Textured Hair Styling Academy L&M Hair Company Wins $20K Key4Women Grand Prize

Meaghan Evans.
Melody Brown (3rd from left) revives her winner's check at Providence Park stadium.

The salon was selected from a pool of 212 applicants after making an ‘overwhelming’ pitch

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Portland-based textured hair salon and styling academy L&M Hair Company was announced last week as the winner of Key Bank’s Key4Women pitch contest, a business pitch contest developed in collaboration with the Portland Thorns and the Microenterprise Services of Oregon to help women-owned early-stage businesses get the capital and mentoring they need to bring their ideas to a wider market.

L&M Hair was chosen to receive a $20,000 grand prize out of 10 finalists and 212 total applicants. In addition to being considered for prizes, all applicants were eligible to attend a free MESO advising session, and all finalists received a personalized meeting to develop their pitch to the judges.

Owner Melody Brown says her business will offer a $4,000, two-month long course available to graduates of cosmetology programs as well as self-taught and first-time hair stylists.

“All that gets taught is cutting and coloring, cutting, and coloring. Everybody’s educated on how to do everything except people who have textured hair, and so that left a gap in the market,” says Brown, who adds that during her company’s touring of cosmetology schools, students she spoke with said they were interested in working with textured hair, but nervous due to lack of proper training and experience. “I thought it was important to bring in the education to help train people to do what they love to all kinds of hair.”

Brown adds her program is also meant to be cost-effective for stylists who are not able to afford traditional beauty schools. “It felt like it was to be able to teach people for a pretty decent price. I don’t want people to go to companies go and pay $20,000 and come to me and take me another $20,000. It’s not really realistic. It was important for me to help those people who are living paycheck to paycheck and doing hair on the side to make ends meet and helping them hone that skill to actually make a six-figure income because it is very doable and very possible.”

Brown says L&M Hair Company has produced 17 graduates since it opened in 2021. L&M opened a second location in April of this year. One 18-year-old high-school graduate of Brown’s program began making $80,000 in her first year as a stylist, something competition judge and market president of KeyBank Oregon and SW Washington Josh Lyons says was a standout factor in the judge’s decision.

“I think what stood out to all of us as judges was the identification of a gap in the current system — that was one component of it — but then there was also the job creation and the financial wellness and wealth creation went along with it,” Lyon says. “One of the questions we asked Melody was, ‘Once these graduates come out of the training that she provides to get certification, do they have a job waiting for them?’ And she said she offered all these individuals a career to start. So, the ability to start that progress towards financial independence, financial wellness — and then you think about what that means in terms of their ability to buy their first car or buy their first house and save for the future, it was overwhelming. It was an overwhelming pitch,.”

Brown says she plans to use her prize money to develop a more formalized curriculum, hire an instructor and obtain kits, mannequin heads, and other gear required to expand her capacity to train the next generation of hairdressers. She says if all goes according to plan, she could have the ability to train 10 to 12 students every two months.

Among the other Key4Women finalists were Portland-based Amza Superfoods, an immigrant-owned Tibetan food startup, and Sherwood-based Breakaway Bookkeeping & Advising. Lyons says that based on the reaction to the program, Key Bank is already planning on hosting a second Key4Women competition next year, and invited all runner-up to apply.

“Obviously our Key4Women program isn’t just a pitch contest, but it’s the ability to provide capital to provide these wraparound services, focusing not only on the capital aspect of it, but around the empowerment around the education that connectivity is building up a community as these individuals go and pursue their dreams,” Lyons says.