I remember meeting the ambitious Tameeka McNeil-Johnson for the first time at “Natural Hair Stars” event. She talked about hair care and how she can bring anyone’s natural curls to life. Intrigued, I kept her information.
Eventually I went for a free consultation that she gives her potential clients. Before I knew it, I was coming to her on occasions for a wash and go. Recently I sat in her chair, to let her work her magic.
Usually she’s the one asking all of the questions. However, I took the opportunity to get to know her better. We had girl chat, about everything from her making her brand to what it was like to publish her first book.
When did you know that you wanted to do hair?
I knew, when I knew I was making people feel better about themselves, and that was roughly around 12. It started with my sister and a few of my friends. Just seeing the difference I made in how they felt about themselves in terms of their hair. One felt like, “my hair never grows, it looks like crap.” The other one would always seem to get bad hair cuts. When I did something to their hair and they felt like I nailed it! It made them feel better, and it made me feel better. It made me feel like I had a gift.
Have you always done hair, or did you experiment with other jobs?
I had many, many other jobs. I have done nursing, I’ve managed a few stores out there, (some still standing.) Then, it was always hair in between, it was off and on with hair. But officially, I was in a salon before I even got a license, probably around 14 or 15 years old. I was working in a unisex salon.
Being so young, how was it to get people to respect what you do?
I guess I must have looked older because no one really questioned that part. They just knew I had a skill. I think because it was more unisex, and it was a lot of barbering going on in there. The women who was coming to get those short tapered cuts, back then (when it was relaxed,) they was just happy to see that someone could give a feminine touch. They would say, “girl, you got a skill.”
Then you went to the two salons, you work with now?
Oh no. There were several salons before. There were, not only the unisex salon which my “wasband,” what I call him now, (my ex) and I use to work out of, and sort of co-bought into with a few other people. There was Afrigenix on 79th Street, where I was a braider. There were some of my well-known salons such as Ouidad where I worked for 7 1/2 years. She’s also known for curly hair, one of the first. As well as Christo, I worked there for about 5 years.
Once I figured to stop working for people, I rented out another place. Serenity, right behind the Empire State building. Then I landed upon another location on 28th Street and 5th Avenue. That eventually closed down, unfortunately. Now, I finally found I would hope my homes, which are in the village and New Jersey. The New Jersey is more of a business collaboration.
When did you start your business?
Within the last three years. I woke up one day with one of my pregnancy (a mother of three, mind you.) For the second child, that name “Jaded Tresses” was in my head. I made a website. I remember starting with vista print. I didn’t know much about making a trademark. I was dabbling with it. The website was up for quite some time and did rather well. People learned more about me. But once I decided to leave those places where I was actually making “them” money, and I knew I was on my own, I registered with the State of New York and became an official business.
Was there anyone who inspired you in the business?
Yeah. I was just telling my colleges the other day that I would have to give a real good shout out, in so many ways to Ouidad, known as “the queen of curl.” And although she’s a Lebanese woman and I do more African-American women textured hair, it was her that I feel like I am following in her foot-steps. She’s a great business woman. And she’s been around, for as long as I’ve been around, so it’s amazing that her business is still successful the way it is. And she has several different locations that is affiliated with her. Working with her for 7 1/2 years, she just taught me what to take and what not to take, in terms of bulls*t in the industry. And to pretty much own your own. She always use to say, “you get on my nerves because you remind me of me.” That’s funny because I did not understand what she meant, but I so understand now, now that I am here. So, I would say, she was a major inspiration. The experience working there, learning that hustle and bustle. Learning how to keep things professional and very organized, and how to handle all the industry people who come in and out the salon, was very important because we did a lot of celebrities there.
Do you deal with perms?
I do. It sounds funny, but I do. Actually, the woman who created my logo, Camille Terrell, absolutely amazing woman. She relaxes her hair. She was referred to me because her hair was damaged and falling out. It’s her preference, she like to wear her hair very crop bob, very angle, very sharp. If you needed, it would get done. Once she got healthy and her hair was healthy I proceed to do her relaxers. Healthy is good hair. So, I do. I do everything.
How was it, writing “Little Black Book of Rules for Curly Girls,” with Candace O. Kelley?
Writing the book with Candace Kelley, was interesting. We will find our little spaces and call them our quote on quote office, like Panera Bread and Starbucks. We would just lay out there for hours. It was very interesting because she was educated a lot as she was interviewing me. She’s the co-author of the book. She sat down with me asked me tons of questions. Everything that we ever heard from events, or anything we ever done that pertain to hair. From my point of view as a license stylist I answered it for her. Then we generated more questions and more answers, getting into debts of everything. So, she learned about a lot of salons, where I kind of put them on the map, “where secrets being told,” people say. But, also just the knowledge of hair in general. Lots of hours put in, but it was well worth it.
When will the next book come out?
I will hope by the end of next year, I want a deadline in December.
What do you want your clients to gain?
Of course they always come in all confused, not knowing, and scared as sh*t, because they don’t know what’s going to happen. But, I want them to feel that they left learning so much about themselves. Their hair, what they can embrace, and what they can expect for their future in terms of their hair, and how to deal with it. When they come they can be as scared as they like. I am all in their head, questioning them about their day-to-day routine. It sounds a bit aggressive sometimes. But it’s for me to get a better understanding of what you deal with day-to-day. So I can make a regiment that’s best for you. In terms of hair cutting, designing a cut that will be ideal for their facial shape and day-to-day routine as well. When it comes to styling the most amazing thing for both myself and them is when they come in they’re like, “my hair can’t do that, my hair can’t do that!” To prove that it can do that, and they’re completely in awe. I love that.
Name two independent women who inspire you.
Ouidad. And I would have to say Candace Kelley. She’s a woman of many different titles. I mean, really if she threw in having children I would be like “are you serious?”
You know, I have to ask. What is your definition of an independent woman?
An independent woman is someone who does not feel like they need anyone or anything to help aid them through any trails and tribulations. They’re going to find their way through it regardless. So, no procrastinating, get up, work hard, long days, long hours, and put in the work so you can achieve whatever you want. And I feel, if you do have a good supportive team, meaning your family, anything can be done. Let no one tell you, at any point or time that you can’t do something. When someone tells me that, the battery is reloaded and I am ready to go!
To read more about Tameeka McNeil-Johnson, a.k.a “The Curl Whisperer” you can check out her website at www.jadedtresses.com. Read the book review by Michelle Alerte on the “Little Black Book of Rules for Curly Girls,” here. Also, Takmeeka was generous enough to give my readers 10% off their next hair appointment when they mention the code: #IrisAKAMISSI. If you stop by her chair, let me know how it worked out for you?