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From struggle to success: How Hair By Ivy’s Daniella Emilien built her brand

Photo credit: Jasmine Murry at JMPR

To an outsider, a Black woman’s hair is a mystery. People often wonder how our styles are cultivated, how we can go from a twist-out on Tuesday to a 22-inch bob on Friday. But we know that a great beauty stylist can take a woman from a not-so-great day to confident enough to move mountains within 45 minutes to a few hours, depending on the look.

In 2015, 20-year-old Daniella Emilien, a first generation Haitian Floridian, was left with a choice. Her mother was not receptive of her career aspirations to become a hairdresser. While her family wanted her to seek a professional degree program, she was adamant that her path was paved in a different direction.  With that, her family gave their blessing — just so long as she pursued her passions outside of their home.

With very little to survive and a 2-month-old in tow, a homeless Emilien leaned on her passion to pull herself out of desolation. With a skill for styling hair and making wigs, she used a $100 gift card that she had received for her baby shower and purchased all of the hair care products she could afford. She started to style hair for “dirt cheap,” and wherever she laid her head she did hair. 

Fast-forward three years, and she has become a well-known celebrity stylist — just ask her 78,500 Instagram followers — and a brand that has received national recognition. 

Emilien and her skillful hands have styled many of the reality TV stars whose looks we admire, including Joseline Hernandez, Tommie Lee and Nina Parker, among others.

Not only has she made massive career strides in a very short time, but she also has instituted a program called Ivy League Academy: Let’s Get Laced, which she started in Fort Lauderdale to share her knowledge with aspiring stylists. During the program, she infuses self-love, marketing and branding strategy, and industry secrets on how to propel your business.

Rolling out sat down with Emilien to discuss her brand, natural hair and more.

Did you expect to reach a following or success in your business to this magnitude?

No, I never expected my business to take off so fast! I guess that’s what hard work does.

You’ve indicated that you were a star student academically. What inspired you to do hair and specifically wigs?

Hair is life! Hair is art for me. It’s allowed me to bring out all my creativity. Doing hair is an expression. I get to make women look beautiful, and I get to interact with people from all over. Wigs are everything. [They are] very versatile and trending.

How important was it for you to start educating other stylists about hair care and installation? 

Very important. I wanted to make a difference and give other aspiring hair stylists an opportunity to learn new things. I’m always pro-education. You can never stop learning. It was a new trick and a new style. You have to be on your A game.

Please weigh in on the debate about natural versus processed hair? Do you believe the natural hair wave is a trend?

I love natural hair over processed hair. There [are] too many chemicals in the relaxers for our hair, especially in the Black community. I believe your hair grows thicker and much healthier being natural, especially with wigs. Now you can be natural because all your hair is [braided] underneath.

Do you think that Black women believe their value is connected to their hair? You mention self-esteem as a key component of your purpose, have you suffered from insecurities or self-esteem issues within your business or outside of it?

When a woman’s hair [is] not done, they feel ugly and down. The moment their hair is slayed, here go the selfies. … It warms my heart to turn [a] sad face into a smile. Yes, I suffer from self-esteem issues. Every woman should feel beautiful both inside and out.

Tell us your definition of beauty.

Beauty is happiness and confidence. Overall [it’s] self-love. Being beautiful isn’t based on skin color, hair length, hair color or body. If you are reading this, I want you to know you are beautiful.

Follow Daniella’s journey on IG @_hairbyivy, and also look out for the Let’s Get Laced Tour coming to a major city nearest you.