Written by Yene Damtew
Yene Damtew is an independent hairstylist based in
Washington, DC. A girl on the go, Yene made a name for herself as the person to go to for unsurpassed standards of fashion forward hairdressing. She prides herself on her standard of excellence in both high fashion and classical hairdressing. Her unfaltering belief in continual education and development is what drives her forward and keeps her ahead of the game.
Immediately following cosmetology school, the Ethiopian- American, La Palma, California native launched her career as the Executive Assistant to celebrity hairstylist Johnny Wright. Less than six months after her apprenticeship began, she packed her bags and moved to Washington, DC, to become one of the two personal hairstylists to the Obama Family. Yene developed a skill for combining a “’Good’ Hair is Healthy Hair” philosophy with a modern and edgy style.
Yene specializes in color and hair weaving techniques. Her work has gained her a celebrity clientele such as actress Tracee Ellis Ross, Aja Naomi King, Skai Jackson, Zendaya, actor Hugh Jackman, supermodel Cynthia Bailey, songstress Kandi Burruss, WNBC Anchor Jummy Olabanji, 6ABC Anchor Jeannette Reyes, and Fox5 Anchor Tisha Lewis. Yene’s energetic attitude and go-getter work ethic has also garnered the attention of other beauty industry professionals.
In 2017, she opened her first boutique space, Aesthetics Salon in Arlington Virginia. She has consulted several budding entrepreneurs on developing and executing improved operational procedures to achieve their organizational objectives.
Wow, where do I begin? I started doing hair when I was in the 7th grade and started hair school when I was sixteen. I always knew this was want I wanted to do but I had to get my parents on board. They always supported my craft but like all parents they wanted me to go to college, get an education and didn’t see this line of work as a means of supporting myself. I went to high school from 8:00am-11:45am and cosmetology school from 5:30pm-10:30pm. The agreement with my parents was that I had to maintain my grades and they would pay for hair school. When I started that journey, I never thought I would work with celebrities, the first African American First family of the United states or open a boutique salon; but I did know that I was going to work hard and my work would be recognized. By being passionate and my biggest cheerleader, I have been able to experience life’s unimaginable moments.
Being positive has aligned me with some of the top artists in the beauty and fashion world and has allowed me to work ALONGSIDE legends. now i feel like it’s my turn to share the knowledge with others and uplift them, to stay encouraged and never stop dreaming big.
Never stop learning. Trust God’s timing and always believe in yourself. This industry is cutthroat and it all boils down to you as an individual. Good things happen to good people. Do good to others and your day will come. Being a hairstylist, you learn from every client that sits in your chair if you are open to it. You learn what mistakes not to make and what to do right. You must take cues from those around you and shape yourself to be the person you want to be in the world.
This journey has shaped me in ways unimaginable. It has taught me how to be a fearless woman, to believe in myself and know I can do whatever I put my mind to. Stepping out on faith and struggling have truly shaped me professionally. I also believe my entrepreneural spirit comes from my parents, Yacob Damtew and Tegist Mulugeta. I watched my parents work so hard to provide for our family and that has always been my motivation.
Two immigrants who came from a foreign country, educated themselves, worked hard and provided for my brother and i. we lived comfortably and i always knew if they could do it, why couldn’t I?
I always loved hair. My mentor always says, “hair is a language” and as I have grown within my career, I truly understand that meaning. It’s an expression of your identity. It’s an art and it says so much about you. I love the connections I have with my clients. I love the way I am able to help shape the way an individual feels about themselves. It’s very powerful.
I never thought I wanted to be a salon owner but one thing I knew was that there wasn’t a salon space for likeminded women to meet each other – a safe place for women to come network with other professionals like themselves and there be complete vulnerability. After working with my aunt, I knew I wanted to create this space that I felt society was lacking. The hair salon plays such a pivotal role in society, specifically the black community and I wanted to be sure that we too had a beautiful, safe atmosphere where people can come together, and our voices could be heard.
Honestly, I believe it’s about timing, God and your work ethic to achieve what you may think is the impossible. I can’t take credit for where I am today single handily. I am blessed with two parents who paid for me to go to cosmetology school when I was 16, a brother who introduced me to my mentor, and a mentor who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Yes, I worked and continue to work very hard to achieve my goals, but I truly believe it was trusting my gut and working hard for what I want. Growing up in being what is considered the Ethiopian Diaspora, your family wants you to dream big and take the traditional route – education, become a doctor, lawyer, engineer or something along those lines. Telling my parents, I was dropping out of college and moving to DC wasn’t the easiest, but I knew if I was going to do it I was going to have to do it alone. I didn’t ask my parents for much and I was prepared for the hardships that came with my decision and please believe me when I say it was hard.
In the end, it worked out in my favor – through the grace of God, my hard work and the support of those who believed in me.