Black-owned beauty boutique Bronzed N Glow rides out COVID-19, roadwork to open in Detroit

Co-owner Jamesha Lucas is excited to finally open the doors of her beauty boutique in Detroit.
In the quiet corners of the Novi Public Library in 2017, Jamesha Lucas and Destiny Thomas started planning. The two entrepreneurs had noticed a gap in the hair care market and began brainstorming ideas that soon led to a full-blown business plan. 

Since then, the pair have battled hurdle after hurdle, including delays caused by road works, financial constraints, and a global pandemic. They are now, finally, preparing to open their Detroit salon, Bronzed N Glow Beauty Boutique, in August.

Their concept, at first glance, looks similar to other beauty product boutiques but Lucas explains that they want to provide more than just access to good quality products at their Avenue of Fashion location. They want people to get smart about their tresses.

With plans for personal consultants, access to a hair analyzing machine, and a heavy focus on skin and scalp health education, the duo is poised to offer a unique approach to the way customers consider their coiffures. Providing mimosas for shoppers likely won’t go astray either. 

“There’s not many places you can shop for hair products that feel very glamorous,” says Lucas. “We wanted to take all of the experiences we loved and put them into one.”

The core idea behind Bronzed N Glow, Lucas explains, comes from a frustration with current retailers and a general lack of knowledge around products. She and Thomas started out trying different brands, swapping back and forth, and comparing notes on what worked.

“Personally, I didn't have the best luck looking for hair care products,” says Lucas. “It was always a guessing game, and often such a solo guessing game. I heard others experiencing the same, and I started keeping mental tabs.”

What surprised the pair in their experiments, however, was that their needs were quite different. 

“We both assumed that because we’re both curly-haired girls we could just use the same products, but it’s not the case,” says Lucas. “We realized how much of a need there was for a space where you weren't just shopping but learning something.”

To this end, Lucas and Thomas have purchased an analysis machine to help customers determine the condition and needs for their hair. The focus was born out of personal experience after Lucas discovered she had a scalp condition that was affecting her face.

“It’s living, breathing skin underneath all this,” she says. “I had used a ton of products and none of it worked, what I needed was medical attention—it took a trip to the dermatologist to realize it was actually an issue with my scalp.”

Lucas hopes the new technology will help to better pinpoint what customers need, and help point them towards medical care if they have the same issues she encountered. But hair care education, Lucas says, is not just medical. It’s cultural. 

“In Detroit, I see so many beautiful interracial couples, and sometimes your hair is one way and your child’s is another way," she says. "Maybe couples adopt, or genetics surprises them. We wanted to create a safe space for that discussion.”

Tailoring to the Black community is a big part of what Lucas and Thomas are doing, after tiring of searching for their hair care products in the “ethnic” sections of mainstream retailers. Lucas says “big-box” store owners may have believed they were making products easier to find for consumers, but says there’s a dangerous stigma to labeling products as “separate” and “different.”

“We didn’t want to do the reverse of that and create a small section for people who aren’t Black,” she explains. “We want people to feel comfortable to come in and ask questions, we never want anyone to feel excluded the way I have in the past.”

Jamesha Lucas reviews the plans for Bronzed N Glow Beauty Boutique, on Livernois Avenue.

The road to opening has certainly been a bumpy one for Lucas and Thomas. Originally planning to open their doors in October last year, they were thwarted by roadwork that meant a demolition of the sidewalk in front of their premises. Trying to avoid opening in winter months, the pair altered their plans for a spring season opening. Then COVID-19 hit.

“It was really heartbreaking,” says Lucas. “We had to let our staff know—that has been very challenging.”

Fortunately for Lucas, business tenacity is in her blood. She was in business consulting for nine years, after graduating from Clark Atlanta University with a business administration degree, but her passion started much earlier, watching and learning from her father. He launched his electrical contracting company out of the family basement in St. Louis, Missouri, and steadily grew the business to employ more than 40 people.

“He grew one of the largest minority-owned contracting businesses at the time, which just wasn’t done back then,” says Lucas. “He’s so modest, and I appreciate his humility when he talks about it, but I say to him: ‘That was totally a thing, sir.’ ” 

That determination provided inspiration when Lucas and Thomas pivoted to launch a website and start supplying customers before even opening their doors. With requests coming in via social media, the pair started doing private consultations and quickly had over 60 orders per month.

“People didn't know what products we even had. They trusted me and we found people just needed guidance — to talk to a person," Lucas says.

“I had to convert my basement into a fulfillment center. It was not the way it was supposed to happen, but you have to be OK with how things change.”

Further support came from a small business loan from Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, as well as resources from TechTown Detroit. It was there that the pair learned of a $10,000 grant from Verizon’s Small Business Recovery Fund, facilitated by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which they were awarded in May. (Disclosure: This story is supported by LISC.)

Through LISC, Verizon has committed $7.5 million in funding for over 400 small businesses and Lucas and Thomas were one of 55,000 applicants in the first two rounds of funding. LISC Detroit Executive Director Tahirih Ziegler says the nonprofit organization is proud to support Bronzed N Glow.

“More than ever, LISC Detroit is committed to serving Black-owned businesses in Detroit,” says Ziegler. “LISC’s economic development work is, in part, about building wealth within Detroit’s community of entrepreneurs to support their resiliency through the challenges of COVID-19 and strengthen the neighborhoods and commercial corridors where they work.”

LISC President and CEO Maurice Jones says small businesses are the “economic backbone of our communities” and that through the program they are able to support entrepreneurs that have otherwise not been able to access relief programs.

“Especially those owned by women, minorities, and veterans,” Jones says. “And in the process, protect the jobs and economic activity that are vital to the nation’s long-term recovery.”

In a recent Goldman Sachs survey, 64% of small businesses say that because of COVID-19, their cash reserves will last less than three months and those that remain open have cut 37% of their workforce. With a full-time store manager and two part-time beauty consultants, Lucas says the funding will make all the difference when they open.

“The grant allowed us some cushion to say if things are not as normal as we expected it to be, we can still care for our employees, who are providing for their families, and they don’t have to bear the brunt of a slower time,” she says. 

For now, Lucas and Thomas are working through the final inspection stage of their salon, and while they hope for an August opening, they are nervous about COVID-19 restrictions. 

“People were already skeptical about retail but specialty retail is still doing well,” says Lucas. 

“There’s a piece of us that still wants human connection and walking into a store — but knowing people may not be as willing to do that is a scary piece for us.”

Despite the setbacks, they are hopeful and excited. 

“It’s been a journey,” says Lucas, explaining that they couldn’t have made it this far without a community behind them. “I can't even explain how that made me feel, to have that support.”

This is part of a series supported by LISC Detroit that chronicles Detroit small businesses’ journey in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Kate Roff.

Kate Roff is an award-winning freelance writer and journalism educator, currently based out of Detroit. She is the managing editor of Metromode and Model D. Contact her at [email protected]