She has a claim to fame that few in their careers can boast. Hairstylist and salon owner Yene Damtew is frequently recognized as THE hairstylist for former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. Credited with creating Mrs. Obama’s latest hair glamour for the ‘Becoming’ book tour and regular media appearances for Elle, Essence, and more, Yene has established herself as a go-getter who stops at nothing to continue sharpening her skills. Her hard work is paying off, and she’s just getting started.
Growing up in Southern California, Yene was the go-to hair braider in her neighborhood. She always knew that she wanted to pursue beauty but didn’t know how it would evolve, or even that beauty was sustainable as a full-time career. After graduating from cosmetology school at 21, she met a mentor who would soon invite her to move across the nation and work with the Obamas in Washington D.C.
Although her important role as Mrs. Obama’s hairstylist brings her pride and gratitude, Yene’s professional focus is on continuing education. She believes that education and well-rounded skills are the keys to becoming a successful stylist and savvy business owner. She’s even built her team culture at Aesthetics Salon around education.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned in my career is the importance of education. I went back to school to get my bachelor’s degree in marketing. That was the catalyst of opening my salon and running my business. I experienced a noticeable shift in the approach of beauty as a business.”
Yene’s approach to beauty is sharp and purposeful.
“Doing hair is not just doing hair. Every client is a part of your journey. They add to your success and respect your time. Embracing this is the philosophy of working smarter and harder.”
Yene credits her success to a constant curiosity to learn new techniques and expand her styling comfort zone. One of her school instructors, Jeannie Johnson, encouraged Yene to continue educating herself by assisting in diverse salons, working alongside other stylists who use different techniques, and to understand her own strengths.
“I’m never too good to learn. I’ve taken classes from ‘celeb stylists’ and it’s been interesting because when they realize that there’s up and coming talent, they’re either threatened or don’t want to help you.”
Yene’s teaching philosophy is different.
“I teach the way that I do it but understand that my technique might not work for everyone. I’m comfortable with myself and my skill set. I give the foundation, but you’ll find what works for you.”
Part of Yene’s education that helped her become a successful business owner came from her Professional Beauty Association membership.
“I really dived into my PBA membership when I opened my salon in 2017. I accessed business foundations like hiring documents, checklists, and magazine subscriptions, shows and discounts. There’s so much to consider when opening a business that people don’t consider, like retirement and 401(k)s, health insurance and business insurance, and I hope that more stylists across the country know that this organization is here to help us.”
To this day, Yene Damtew, stylist and owner of Aesthetics Salon, maintains a humble perspective toward her role as Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House and touring hairstylist. Rather than react to her opportunity with starstruck awe, or be consumed by celebrity self-importance, Yene’s composure and gratitude speak to her professionalism and dedication to be the best businesswoman and stylist she can be. Much like Mrs. Obama, Yene is a role model for women everywhere.