By Harry Keaney
On hearing of Stella Freeman’s family background, it only seems natural that she has made her career in the hairstyling business. Her two sisters are hairstylists, as is her mother and two aunts.
“It runs in the family,” she said. “I have been watching it since I was a toddler. My mother never pushed me into it, but seeing my sisters work at it influenced me, I suppose.”
Last October, Freeman opened her own salon, Stella’s Hair Creations, on 43rd Street, just off Queens Boulevard, in Sunnyside, Queens.
“I always wanted to own my own salon,” she said. “Because I love Sunnyside and the people here, I decided this was going to be the place where I’d open for business. I had worked so hard for somebody else and I wanted to work hard for myself, to be my own boss. For the first six months, I worked seven days a week, often 12 hours a day.”
Stella’s Hair Creations, which specializes in cutting, coloring and European looks, now employs two additional hairstylists: Elaine Davis, from Crossmolina, Co. Mayo, and Alice McCarney, from Omagh, Co. Tyrone, as well as an assistant, Marie Ramchatir, from British Guyana.
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Davis has nine years’ experience and McCarney has 10; both are experts in coloring, foiling, perming and cutting. Ramchatir worked for six years with Freeman in Peter’s Impressions, on 43rd Street in Sunnyside, before Freeman opened her own salon.
Stella’s Hair Creations now caters for an array of circumstances and occasions, including wedding parties and upstyles. And, said Freeman, “coloring has taken on a new dimension in enhancing the looks of today.”
Freeman is one of a family of eight from Killorglin, Co. Kerry. She has five brothers, Derek, Robert, Patrick, Brian and Mark. Her two sisters, Myra and Gemma, have their own hair salons in Killorglin.
After attending national and vocational schools in Killorglin, Freeman began training as a hairstylist with AnCo, an Irish government agency that ran apprenticeship training programs. She continued her studies at Tralee Regional Technical College and received her junior and senior trades certificates, as well as awards for best apprentice.
In 1987, while managing a hair salon in Killarney, she came to the United States for a three-week holiday to visit her brothers, Patrick and Brian. “They were in the process of moving from Brooklyn to Queens and there was a spare bedroom in their apartment and I said I was staying,” Stella recalled.
“P_id brought me jogging around Manhattan,” Stella said. “He pointed out various hair salons. It was his pep talk. I was very nervous and this was his way of giving me confidence.
“He got the Echo, sat me down and we went down through the job vacancies. I got a job in Peter’s Impressions and I stayed there for eight years. I loved being in Sunnyside.”
On arriving in the U.S., Freeman first obtained a temporary six-month hairstylist’s license. After successfully completing theory and practical exams, she obtained her permanent license. She also undertook an advanced haircutting course at the Vidal Sasoon School, in Los Angeles, and regularly attends hair shows such as those in the Javits Center in New York. “I always like to keep up to date in fashion and hair trends,” she said.
When she decided to open Stella’s Hair Creations, Patrick and Brian, who run Southbend Construction, helped her renovate the building on 43rd Street. “They have given me great help and support,” she said of her brothers.
Stella’s Hair Creations’ clients are about evenly divided between men and women. “I think men today are grooming themselves more and caring more about their hair,” she said, adding that Stella’s Hair Creations stocks the American Crew range of hair products for men, as well as KMS products for women’s hair.
In time, Freeman would like to expand further. “Right now, I am happy with the support of friends and customers,” she said. But she is also cautious; when she opened Stella’s Hair Creations, Brian advised her to “never lose her fear.”
“As soon as you think you’re comfortable, that’s when you could lose your business,” she said he told her.
She hasn’t forgotten that brotherly advice.