Carolina Contreras found herself moving from New York City to her home country of the Dominican Republic for self-discovery. During her stay on the island, she learned to love her naturally curly hair — because it was way too hot for a blowout — and she wanted to spread that self-love to other women.
That's how Miss Rizos became the first all-curly hair salon in a country that still holds the belief that straight hair is beautiful and natural curls are unkempt. But, with the business now thriving and her trusted team members welcoming 30 to 50 clients a day, Contreras knew it was time to grow her business and spread her message.
At a Beautycon event in New York City where she's being recognized by SheaMoisture as a digital leader, Contreras will announce the expansion of her Miss Rizos salon to her second home: New York City. A step she saw coming from the start. "When I opened the salon in D.R. four and half years ago, I knew that this was something that needed to come to NYC," she tells Refinery29. And with New Yorkers flying out for weekend trips just to visit her salon on the island, she knew it was the right move. "No one is giving the curly service and experience the way that we do. I almost feel like it's a disservice to not bring it to different places, especially where I have so many supporters," she says.
The experience she aims to offer in NYC is exactly what she has going on in the Dominican Republic. "It's a salon where curly girls can go for everyday maintenance," she says. In addition to cuts, the services — which will range from $45 to $150 — will include wash-and-gos, simple braids, protective styles, and even detangling. And the mission isn't just to slay your strands, but also to pass along knowledge about styling to each client. "Salons pride themselves on the stylists being the experts," she says. "For us, we're trying to make you the expert."
And where in New York City did Contreras decide to place her new curly safe haven? The Washington Heights area, also called the "Little Dominican Republic," which has been grappling gentrification with higher rents and the closing of small businesses. "It's symbolic. I call it de-gentrification. For me, it's the process of retaking our spaces," the business owner tells us. "It's really important to showcase a project and business that celebrates who we are, that empowers us, and that educates us."
But that's not the only impact she wants to have on this city. This year, New York City announced the ban of hair discrimination in the workplace, and Contreras feels the timing signifies an issue. "If that just passed, it shows us that there is still a problem," she says. "I'm hoping that with a space like Miss Rizos in New York City we can create more awareness surrounding curly hair."
With her eyes set on early 2020 for the grand opening, this year will involve building her team, training, securing a location, and any final preparations with the help of her angel investor, another Dominican woman. Contreras is also using Indiegogo to allow the curly community to pitch in on her dream of coming to NYC. Back in 2014, she used the site to raise money for her first salon in D.R., and she's following a similar formula for her NYC location. Her second Indiegogo campaign, which has already raised over $4,000 (and counting) out of a $50,000 goal, allows you to buy your Miss Rizos wash-and-go service ahead of time or gift a service to a young girl.
By sharing her entrepreneurial journey, she is hoping to invigorate future small business owners. "I'm hoping to inspire more entrepreneurs to launch businesses that have a social impact but are also lucrative in places that are being gentrified," she says. "Our communities need more of us to step up to the plate. There are good things that come out of the Dominican Republic beyond just cultural things."