Celebrity stylist finding success focusing on hair extension business

What do actress Vivica A. Fox, rapper Rich the Kid and singers Ari Lennox and Deborah Cox have in common? Celebrity hairstylist LeAna McKnight.

McKnight has built a career helping Hollywood stars get camera ready, but a recent return to her hometown of Las Vegas has her pursuing a different path selling hair extensions.

“I needed to slow down so I could really focus on the business,” McKnight said. “The cost of living in California was a big part of my brain because I was thinking more about money than growing (my business). And I wanted to get back to something familiar – I lived here for 13 years when I was a kid – and we needed more space for our inventory and Las Vegas was able to provide it.

Like many in the salon industry, the COVID-19 pandemic and its mandatory closures have devastated stylists, including McKnight, who was forced to temporarily close her West Hollywood hair salon in addition to losing on-set gigs for major television networks and fashion brands.

Time at home has helped her refocus on her hair extension business, SL Raw Virgin Hair, and last month she launched her products nationwide, including a new line of hairless wigs. glue. There are also plans to sell its line of human hair extensions internationally.

Hair extensions and wigs – whether used for beauty or to help hide hair loss – are a growing industry. The North American market is expected to reach $2 billion by 2026, according to research firm Reportlinker. He also reported that North America accounted for more than 40% of the global wigs and hair extensions market in 2020, with the highest demand from 35-44 year olds.

“The growing popularity of wearing wigs among celebrities, models and social media influencers is having a ripple effect on individual consumers. New and evolving fashion trends in the industry have also always influenced the growth of the market among individual consumers and artists,” according to the report.

“Thousands of dollars wasted”

McKnight grew up in Las Vegas but later moved with her mother to New Orleans, where she attended vocational high school. It was there that she discovered her love for beauty and hair.

“You had to choose a vocation…so I chose what I thought was the easiest vocation, which was cosmetology,” she said. “All my girlfriends were taking nursing classes but I’m in cosmetology and I’m having a really good time.”

The classes counted as credits toward her state board license, but she faced a major setback when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her family’s home. She moved to Houston, and that’s when she decided to complete her training, going from a shampoo tech to opening her own salon studio in 2010 in Houston, then West Hollywood, CA. , in 2014.

“I was selling hair (extensions) to my clientele, so I was just focused on selling hair to improve their service and experience,” McKnight said. “All of these hairstyles were beautiful, but they just didn’t have the same movement (as real hair). I noticed that the hair got very straight after a few weeks.

McKnight wanted access to hair that would look natural and undetectable on a client, so she found a supplier with a higher quality product.

“She was willing to sell it to me at a discount, where I can resell it to my customers,” McKnight said, adding that she didn’t make a profit. “That’s how I started getting my feet wet and getting more involved in selling hair extensions, but of course you get to the point where you don’t want a discounted price, you want to do a profit.”

McKnight spent nearly four years researching manufacturers — “wasting thousands of dollars” testing products she described as rubbish — before finding a company that offered genuine human hair.

“I found a manufacturer who was willing to work with me and meet my needs when it came to providing me with virgin human hair extensions, sourced from temple donor hair in India,” he said. she declared.

Increase e-commerce

Armed with a vendor, McKnight began to focus on building its online store. While she first created her hair extension website in 2011, it remained largely intact as she juggled clients, her salon business, and a move to Southern California.

But when the pandemic forced a temporary enforced shutdown of businesses in California in 2020, McKnight saw an opportunity to grow the online business.

“The first two months of the pandemic it was just me eating and watching TV because I usually don’t have time to watch TV and by the third month I was like, ‘I have to do something’ “, she said. “I kind of locked myself in my office and rearranged the whole store…and as soon as I rearranged the store, we started getting visitors and sales.”

Sales have increased more than 500% in seven months, and now McKnight says she is 100% focused on growing her online business and no longer styling hair. She closed her West Hollywood store before moving to Las Vegas. Even her husband, Gregory Alexander, quit his job at Coca-Cola last year to help run SL Raw Virgin Hair.

“She always had an endless game plan. She’s the person who actually talks and walks,” said Alexander, who recalls meeting McKnight when she was still working toward her cosmetology license. “It’s great to see because initially she had no clientele. It wasn’t even a store yet and just seeing it grow like this I’m just amazed. I’m happy to be part of it. »

SL Raw Virgin Hair offers a number of textures, colors and lengths such as its sewn-in wavy natural hair, fused or micro-linked hair as well as various wigs. Prices range from $90 to around $1,000.

McKnight said that if customers maintain their extensions like their natural hair, such as regular washing, deep conditioning and proper storage, the extensions can last for years.

While some products such as wigs can be worn by customers on their own, McKnight recommends buyers consult with a salon professional, especially for extensions such as micro ties, adding that many of its sales are to hairdressers.

“A lot of our customer base is on the east coast, but I try to spread that (westbound request). And if we can go international like the UK or Dubai, who love hair extensions, that would be great,” McKnight said. “I think knowing it’s a celebrity hairstylist behind the business should give customers that level of comfort knowing it’s a hairstylist who has actually worked with the product and knows it’s been verified. “

Contact Subrina Hudson at [email protected] or 702-383-0340. To follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.