Her short-term plan to run a beauty supply store went awry

EVERETT — Decarla Stinn’s business plan for a beauty supply store terminated at the 10-year…

EVERETT — Decarla Stinn’s business plan for a beauty supply store terminated at the 10-year mark, a span that would cover her daughter’s school and college years.

Afterward, she aimed to close up shop and retire.

“That’s it! I was only planning on putting her through school,” said Stinn. “After that, I was supposed to be out.”

But customers foiled her plans.

Decarla’s Beauty Supply & Salon at 607 SE Everett Mall Way, which carries human and synthetic wigs, hairpieces and extensions, is now in its 17th year of business.

“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” said Jenny Reser, a mortgage banker who depends on Stinn to give her sandy-blonde hair some oomph.

“I have very thin, fine hair,” the Snohomish resident said. “She does extensions for my hair and blends them in.”

The salon’s customers include men and women in the midst of chemotherapy treatments or with hair loss, along with those who just want to look and feel better.

Stinn founded the beauty supply business in 2004 after repeat trips to Seattle for hair products geared toward Black hair. Back then, there were few local options, Stinn said.

For many women of color, braids and extensions are a stylish alternative to the harsh chemicals needed to relax or straighten the hair. Stinn uses traditional braiding and sewing techniques to add extensions to a customer’s own hair. Stinn doesn’t cut, color or process hair, which requires a cosmetology license.

People browse wig and extension options while Decarla Stinn braids Hope Hottemdorf’s hair. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People browse wig and extension options while Decarla Stinn braids Hope Hottemdorf’s hair. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The 10-year point came and went in 2014.

Her daughter, Tajanna, now 26, is completing her second year of medical school.

“The loyalty of my customers has been completely beautiful,” Stinn said. “Now they know that I just can’t leave them.”

Rocking her braids

Customers can choose from among hundreds of wigs and hair extensions. Got a hankering for purple or blue braids? Decarla’s carries them, along with black, brown and blonde extensions.

“Once someone makes you feel beautiful, it’s hard to go elsewhere,” said Karuana Gatimu, a Microsoft executive and salon regular.

“I’m on-air talent at Microsoft,” Gatimu said. “Sometimes, I’m in front of 100,000 people or on video for 14 hours,” she said. “Decarla won’t let me do anything dumb with my hair.”

Decarla Stinn at work in her shop in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Decarla Stinn at work in her shop in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

On a recent afternoon, Stinn was giving Gatimu a mane of dark, flowing braids after twisting her hair into cornrows, which are used to anchor the extensions.

“I love rocking those braids,” said Gatimu, seated in Decarla’s salon. “In the past, I felt more pressure to have straight hair.”

It was only last year that Washington broadened its definition of racial bias to include discrimination against locks, braids, afros, twists and protective hair coverings. In making the change, the state joined some half-dozen states, including California, New Jersey, New York and Colorado, which have enacted similar laws.

State Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, who sponsored the legislation, contended that “Black women should not be barred from success because of the way we wear our hair,” adding that hair-altering treatments can be expensive, time consuming and physically harmful.

Decarla Stinn walks past rows of wigs on display in her store. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Decarla Stinn walks past rows of wigs on display in her store. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Emergency look!

When the chemicals in a hair cream produced handfuls of hair instead of a head full of curls, Gloria Gates panicked. She had a date that night and her hair was falling out.

Flipping through a phone book, Gates found Decarla’s. Gates didn’t stop to call. She drove straight to the shop.

It was Stinn’s day off, but “she looked at my hair and said, ‘No problem. We can fix this,’” recalled Gates, a former Everett resident.

“She sewed new hair into mine,”Gates said. “I walked out and looked 20 years younger.”

Stinn also serves the local transgender and cross-dressing communities, who get styling tips and acceptance at Decarla’s.

“We’re open and available for anyone,” said Stinn, whose shop is sandwiched between a juice bar and a jewelry store at a busy corner near Everett Mall.

“My goal is to make everyone who comes in to feel like family.”

Hope Hottemdorf poses for a “before picture” before getting extensions at Decarla’s Beauty Supply Salon in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Hope Hottemdorf poses for a “before picture” before getting extensions at Decarla’s Beauty Supply Salon in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Worth the drive

Stinn’s customers are helping her stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If it weren’t for their love and support, I would have closed down,” said Stinn. “They’ve hung in there with me.”

Stinn, who grew up in Georgia, discovered Washington and Snohomish County when she visited the state in 1989.

Amazed by the mountains, the weather — she doesn’t mind rain — and the greenery — “that’s something you don’t get everywhere” — she packed her bags and moved across the country.

Stinn has been active with the Snohomish County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People since the chapter’s founding in 2005. She’s also provided volunteer services for the Snohomish County Center for Battered Women, the Everett Gospel Mission’s Women and Children’s Shelter and other local nonprofits.

In 2017, Stinn was one of 55 people chosen to serve on Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin’s transition team.

Wigs and hair extensions line the walls and display racks of Decarla’s Beauty Supply & Salon in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Wigs and hair extensions line the walls and display racks of Decarla’s Beauty Supply & Salon in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“I first met Decarla four years ago, prior to becoming mayor, and was immediately struck by her passion and commitment to this community,” Franklin said. “Decarla has been successfully running this business for 17 years, in often very difficult times. We are proud to have her and her business in our community and celebrate her success.”

Gatimu moved to Snohomish from Los Angeles eight years ago and immediately wondered: Who could she trust to do her hair? A friend recommended Decarla’s.

“I left a place where I had lots of options. Finding her was a blessing,” said Gatimu, who tells friends: “Decarla’s is worth the drive to Everett.”

Janice Podsada; [email protected]; 425-339-3097: Twitter: JanicePods

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