1988 high school career day sparks dream in Ledford
When Danette Ledford, owner of Charisma Hair Salon in Waynesville, was a senior at Pisgah High School, she planned on being a physical therapist. It would be a safe and stable medical job she could count on, she decided.
However, there was just one tiny problem– every time she thought about her plan, something that said “this just doesn’t seem right” gnawed at her.
In the back of her mind, she knew she was fascinated with fixing her friend’s hair and make-up for the prom and even giving her friends amateur haircuts afterschool at their homes. “I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but they let me cut their hair and I just loved it,” she said. One time in her health occupations class, she even borrowed her teacher’s scissors from her desk and gave her friend a haircut right there in class. “I remember she wrote in my yearbook, ‘Thanks for the haircut,’” recalled Ledford.
However, her question was, “Is this just a high school fun thing or can I make a living at it?”
That question was answered on her senior career day at what was then Haywood Technical College (currently Haywood Community College) when she toured the cosmetology facility along with her classmates. As she looked around the busy salon, she was mesmerized with every facet of it – the smells of shampoo and permanents, the conversation, the overall positive environment and the classic art of creating beauty taking place in front of her eyes.
That very day, she dreamed a big, vivid dream she was sure she wanted – to become a cosmetologist and one day open up her own salon.
She immediately began to put action steps in place to reach her dream. After graduating from Pisgah High School in 1988, she began cosmetology classes at HCC that fall. During the year and a half she studied in the program, she worked two jobs to pay her way through school – at Long John Silvers in Waynesville after school and on weekend nights and at Springdale County Club on weekend mornings.
“I remember I studied on breaks and when I got home,” she said. “There were many times I wanted to quit but now I’m glad I didn’t.”
Her hard work paid off when she finished the cosmetology program in December 1989 and began working for Regis Hair Stylist in Asheville in April 1990. While she worked in Asheville for five years, at Beau Monde Salon in Waynesville for five years and then at Classic Hair Design in Waynesville for another five years, she never lost sight of her dream of owning her own salon one day.
In 2005, after gaining valuable experience in the industry and building up adequate clientele, she took that leap and opened the doors to Charisma Hair Salon.
“When I opened the doors to my own salon, I was proud that I had done what I set out to do,” she recalled, thinking back on that pivotal career day.
“I picked out the name of ‘Charisma’ because when someone has true charisma, it’s not only the beauty they have but they have a charismatic personality and charisma in how they portray themselves and that’s what I wanted my salon to reflect,” said Ledford.
Eight years later into living her dream, Ledford says her favorite part about her work is that gut positive feeling when a fantastic haircut pushes a client to walk out of her salon holding their head higher with a bit more self-confidence. “Sometimes a client might come in here and be down over something in their life like a divorce or a sickness or after just having a baby and looking better makes them feel a little better about themselves,” she explained.
The biggest challenge, she says, is repairing hair coloring gone bad – continually a tough task to tackle even for a seasoned stylist.
The most important lesson Ledford has learned is that the secret to being a good hairstylist is giving great haircuts – but the secret to being an excellent hairstylist is to understand that a stylist isn’t merely a stylist, but often a counselor as well.
When clients sit in her chair, they naturally love to talk.
“I really have to get to know people in this business because sometimes clients feel like they can talk to me when they can’t talk to anyone else,” she said.
Annette Smith is one of those clients whom Ledford helped welcome to the community when she moved from the Wilson, N.C. area in 2008. “A girl at work recommended Danette to me when I moved here and she’s always worked with me about scheduling and does a great job,” she said.
“She’s the best,” Smith added.
Looking back over 23 years in the hairstyling business, Ledford says she has no regrets about following her dream long ago on a high school career day – and, once in a while, she can’t help but think about those rather dull desk scissors she borrowed from her teacher when she pulls out her sharp salon scissors.
“I truly do love my job and I don’t even feel like I’m going to work,” she said. “My clients are not just clients but they are like family and friends to me.”
Charisma Hair Salon, located on Montgomery St. in Waynesville behind Main St., is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, plus Wednesday by appointment. Walk-ins are welcome. To contact Ledford, call 452-3100.