events.
The Westies : A degree in business management must be quite helpful to have?
Eden: Yes, though learning from the books and physically doing it is two very different things. It certainly is helpful and I can definitely apply what I’ve learnt, but it’s still nothing like the real deal of running your own business.
You can have braids, whether you’re ethnic or not, as long as it’s not misrepresented, or taken as a joke
The Westies : What do you think has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
Eden: There’s been a few mountains. I think the first thing is the fear of just beginning something, taking that leap. Running a business is tough, no matter how much you’ve read or you go to uni, you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into.The second challenge is believing in yourself and continuing.
With this type of business, you’re predicting what’s coming, you can have five clients one week, then fifty clients the next. The third and most recent challenge for me now that I’m facing is staffing – finding people who are just as passionate as you, who are trusting, who are honest, who you can rely on. I guess it’ll always be the issue for entrepreneurs and business owners.
The Westies : What is it that attracted you to hair braiding in the first place?
Eden: It started with maintaining my own hair, growing up my momma worked a lot. I took it upon myself to braid my own hair, and then I just got better at it and I started doing other people’s hair. I’m such a people’s person. I love hearing people’s stories and that continued my passion, the fact that I was meeting new people every day, and I could talk to them, and share ideas and I could teach them something and they could teach me something, that’s my favourite part about braiding.
The Westies : What kind of people are coming to have their hair done?
Eden: We have people coming from all walks of life – babies to grannies, every nationality. We have afro hair, we have straight hair, curly hair, short hair, boys, girls. It’s such a variety, and we are very open to it. We welcome everybody.
We’re in 2018, cultures are mixing. This whole cultural appropriation stuff, I don’t get it. I really welcome everybody. You can have braids, whether you’re ethnic or not, as long as it’s not misrepresented, or taken as a joke. Just understand where it’s from. It’s okay to appreciate a different culture, and it’s okay to wear braids if you’re not of colour. I really embrace that, I love sharing my culture. I think it’s beautiful.
Interview: Katrina James
Photos: Katrina James