BET.com’s THE GLAM GAP is a weekly video series spotlighting Black entrepreneurs and influencers in the beauty, fashion and lifestyle space.
Nia Long, Tiffany Haddish, Rihanna, Zendaya are just a few of the many celebrities who have been lucky enough to have #UrsieOnHair. But famed hairstylist Ursula Stephen has become much more than just the go-to beautician for some of the most famous in the industry, she’s basically a celebrity herself.
However, had you asked her growing up if this is what she’d be doing, the answer would probably sound a lot different.
“Growing up I never had dreams of being a hairstylist,” Stephen tells BET. “I didn't think that it was something possible. You know, a lot of my peers when I was in high school knew exactly what they wanted to be and do. They had ideas of being nurses and doctors and lawyers and that was so far from what my dream was. I didn't really have a specific dream of being a hairstylist, but I knew that I wanted to do something creative and fun, that I didn't want to work for anybody, and that I didn't want to wake up early. That last part didn't happen. But I'm working for myself and I'm truly very, very happy.”
And that happiness is well-deserved. After decades of creating some of our favorite hair looks, traveling the world, and as she describes it “checking goals off her list,” she added “business owner” to her resume. In 2013 she opened Ursula Stephen The Salon in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY, a dream she says wasn’t just for herself.
“As I continued doing things I was like, ‘okay, it's time for new goals,’” she says. “It just became a natural goal for me to open a salon. I didn’t really want to necessarily open a salon to get back behind the chair, but more so to create that safe space, that safe salon space that I didn't have growing up. I wanted to create a salon space for young creatives that didn't know what to do and needed help to build their career. I wanted them to have the opportunity to step out on their own but still have a salon clientele to fall back on if they wanted to.”
It’s that business model rooted in giving back that also sets Stephen apart from others. But that’s not all, her unwaining authenticity even in an industry ruled by the celebrity egos makes her a personality that people love and adore.
“Trying to be someone else doesn't work for me,” Stephen says. “It's not comfortable. I feel like my foundation, my core group of friends, my family, and the way I came up is because of that. I didn’t have a silver spoon in my mouth. I really worked hard. So when I really think back, I often dwell on the beginning. The beginning is something that I think is what keeps me authentic and grounded honestly. Like, I'm not really thinking about the glitz and glamour of it all.”
In learning herself, the industry, and hair, she also often reflects on her relationship with her own strands.
“I'm gonna try not to cry because it can be, it's very traumatizing,” she says when asked about her relationship with her hair. “I have a very interesting relationship with my hair. I actually love my hair a lot. I started very young, so my first model was myself. So I tried everything. It’s been broken off, grown back, cut off, shaved off, I weave down to my ankles and bobs. So yes, your hair listens, and you should baby your hair and take care of your hair, no matter what.”
Follow Ursula on Instagram @UrsulaStephen and visit UrsulaStephen.com to keep up with her salon.
(Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)