Don't be surprised if Takeisha Berry-Brooks sheds a tear or two at some point during the 2nd Annual Naturals in the City Hair and Wellness Expo. They'll be expressions of joy.
Approximately 5,000 attendees are expected at the 2-day event that unfolds this weekend at the Cook Convention Center after debuting at the Esplanade last year. For Berry-Brooks, it's all a part of an ongoing labor of love on a natural journey that she travels which is powered by faith.
"I still trust Him! I'm still being tested. I'm not worried about the outcome," said Berry-Brooks, wiping away tears.
In addition to a larger venue and adding a second day of workshops and activities, the Expo's growth will also be reflected in the number of vendors, nationally recognized product brands, and well-known guest presenters who will participate.
In the beginning
Like many up and coming hair stylists, Berry-Brooks started out braiding hair. By 1999, she had graduated from cosmetology school, The Hair Design School. Her first salon experience was in the shop of local stylist and salon owner, Lisa Akbari.
As she progressed, Berry-Brooks' skill-set increased, and no task was too big or small including how to shampoo hair and effectively service career-oriented clients. She was determined to be more than "just a stylist".
From Fatou Jangum, she learned about various braiding techniques, styles, and designs. Jangum, said Berry-Brooks, had one of Memphis and Tennessee's very first braiding shops.
Next, came a stint with Dr. Joanne Cornwell from whom Berry-Brooks picked up the technique of installing "sister-locks." Not long afterward, she began traveling to other cities to expand her knowledge base on overall natural hair care and cutting-edge styling.
In 2000, her mother, Shirley Pruitt, told Berry-Brooks that natural hair was going to be the wave of the future, but she didn't believe her. Following her mother's inclination, she traveled to Atlanta to attend The World Natural Hair Show, with Pruitt "paying it forward" by footing the bill. She recalls the experience as "Iife' changing" and credits her Mom with setting her on the career trajectory that the trip out of town placed her on.
Back in Memphis, Berry-Brooks focused more and more on styling natural hair, dealing primarily with locks, twists and coils. Her long-held desire to own her own salon was percolating, but she knew there was much more to master. At the time, Berry-Brooks knew of only a handful of other natural hair stylists in the Memphis area, and she wanted to ensure that the services she provided to clients would always exceed expectations.
Emerging as a leader in natural hair care
Berry-Brooks remained at the last salon she was employed with for seven years before opening her own. During that time, her interest in business ownership continued to build, while she recognized the need to find the right time to move forward with her plans. "Before officially opening A Natural Affair Beauty Lounge, I tried and tried to get my own shop. It was not my time. I had young children," she recalled.
Balance was an elusive desire.
"There was no balance. I spent anywhere up to 14 hours a day away from my kids," Berry-Brooks said, tearing up as she explained how she managed to press forward, often working seven days a week knowing that her daughters would eventually benefit from her sacrifice.
If you have kids, you have to take good care of them, her mother had told her. So Berry-Brooks did what she had to do.
"It was tough," she said. "But, I did it and I made it," a smile flashing.
Berry-Brooks went on to college and earned an associate's degree in art.
But it was in Atlanta attending the World Natural Hair Show where being introduced, to Carol's Daughter, Lisa Price's line of natural hair care and beauty products, amazed Berry-Brooks and inspired a new goal. She purchased Price's book, "Success Never Smelled So Sweet" and read it in two days.
Discovering that Price launched a product line while $30,000 in debt, Berry-Brooks starting thinking about creating her own product line. In 2007, after a five-year effort, Metamorphosis Natural Hair Care Systems ™was a reality, with its first two products, a therapeutic shampoo and scalp oil. The number of products grew, as did her client base, positioning Berry-Brooks to purchase her first house, first car, and put her daughter in private school.
On her own
A Natural Affair Beauty Lounge, Berry-Brooks' first salon, opened at 376 Perkins Extended in 2008. Proud and looking ahead, she involved her family, including her three daughters: Destiny, Dayah, and Dani. The three-flowers in the salon logo represent "her girls" as she affectionately calls them, hoping that they will one day take the reins of the empire she is working to build.
The three-year stay at her first location yielded experience on how to run such a thriving business operation. Meanwhile, her Metamorphosis Natural Hair Care Systems product line expanded to nine offerings.
"People have different needs and I want to offer a product for their every need, from dry to brittle hair. The demand is ever-changing."
Recently, Berry-Brooks hooked up with a new manufacturer that can keep up with her sought-after products.
"How can I get there? How can I be like, Carol's Daughter?" Brooks asked herself as continued the narrative of her career path. "If she can do it, I know that I can too."
Today, Berry-Brooks' products are available at her new salon location, which she opened in 2011, located at 2847 Poplar Ave.
Naturals in the City
Ask Berry-Brooks what brought the Naturals in the City Hair and Wellness Expo to life, and she takes you back to the ATL.
"Every time I came back from Atlanta hair shows, I came back empowered," she said, thinking that, "We need something like this in Memphis."
She also pointed to the cover of a 2004 edition of Essence magazine, with Anita Baker gracing the front cover. She found inspiration in profiles of natural hair stylists.
Still, why Memphis? In fact, why not move to Atlanta or Dallas or some other city more often considered sounder ground to accelerate for a professional woman of color.
"Memphis is home," she said
According to Berry-Brooks, the outcome of the inaugural Naturals in the City Hair and Wellness Expo at the Esplanade was a resounding success that offered many learning lessons on how to improve in years to come. The rest is history!
Crediting a great staff, peers, family, friends and the city of Memphis, Berry-Brooks said not even two-car accidents and other unexpected setbacks could derail the success of the movement she is building in Memphis.
"Naturals in the City is one of the most positive events produced by African Americans in Memphis. All of our guests, participants, and vendors leave happy. It is something that is needed, and last year I felt like we made history!"
Wedded to impacting Memphis for the greater good for all people and the natural hair community in particular, Berry-Brooks is pushing forward, with an eye on grooming the next generation for leadership. At this year's Expo, her oldest daughter, Destiny, will facilitate a workshop for teens titled, "Teen Naturals!"
Berry-Brooks is committed to extending a helping hand to artists, fellow stylists and, entrepreneurs and natural hair and wellness enthusiasts.
The vendors' list for the expo includes Miss Jessies, Entwine Couture, the Bubble Bistro, and Design Essentials just to name a few.
"I'm excited for them," said Berry-Brooks, who relishes the opportunity to provide a platform for those who want to display their products and services.
For more information about the upcoming 2nd Annual Naturals in the City Hair and Wellness Expo and to purchase tickets, go to www.naturalsinthecity.com.