We asked Canadian Customers “What did you make this year?”

This year, hairstylist and entrepreneur Shannon Skinner made a space where people don’t have to question if they belong.

Based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Shannon’s hair salon, Salonki, is a source of support and inspiration for the local community through her volunteer work and fostering an environment of connection.

Before starting her entrepreneurial career as co-owner of Salonki, Shannon kicked off her career in a top hair salon in the city and worked there for 8 years before leaving. Shannon first moved to Thunder Bay without a place in town where she could get the right hair or skin services done as an African woman with Afro-textured hair.

A place like that was needed and motivated her to open her own business.

What pushed you to leave your job and start your own business?  

“I think for me, the major thing was dealing with different racial stuff. And like you know, certain conversations that were happening around me in the studio that I worked at, not just the coworkers and employees, my employer, but with clientele and I didn’t feel comfortable.” 

Shannon wanted to create a space where she could continue doing what she loved while feeling safe and comfortable. She felt like she couldn’t continue to rightfully go into her old salon and not be herself. With conflicting interests and nowhere to go, she pushed forward, hoping to get to where she wanted to be. 

“The beginning was scary. I am a single mom with my daughter and I still feel like a single mom in my finances and lifestyle.” 

During this transition between jobs, Shannon had to work part-time as a server to pay her bills. During her first year of business, the pandemic began and her shop was closed for months at a time throughout the year. Whether or not she made a certain amount of money, or wasn’t as successful, this experience taught Shannon to live within her means.

Did you lose hope when starting your business?

Shannon started her business just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which was a very hard time for many small business owners. She never lost hope in her business at any point, because she believed if she created a space with the energy and effort that she did, it would be received back tenfold.

Although the shop was a little shaky with government regulations, Shannon knew that once she got back to work, everything would be okay.

When asked what her biggest challenge other than COVID was, Shannon replied that “I don’t know if I can think of anything that’s harder. That’s a challenge.”

After facing one of the greatest challenges a small business owner could take on, Shannon appreciates the challenges that come with following her passion. Her next goal is to add more talented and passionate members to her team to keep the positive energy and momentum flowing in her salon.

How do you define success?

“Seeing my clients happy. I feel successful from that. Having someone come in and just express how they feel getting their hair done or a lot of the conversations that kind of happened in the salon with people from different backgrounds and statuses. That’s my success, feeling like my community feels safe. And then I feel safe in my space.” 

To Shannon, success means being able to go into work and put a smile on clients’ faces while making them feel safe. The meaningful conversations she has with complete strangers is a luxury she never takes for granted.

It makes her day to see others feel good about themselves, and is the most rewarding part of her job. Hairstylists are face-to-face with many people, and a lot of times, great conversations happen.

Shannon is able to connect with her customers on a deeper and more personal level, allowing them a safe, judgement-free zone to open up. When someone comes in and trusts Shannon with their secrets, she feels amazing as both parties can connect and share personal stories despite their cultural differences. 

What are your goals and where are you heading? 

“In a year I definitely want to have a couple of more stylists and my goal for five years at least is to have a hair school in the city. I want to have a space where anybody could walk in and it wouldn’t matter what you look like or what hair you had, that a hairstylist behind the chair is doing your hair because we’re in the business of hair.” 

Shannon wants to continue her goal of creating a safe space in Thunder Bay and wants to expand her reach throughout the entire city. She wants to make a change where people can learn everything they want about hair – no matter what they look like physically. 

“So a five year goal. Right now just in my head, not on paper, or I haven’t taken the next steps yet, but I will.” 

With a vision for the future and a determination to see her business thrive, Shannon isn’t afraid to take risks to get there.

Is it hard balancing owning a business with spending time with your daughter?

Shannon used to be in work mode all the time, but the pandemic opened her eyes to how much time her child spends in online school and how much parents actually spend with them.

“And then I definitely had a little guilty moment where I’m like, okay, she’s in school all the time, when she’s home for the week, by the time we get home dinner has been made, we probably hang out for an hour and a half a couple of hours.”

Now Shannon actively tries to leave space and make time for her daughter so she can just be a mom during their time together.

If you’ve learned one life lesson from all of this, what do you think that is?  

“Follow what your heart wants and put everything to the side that is telling you not to do the things that you want to do.” 

Shannon stopped the ‘what ifs’, continued to move forward and dealt with things as they came.

This story is a part of a series to highlight building a life that you’re proud of and honouring the lives that people make for themselves outside of their finances.

To follow this series, click here to read the rest of the collection. 

What did you make this year?

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