Spas are often synonymous with self-care, self-love, rest, and relaxation. From the gentle touch on our bodies to help alleviate aches and pains, to skin correction, to the removal of unwanted hair, we as Black people covet those special moments as they can de-stress and take us from good to great all within one service. It’s no wonder that during the past three months of social distancing, we have been waiting with bated breath for the day that our favorite spas re-open for some much needed TLC. However, as unique as those spas and spa days are, it is the spa owners who we entrust to set the tone and create an atmosphere used to balance us out with each visit.
The following three spa owners have made quite the name for themselves through their passion, commitment, and pursuit to make sure every client who walks through their doors, leaves out differently. By going the extra mile and adding their unique flavor, they have been able to set themselves apart by showing not only how much they care but also how grateful they are to be in their position. The first spa owner merged her medical background with her love of beauty to correct any skin problem that dares to come across her threshold, leaving each client running back for more. Next is someone tired of seeing her Black men stressed and creating a space where they could feel appreciated, welcomed, celebrated, and treated like kings. The last followed her entrepreneurial spirit, into the spa industry just wanting to be an owner, but later found an underlying passion for performing the services that were almost second nature.
KiKi Carr, Optimal Beauty
What is Optimal Beauty’s story, and what made you pursue a career in makeup and skincare?
What led me to pursue a career in makeup is pretty intrinsic. I got into makeup as a child, and by the time I got to high school, everyone wanted me to do their makeup for prom and graduation. At the time, I didn’t see it as something that I could do for money, so I never charged anyone. Makeup was just something that I enjoyed doing. So fast forward to college, I decided to pursue a degree in medicine. When I picked my major, it was something that I also fell in love with and was passionate about. I initially set out to pursue a career in medicine because I’ve always cared about health and helping people, but the beauty part was still there; it stayed with me throughout my collegiate career. Once I graduated, I was able to get and do everything that I ever wanted, with the degree that I worked so hard for, but found that I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until I got fired that I decided to no longer pursue that path, and from there, I chose to stand in my gifts and go where I was celebrated. And because health, beauty, and wellness go hand in hand, I was able to merge my purpose with my passion through my medical background. So in 2009, I established my business, and in 2018, I took it from a side hustle to a full-time job.
What are some of the services that you provide?
I offer all services that estheticians provide. My business is centered around being a medical spa, so I’m the step before going to a dermatologist. When people have issues relating to their skin, one of the first things they do is run to the doctor, unaware that they can be treated via acupuncture or a visit to the esthetician. So I encourage people to come to me first before undergoing any aggressive medical treatments that can be harmful to Black skin.
Being in the beauty and skincare space, what was your “aha” moment?
My “aha” moment was when I developed my skincare products. When I was able to combine everything to work for my good. My chemistry background helped me to formulate my products. My medical background helped me to become an amazing esthetician straight out of school. And it all started by just having a love for beauty.
What has been your most significant moment to date as an esthetician?
My greatest moment has just been me stepping out on a limb and going full-time with my business. That was in December of 2018, and I’m still here.
What has been the greatest impact you’ve had on your clients?
That goes back to my days of working in Macy’s. It was the broadest spectrum of clients that I had ever gotten a chance to work with. Until then, my only experience was with Black people who were going on prom and for a wedding. I never had the opportunity to work with people with various skin conditions such as vitiligo, albinism, or burn victims, and my feedback was amazing. It was something that made me respect makeup artistry as a makeup artist. It’s one thing to put makeup on yourself, but it’s another to put it on someone else and enhance their features. I can remember making one lady cry because she never thought that she would look beautiful again. That let me know that my work was serious and that I was doing a good job.
When you pursued this career path, did you imagine your growth?
I’m just amazed at the support that I’ve received and that I continue to receive. My only expectation is that God’s Will is done and that I always put my best foot forward.
What is one thing that you want people to know about the work that you do?
I want people to know that no matter the issue, there’s always a solution.
For more information on KiKi and Optimal Beauty, visit www.optimalbeauty.net and follow her on Instagram @optimalbeauty.
Dr. Marva Cooksey, Next Man Up Spa
What made you decide to open a men’s spa?
I became interested in massage when I was married back in 1985. I was one of those wives who wanted to make sure that I could take care of my man when he came home from a long, stressful day. My background is in clinical pharmacy, and in 2014 I decided that it was time for me to do what I wanted to do, so I enrolled in school to become a licensed massage therapist. I chose to open a spa for men because Black men, in particular, are stressed out, and I wanted them to have a place to get their services and just be men. A friend of mine told me that as a Black man, they are looked at as the scum of the Earth, so I wanted to give my brothers a place where they could distress. I officially opened in November of last year, and some of my primary customers were the first responders and professional guys. I realized that I had to include women, as well. Women are welcome, but it’s for men, and the tagline is “Next Man Up: A Man’s Ultimate Spa Experience.”
