On a chilly Monday in December, Jacinta Appleton unlocks the door to a chic, elegant parlor. Bright, crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Tea green colors one wall, while violet purple colors another. The place is sophisticated and tasteful. It’s Appleton’s hair salon – The Hot Comb Natural Hair Salon.
Natural hair salons are a trend in Chicago. There are at least three natural hair salons that have opened within the past two years.
Appleton’s station sits at the front of the shop she just opened about a year and half ago. The Chicago native couldn’t dream of working anyplace else.
“I love my salon. I’ve always wanted to open my own shop,” Appleton said.
But before Appleton’s dreams came true, she worked in corporate America for five years.
“I was kind of at a dead-end job. I knew that wasn’t the direction I wanted my life to go in,” says Appleton.
Appleton worked at Conseco Insurance Company in Indiana, where she educated citizens about health insurance. She began working at the company after she graduated from Curie Metropolitan High School in 1995.
“Turn the computer on. Answer calls. Take a lunch break. Answer calls. Go home. It was just work,” Appleton says.
Finally realizing she was unhappy in one career, Appleton made the switch to another – hairdressing.
“After five years, I said ‘this is it. I’m not doing this. I want to do something I’m passionate about.’”
In 2000, Appleton enrolled in Dudley Beauty College in Chicago after hearing about its scholarship program. She won the scholarship, and began classes within a week of moving back to Chicago.
Now Appleton was where she felt she belonged, but it took another 11 years for her to open her own salon.
“I was so fearful of failure and the unknown for so many years. When God unleashed the fear in me, it just happened,” she says.
After sitting in church one Sunday, she realized it was time.
“The church I attend is called Giant Steps Ministry. It’s kind of hard to be sitting under a ministry named Giant Steps and not be catapulted into taking a giant step,” Appleton says.
Appleton partnered with Felisha Tinsley and opened The Hot Comb Natural Hair Salon, 1529 S. State Street, within three months, in July 2011.
“She’s a pleasure to work with,“ says Tinsley, co-owner of The Hot Comb, who also left corporate America. “I partnered with Jacinta, because I felt she’s the best at what she does.”
Appleton named her salon “The Hot Comb” for its namesake item, a heated metal comb used to straighten curly or coarse hair, because she specializes in African American natural hair.
“I wanted to let people know that we’re a natural hair establishment and to also pay tribute to our heritage,” Appleton says.
During her career, she has gained a following of loyal customers.
“I’ve followed Jacinta to five salons,” says Adrienne Henry Courts, who has been Appleton’s client for eight years. “People compliment me all the time. My hair is incredibly healthy.”
The stylists deemed Appleton as “the flatiron queen,” but she accepts the compliment humbly.
“I don’t just want to be the flatiron queen. I want her to be the flatiron queen. I want her to be the flatiron,” Appleton says as she points to each salon chair in her shop.
As for Appleton’s own hairstyle, she wears her hair in a low cut fade. She calls it “the me.”
“This is where I feel the sexiest. This is wear I feel the most comfortable. It’s me. I vary from it a lot, but I always come back,” she says.
Hairdressing runs in Appleton’s family. Her brother is a barber, and two of her aunts, her grandmother and her mother were hairstylists.
“She’s awesome. Jacinta is much better than I was when I was doing it,” says Kim Stratton, Appleton’s mother.
Appleton wants to make The Hot Comb a brand. She wants to expand to other cities, such as Atlanta and Washington D.C.
“In five or ten years, I see The Hot Comb being a successful chain salon. I want to be in the likes of Paul Mitchell, where our legacy will live on far after I’m gone,” Appleton says.
Appleton suits up to face the Chicago wind and locks the door to her salon. She still can’t believe how far she’s come.
“Some days I walk in here, and I pinch myself. I can’t believe I did it,” Appleton says. “I’d do it again twice over. It’s been amazing.”