For Tanisha Harbert, beauty is in her blood. The daughter of a beautician, Harbert says she’s been braiding hair since she was five years old and with the ability to replicate almost any hairstyle just by looking at it, she believes it is her gift.
But even with an innate knack for cosmetology Harbert never imagined she’d be opening her own beauty school — the first Black-owned licensed beauty school in Madison at that. But today she’ll be cutting the ribbon on Chanell Ardor, a passion nine years in the making.
“I knew I wanted to teach, but I never thought I’d own a school,” Harbert said sitting in her office located at 1810 S Park Street, the building where she first started her career.
Almost 15 years ago, Harbert worked as a beautician in a salon that used to be housed in the location and in 2008 she opened her own salon, Beauty Masters, right across the hall.
Now the building houses multiple rooms where Harbert will teach hair, skin, and nail care, as well as cosmetics and spa treatments.
She believes her path to turning a salon she used to work for into a classroom she runs in a school she owns is a testimony. She credits most of her accomplishments to God and her loved ones.
It was a combination of the two that first gave her the idea to open a school. Harbert originally planned to become a licensed educator and move somewhere warm to teach cosmetology.
“I just wanted to be able to give back everything I knew and I also wanted to help other people cultivate their natural abilities,” Harbert said.
But after going to a hair show with a friend she said God put it on her spirit to take it a step further and open a school.
“I felt it all in my spirit that that’s what I had to do. People are going to think I’m a crazy, but I have to do it,” she said. She told her friend, “this is too big for me. It’s got to be God that does it.”
Later that night she went home, prayed and opened her Bible to a random page that happened to read, “But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it,” the same words she told to her friend earlier.
For her that was a sign that she had to start a school.
Still, despite such an obvious calling, Harbert was still reluctant.
“I ran from it because it was so huge and I never dreamed that big,” she said. “My biggest hardship was fear.”
From there Harbert believes God put people in her path that helped her get to where she is now.
People like Ytevia Watts, a local business consultant she met at a Black Business Expo. Watts spearheaded Harbert’s business plan for Chanell Ardor, according to Harbert.
Harbert also credits the help of her family, like her brothers and uncles who drove from her home state of Illinois every Sunday morning to work for 10 or more hours a day renovating the space, accepting only meals for payment.
Her husband and children also assisted her in cleaning and website design and holding down the fort at home while she spent long nights doing the process of getting licensed and building a curriculum.
“It’s important to have that support team to help you keep pushing,” Harbert said. “Everyone has sacrificed a lot to get me here.”
Now that the grand opening is finally arriving Harbet has big plans for her school, which will specialize in teaching students how to service a diverse clientele.
“So many people have gone to school, but lack the education on multicultural hair,” Harbert said. “The average beauty school is about $18,000 to $22,000 and I just don’t think you should pay that kind of money and not have the ability to service anyone who sits in your chair. That’s the difference I want to make. I just want people to have a well-rounded education.”
Harbert plans to focus on teaching styles and techniques unique to Black hair needs and trends such as braids, extensions, and natural hair care.
“We’ll spend more time on multicultural hair care,” she said, citing that many beauty schools do not include a broad array of services specific to clients of color.
“It’s well known that Madison lacks a place for us to get our hair done,” she said.
Like most beauty schools Harbert’s students will be able to work on actual clients, offering services at a discounted rate after completing a 12-week essentials training, but unlike most schools these services will be catered towards everyone, especially Black women.
“I think it’s important that we have a place here because when it comes to the beauty school industry there hasn’t been space for us and I just want a place that we can come to and we can get the styles we like to wear,” she said.
Though Herbert is licensed in teaching cosmetology, nail technology, barbering, esthetics and cosmetology instructor licensing, she plans to stick to cosmetology to start and eventually expand to add more programs, specialized instructors and school locations, in addition to opening a new salon that can potentially employ some of her students.
For now she is starting small, servicing up to 10 students per class to maintain a one-on-one instruction style. Enrollment has already begun for the school and classes are set to start July 10.
She will, however, offer her own cosmetic line and plans to host community events through the school such as fashion and hair shows.
“I can say this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s important to have that support team to help you keep pushing,” Harbert said. “I think it’s important to show that you can do anything you put your mind to and I want to set the bar for the industry on education, especially here in Madison because we are lacking education for multicultural hair.”
The school’s grand opening will be today, June 17, from 2 to 5 pm and will include a ribbon cutting, photos, a tour of the school and raffle prizes.
“It’s amazing to have dreamed about something and worked on it for so long and then you actually see it come to fruition,” said Harbert.