By AHLC Staff
It’s not every day that you hear of an engineer transitioning into the beauty world. Well, meet Lylanda Edwards, a right brain left brain, tech-beauty entrepreneur.
Growing up in the small Mississippi town of Louisville didn’t stop Edwards from believing that God had some big assignments for her. “I knew at a very early age that I was meant to be different,” she said.
Edwards, the oldest of four children, says family and faith are at the core of her foundation. She found her passion for beauty at the age of 13 when she styled her first set of finger waves on her cousin. “I recall two things — the waves being flawless and how good it felt after I completed the task,” Edwards said.
Hair wasn’t the only passion Edwards discovered in her youth. “One of my favorite high school teachers helped me realize that I had a unique gift to solve problems and analyze numbers,” she said. “That’s when I fell in love with math.”
Although beauty school may have seemed like the obvious choice, Edwards attended Grambling State University, a historically black college located in Louisiana, where she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Edwards says during that time she continued to pursue her love of hair by practicing trendy styles on her friends and room mates.
After graduation, Edwards went to work for IBM and launched her corporate software engineering career.
“I climbed the corporate ladder, had varying leadership and technical roles, and was placed in elite programs. But even with all that success, I never felt totally fulfilled in the corporate space,” she said.
Edwards’ desire for more purpose in her life led her to cosmetology school where she attended night classes while working her full-time IT job during the day. Driven by determination and purpose, she obtained her cosmetology license in 2006 and opened Gabrielle’s Salon and Day Spa, which later became Gabrielle’s Salon and Extensions Boutique, in Austin, Texas. The salon features private suites, an education center, hair restoration steam bar, beverage bar, hair loss center, wig-product boutique, lab, and state-of-the-art wellness center.
“The journey to get here was everything but easy,” Edwards said. Two years into her corporate career, she gave birth to her first child, Faith Gabrielle. “Faith was born unresponsive and declared DOA (dead on arrival) at birth. Having no heart rate or pulse, we were given the option to pronounce her dead or have a special team attempt resuscitation. Obviously, we chose the latter of the two.” A testament to her name, Faith survived but the journey to her recovery was far from over. The following four years would prove to be some of the hardest for her and her family as they continued to navigate through the twists and turns of Faith’s journey. Edwards says it was that season where she grew the most.
“Although I wouldn’t wish the experience on any parent, I wouldn’t change one thing for me,” she said. The greatest revelation from her struggle? “If I can birth a miracle, I can be a miracle!” She says the epiphany served as the cornerstone of the launch of her business and is the catalyst of its continued success today.
Despite the success of her business, Edwards suffered her biggest financial threat to her business during the recession in 2008. “I was still a relatively new business robbing Peter to pay Paul and watching the late notices pile up,” she said. But, her gift of finding opportunity in adversity, she says, led her to the personal finance personality Dave Ramsey.
“Financial Peace University’s approach to handling money saved my business and changed my life,” she said. Today, she pays it forward by offering Ramsey’s free financial literacy classes in the salon where she serves as a volunteer facilitator.
Edwards says that after thoughtful prayer and divine confirmation, she resigned from IT at the end of 2008 and committed to growing Gabrielle’s Salon & Extensions Boutique. Today, the business has 12 employees.
“We’ve seen substantial double-digit growth for the past six quarters, and we’re always adding new technology, services and resources to bring more value to our guests,” Edwards said. The salon offers more than 18 different techniques, including hair extensions, hair replacement, hair restoration and trichology.
Edwards credits diversity and education as the backbone of the company’s growth. “I believe our clientele represents heaven on earth …. every shade, age, background and nationality,” she said. “We are inclusive and our team takes pride in positively impacting people from all over the world.”
Despite her business drive, Edwards says balance is important in her life. “I always make time for my two favorite girls, Faith Gabrielle and my second child, Hope Olivia. We have date nights, girls trips, and individual mother-daughter-day outings,” she said.
“Because I embraced my unique journey, I get to change lives and serve a purpose bigger than hair,” she said. “My computer science background has certainly given me an advantage in this industry and provided a foundation for problem-solving skills that I leverage daily to drive my success in the hair extension and hair loss world.” Edwards says she troubleshoots network and technical problems quite often in the salon.
She says she’s passionate about helping people grow and believes one of the best ways to do that is through education. A recent challenge involved finding innovative ways to continue hands-on training while respecting social distancing. “From my home, I created a series of informal look-and-learn videos with some of our most popular hair extension techniques. I uploaded the videos to iPads and placed them in the education center for the team to access and practice during their downtime,” she said. “This virtual education resource made it possible for me to be in two places at one time. And most importantly, it provided another resource for our team to grow and flourish.”
Edwards says for both corporate IT and salon ownership, finding her niche was a setup for success. “You should always find a way to stand out from others. In IT, it was automation development that led to my recognition and promotion. On the beauty side, it was hair extensions and hair replacement. Our salon has offered hand-tied weft services since 2008, long before they were a thing.”
She says the biggest difference between her corporate IT and independent salon ownership is the roles and responsibilities. For most of her IT career, she focused on one role at a time. “Salon ownership, on the other hand, has required me to wear many hats simultaneously, especially in the formative years,” she said. “What’s made it worthwhile is knowing that as a business owner, I’m building a legacy for my daughters.”