Before she opened her first natural hair salon in Stockton, Valonne Smith approached some banks to ask for funding.
She didn’t have much luck.
Not only were the banks weary about funding an untested start-up, they just couldn’t grasp the concept behind what Smith was attempting.
“I remember one of the guys telling me that he googled African-American hair salons, and that there were already 20 in the area,” said Smith. “I told him: they don’t do what I do.”
What Smith does is, in fact, a rarity. Very few salons cater solely to women and men with natural hair.
A “natural” herself, Smith had seen the lack of options when searching for a salon that focused on wavy, kinky, or curly hair. In the Stockton community where she and her husband had lived since 2011, she found zero. That was when the idea came to her – she could open her own spot.
And once the idea was in her mind, there was no stopping her.
Even though the banks rejected her, Smith pressed forward, intent upon making it happen. She pulled together funding from herself, her husband, and parents to open Natural Do in Stockton. That was back in 2016.
The salon bloomed into a success, which led to Smith opening a second location on First Street in San Jose last month.
Smith is a Bay Area native; she graduated from Milpitas High in 1998, so she’s deeply familiar with the area. In fact, when she opened her Stockton location, the plan was always to open another one in San Jose, as soon as she was ready.
Smith’s affinity for natural hair stretches back to high school. When she was younger, she had her hair permed, so that she could wear it straight. But during her junior year, she realized that her hair just wasn’t growing the way she wanted it to.
So she went to the library and did some research. Found three books on black hair care. The central theme across all of them was that your hair had to be worn in its natural state in order for it to grow long and healthy.
“So I chopped off my perm,” said Smith. “That was in ‘97.”
Since then, Smith hasn’t looked back. Once she started to wear her hair naturally, it grew longer and healthier. And people began to seek her advice, wondering how they could grow their own hair like hers. It seems that natural hair care has been Smith’s calling from the start.
Ronnie Smith, Valonne’s husband, has been there every step of the way, working with his wife to support and grow her business any way he can. The pair has been together for over two decades; they became friends way back in junior high, and started dating during Valonne’s senior year of high school. These days, they joke about how Ronnie “knows way more about hair care than he cares to know.”
Natural Do offers natural hair services, including wash n’ gos, flat ironing, braids, twists, coils, and locs.
“We don’t have any chemicals here other than color. And we don’t add any hair,” said Smith.
“We just focus on your beautiful natural curls.”
People can drop in and pay for services as they go. Natural Do also offers a popular membership option, with a monthly or annual fee. With the membership, clients receive unlimited access to hair services.
“We also like to throw community events for our ‘Curlfriends,’” Smith explained.
They often host events like movie parties and sushi parties to build a sense of community and show their appreciation for their customers.
Smith plans on opening a third salon in Sacramento, and will soon start hunting for locations.
Learn more about Natural Do here.