When 19-year-old Don Crowell graduated from The Academy of Hair Design in 1982, former owner Kris O’Kelly asked him what he wanted to do with his life.
“I want to do what you do,” said the aspiring, artistic student.
That young man and his response made a lasting impression on O’Kelly, and as a result, the future of The Academy of Hair Design.
Don understood at a young age human beauty is art. The textures and colors of the hair, skin, eyes and lips combine to make each person unique. He also understood it takes a trained artistic eye and steady hand to put it all together and that the results are often breathtaking.
That’s where The Beauty Academy, 208 S. Wenatchee Ave., enters the conversation.
The Beauty Academy (beautyacademy wenatchee.com) fills an important role for women and men of all ages interested in pursuing a career in the art of human beauty. The Academy’s 6,000-square-foot space is well-designed, featuring a 25-seat hair salon, classroom space with student lockers, a full kitchen and break room, and a product supply storage area. The approach the academy uses blends theory with real-world application by providing the opportunity to work with customers while building skills. This approach is the program’s greatest strength.
“The Wenatchee Beauty Academy is a fantastic opportunity for students to begin their career training to become a beautician, barber or manicurist,” said Jon Torrence, director of the Wenatchee Valley Technical Skills Center. “This two-year program begins with ‘freshman’ training, consisting of theory and practical labs and progresses to working with customers on the floor.”
The academy is increasing its focus on students at the Skills Center.
“We catch these students at an early age, and we can give them a foundation of what the cosmetology industry is all about,” said Shana Kai, program administrator and life coach at The Beauty Academy. “The beauty of this Skill Center program is these students can find out if this industry is a good fit for them.”
The academy has a long history in Wenatchee. It was founded in the mid-1950s as Revell’s Beauty College, has trained thousands of students and has had three owners.
After Don graduated from the academy, he began working for his father, founder and owner of Gentry Beauty Supply and Salon.
“My father had been in the cosmetic business my entire life, so I grew up with it,” he said.
And that’s where Don gained valuable experience.
O’Kelly decided she was ready to retire in 1999, and she gave Don a call.
“Kris remembered that bright-eyed boy with the wonderful personality, and asked Don if he was still interested in owning the business,” Shana said.
Don bought the business from O’Kelly and used his experience to make improvements.
Shana moved to Wenatchee from Southern California in 2006 and has worked in the cosmetology industry for 28 years. She enrolled in the academy, completed the coursework and earned her license to practice cosmetology in Washington.
Don invited Shana to join the business and she started full-time in January 2012.
The Beauty Academy experienced its own facelift when Shana joined the staff.
“We rebranded the business last year,” Shana said. “We changed our name to The Beauty Academy and re-launched our advanced esthetics skin care program.”
The academy now offers certificates in three areas of study: cosmetology (requires 1,800 hours of instruction), esthetics (700 hours) and instructor training (600 hours). Students then take the practical and written state tests to receive a cosmetology license.
“We’ve always been among the highest ranking beauty schools in Washington for students who pass the test the first time they take it,” Shana said.
The instructional program at The Beauty Academy is accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Career Art and Science. The academy has been accredited since 1987 and is proud of that fact, Shana said.
Don and Shana are serious about preparing students to be successful after graduation. They recently introduced the “Nuts and Bolts” program — advanced life skills classes taught twice a week that provide specific training in retaining clientele, being successful in job interviews and communicating effectively with clients.
The cosmetology students learn with the best products available.
“If you teach them from the beginning to use quality products, they will benefit,” Shana said. “We use Mac makeup, the highest quality products on the market.”
The Mac cosmetics product program has an additional benefit for the students.
“We became a Mac Pro school this year, and our students receive a Mac Pro Student Card which allows them to attend Mac training events,” Shana said. “It also gives students discounts on products. It’s just another tool in their toolbox when they seek employment.”
The recent changes to the academy have sparked new interest in the program. This year enrollment has increased (class size hovers around 100) as has the number of clients coming through the door.
“We have had some of the largest classes in our history in the last few years and we are busting at the seams,” Shana said. “We are working on remodeling a 1,000-square-foot space just two doors down for expansion.”
Tammy Conner of East Wenatchee has been a client of the academy for six years. Along with her two teenage daughters, Conner receives a variety of services offered at the school.
“It’s like receiving first-class, royal treatment at a day spa, at a fraction of the cost,” Conner said. “The instructors and staff are professional, and that’s passed on to the students. As a mother of five, the reasonable fees at the academy are my favorite part.”
Graduates may seek employment with established salons locally or in bigger cities. Some go as far as starting their own business. Kayleen Leeds, 2012 academy graduate, was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years when she enrolled in the program in 2011. Today she owns Studio K, a full-service beauty salon.
“The Beauty Academy gives students some amazing tools, and it’s up to you how you use them,” Leeds said. “Don has years of knowledge he loves to share and Shana is an amazing motivator. Between the two of them, you can’t help but walk away with knowledge and a drive to succeed.”
The Beauty Academy believes in giving back to the community. It provides hundreds of free haircuts each August to school kids through Serve Wenatchee Valley, as well as free haircuts to hundreds of veterans at the Veteran Stand Down. It also provides free styles and haircuts to the young women and men at the special needs prom that draws participants from all corners of North Central Washington.
“We have the students for a window of time to teach them what they need to know to be successful, not only in this field, but in life,” Shana said. “It’s good for our students to be fully equipped. We are helping prepare people for excellence.”
Shana sums up the level of preparation the academy provides with a metaphor.
“Before, our graduates left carrying an overnight bag full of everything they learned here,” she said. “Today they walk out pulling a U-Haul.”