What are some of your services?
First off, when you walk in, you automatically know that it is a place for men. The colors are grey, black, and a touch of red, and we also have a bar area. As for services, we offer manicures and pedicures and have throne-like chairs for them to sit in. We also offer massage as well as facial services. There are four massage rooms, one of them being ADA compliant, so it’s designed for men in wheelchairs. I have a shower area and a steam room with aromatherapy and music. There’s music in each massage room, and the men can select what they want to listen to. Upon arrival, you are greeted with a lemon-scented towel for the hands and are provided with lemon and lime infused water. We also gift the men with small cakes for their birthdays because I believe in celebrating my men.
When did you realize that you were onto something?
Around Christmas of last year, after being open for only a month, I sold $6,000 in gift certificates. Most of which were purchased by women. It’s the women who want their men to look and feel good.
What has been your most memorable moment since opening?
After doing a service on a client with Parkinson’s Disease, he booked another service two days later, and before the pandemic, came in twice a week.
As far as who’s performing the services, are they men or women?
It’s all Black women.
What has been the greatest impact on the lives of your clients?
I would say decreasing the stress levels in my clients. They walk in one way and walkout differently.
What have you learned since opening Next Man Up?
I learned that God put me where I am. He has protected and covered me, and I haven’t had to worry about a thing. I am living my purpose.
When you opened Next Man Up, did you imagine the exposure that it currently has?
No, I didn’t think about that. I just wanted to open. But now that I’ve seen it, I want more exposure. And it’s not about the money. This is about helping my people. The money will come, but this is about seeing those men walk out with smiles on their faces. That’s what’s most rewarding.
For more information on Next Man Up, visit https://www.nextmanupspa.com/, and follow them on Facebook @Nextmanupspa.
Myisha “The Beauty Boss,” Ready Set Relax Beauty Studio
What led you to open a spa, and how long has it been in business?
Ready Set Relax Beauty Studio has been in existence for two years. Before opening it, I was a credit manager but knew that entrepreneurship was in the future. I always wanted to open a spa but wanted to make sure that I first knew the business. I enrolled in school, and it was like second nature for me, it was as if I didn’t need to put forth any effort. After three months of being in school, I knew that I was doing the right thing. I eventually left my corporate job to complete school and opened my spa shortly after.
What are some of your services?
I offer skincare services for men and women. Some of my top facials are the CBD facial, oxygen facial, and I just released the Rona Recovery facial. I offer makeup, full-body sculpting and waxing, and ear candling, which is a holistic way of draining wax from the ear.
How has your business changed in the two years that it’s been open?
The beauty industry is always evolving, so the most significant change that I’ve seen is more people of color paying attention to their skin. When I initially started school, I didn’t want to do skincare; I just wanted to be a spa owner. Because of the saying “Black don’t crack,” I didn’t think that Black people would commit to their skin or the process of getting it together. However, I became good at skincare. I found it to be something that I couldn’t avoid, and then I had clients that were so committed that they started bringing their kids.
What has been your greatest moment?
For me, my biggest goal is to touch people. I had a young lady come to me with a lot of hormonal and skin issues, and I gave her a facial and skin wax. After I finished, she looked in the mirror and started crying. She said that she had never felt so beautiful or so feminine. Just to know that a person was dealing with that, and you can change their perspective and how they view themselves is amazing. I was just doing my job, what I love to do, but it impacted her in that kind of way. It’s moments like that that I’ll never forget.
What has been your greatest impact?
That would have to be on my students. I teach continuing education classes for people who are in the industry, and to see them grow in their fields, and later attribute that growth to my instruction is impactful. It’s your legacy after you leave. I’m an open book and don’t believe in hoarding information. There’s too much of that in our culture. So I want people to leave with something more than they came with when they come to see me.
Have you had any collaborations or partnerships?
I have! I’ve collaborated with quite a few massage therapists and nail technicians to host spa parties. Some of those parties have even taken place outside of Chicago, which has helped us to build our brands. This year, I did Taraji P. Henson’s makeup artist’s facial, and she was trying to get Taraji in before she left Chicago. And all of this happened so fast. In just two years, I have moved to a bigger space, and am currently at 750 clients. Fifty of which I got during COVID by doing virtual services and social media.
Who inspires you?
Oprah. No matter what she accomplishes, she continues to strive for greatness. And it doesn’t come from a place of unfulfillment, She’s just trying to be great and impact more, and that level is what resonates with me.
For more information on Myisha, visit, readysetrelaxbeautystudio.com, and follow her on Instagram @mzbeyonic_beautyboss.
Contributing Writer, Racquel Coral is a lifestyle writer based in Chicago. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.