Five years ago, Barbara Prince was the only women’s hairstylist working in a barbershop catering for men.
Her salon chair was positioned in the back of the room, requiring her all-female clientele to walk past the crowd of male barbers and customers that took up most of the space.
“It was really uncomfortable having to walk through the men to get to the back,” Prince said. “Women are really private when it comes to their hair.”
Needing to break free from this arrangement, Prince opened up her own hair salon in 2006 specifically for Black women. She called it Styles by Sweetzer after the nickname her mother gave her when she was a little girl.
Here, Prince is able to work independently as a stylist, offering affordable prices to new and returning customers for their hair care needs.
While she specializes predominantly in shorter hair, Prince can work with all lengths. Her services include cuts, color, weaves, sew-ins, perms, braids, relaxer treatments and more.
“It’s just a relief to just get your hair done and feel good,” Prince said. “It makes a difference.”
On a typical day, Styles by Sweetzer serves between five and 10 clients by appointment. Customers can also browse Prince’s selection of Paparazzi Jewelry and custom T-shirts.
This year officially marks Prince’s 30th year as a stylist. She said she always liked doing her own hair growing up, so she decided after high school to make it a career. She attended Columbia Beauty Academy and graduated in 1992.
Prince then worked in larger salons before deciding to open her first place. After 13 years, she moved the salon to a location off Business Loop 70, where it stands today.
“I feel if you really want to do something, you can do it if you put your mind to it,” she said. “Me being able to do hair like this for 30 years and then on my own has truly been a blessing.”
What excited her most about opening her own salon was the complete freedom to decorate it the way she wanted. She envisioned an interior that fostered the sense of comfort customers would find in their own homes.
It’s a quaint two-room salon with one master styling chair, two sink bowls, three hair dryers, a TV and other pieces of furniture. Photos of Prince’s children and grandchildren, inspirational quotes and decorations for the next upcoming holiday hang on the dusty pink walls.
One of the happiest signs of success for Prince and her salon may be the number of long-term customers who return to her styling chair — sometimes as often as every week.
Among these clients is Verl Williams, a regular customer for 23 years who visits the salon every Thursday to decompress from her job running a preschool and raising two teenagers.
“Getting my hair done is my downtime,” Williams said. “Some days I’ll come into the salon and just want to talk, talk, talk, and other times I just want to sit there, relax and listen to my music. Either way, Barbara has no problem with it.”
Like Williams, other clients say they are able to channel this inner sense of comfort in Prince’s salon because of the trust they have in her ability to make them feel what some describe as “uplifted,” “spectacular” and “a breath of fresh air” upon walking out the door.
“I have clients that leave really happy — they’ll be so happy to leave that they’ll forget something at the salon on their way out,” Prince said.
Janice Estill has been booking appointments with Prince for 25 years.
“I know when I leave that hair shop, my hair is going to be looking good, because that’s what she does,” Estill said. “She’s a perfectionist. She takes the time to make sure every strand is in order.”
Many customers find Prince an easy listener who will let them share their personal matters.
“As a hairstylist, you’re always a counselor too, because you hear everybody’s problems while doing their hair,” she said.
Estill agreed: “People know they can always go to her hair shop and just talk, and Sweetzer is a good listener. She doesn’t judge people, and you have to have that kind of confidence in your hair stylist.”