Celebrity hairstylist Pekela Riley’s passion for textured hair and excellent service continues to elevate her brand and success in the hair industry. Riley has styled many of Hollywood’s finest, including Gabrielle Union, Nia Long, Chrisette Michele, Selita Ebanks, and more. Not only is she a stylist to the stars, but she is also a successful entrepreneur, as she is the founder and owner of the award-winning Salon PK in Jacksonville, Florida, and the True and Pure Texture hair line.
Over the past year, Riley has been a key hairstylist for numerous national hair care brand campaigns and activations, including L’oreal Mizani, Revlon Creme of Nature, and Curlbox. Recently, Riley won “Hairstylist of the Year” at the Curlbox Awards in Las Vegas, an event that recognizes vanguards in the beauty industry during the Cosmoprof Beauty Trade Show.
Riley is determined to revolutionize the hair industry as she builds an empire and inspires others to relentlessly chase after their dreams.
How would you describe your personal brand?
Style freedom! You can’t put me in a box or marginalize me. From natural hair to relaxed short pixies, I do it all because I represent that diversity of beauty for myself and all of our beautiful women. I create a styling platform so any woman can pursue wearing the style that’s best for their life. I’m motivated to master all styles and service all of my clients equally — naturalistas to relaxed — because I see myself in all of those women.
How did you arrive at this career choice? Was it a deliberate decision or a gradual and natural evolution?
Gradual evolution. I always grew up around it because my mother was a barber, as well as many others within my family. While in nursing school, I was also a secretary in the cosmetology department. I didn’t do a good job as a secretary because I was always helping out on the floor with cosmetology students. My boss said I better transfer from [my current department] to the cosmetology school and pursue my real dream or I was going to get fired! She saw my passion and skill set and encouraged me to embrace it as my career choice. I enrolled in cosmetology school and never looked back.
What separates you from other hair artists? What is unique to the experience that you create?
The range of my skill sets! Whether it’s long hair or short hair, natural, relaxed or extensions, 2B to 4C, or a variety of cuts and colors across the spectrum, my clients and hair brands I work for feel confident they can achieve an array of imagery options with me as the key stylist.
For those who aspire to follow in your footsteps, what skill sets do you recommend mastering?
Don’t skip the fundamentals and basics in cosmetology school. Be a fundamentalist versus a trend chaser because, when you master the fundamentals, you can do any trend that comes around. Master the art of being grateful and learning — use that in having an appreciation for your relationships. Always be a team player; bring your confidence, and leave your ego.
How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft?
I organize my inspirations and make sure I’m naturally inspired to move the needle within my industry. When I truly tap into that natural passion place, I can consistently operate in a zone where I’m inspired and motivated to be at the top of my game. I also keep in mind that I’m a service provider, so I go above and beyond to humbly operate in a space of service.
Do you think that there are any widely held misconceptions about what you do? If so, what are they, and how do you work to dispel them?
Hairstylists are perceived to be wilder than what we are, and we don’t get credit for our nerdy side. We’re alternative nerds. Being in a creative field does not let you off the hook from being organized and time conscious. Creativity is not enough; you can be a badass in this field creatively and still fail if you don’t pair it with basic organizational, professional and business skills.
How do you map out your goals? How do you measure your success?
I map out my goals by organizing my inspirations. I identify with what I’m most inspired by and prioritize based on the impact of the accomplishments. Success is being continuously inspired in combination with an accomplishment achieved. That helps you reach higher steps on the ladder of the success journey and reach greater levels of mastery. You can’t measure success always by money (although it helps) and can’t measure success totally by how busy you are. Busyness can still lead to ineffectiveness.
Why do you consider continued learning important?
Our world is constantly evolving, as well as our needs. Continuous learning allows one to stay ahead of the curve to properly fulfill the demands of today and tomorrow.
What affirmations do you repeat to yourself that contribute to your success?
“I am the difference maker” and “Thank you, God.”
If you could change anything about the world, what would it be?
Racism and discrimination.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would create a better work-life balance.
What does it take to be iconic? In your estimation, who has achieved that status?
Becoming everything in the moment when the lights are on you because you did it 1,000 times before with no lights – and putting that process on constant repeat. Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Albert Einstein are a few.
What keeps you inspired?
Life’s inspiration and [the] magnetic charge that follows success after hard work being manifested. I felt a responsibility to this inspiration – not to let this inspiration down and to see it through to a higher level. Inspiration feels so good that I say to myself, “How could I let this inspiration down?”
Follow Riley on her social platforms @Pekelariley (IG, FB, Twitter).