If we are lucky, there are people who end up in our lives who truly inspire us to be our best selves. For me and many others that person is local salon owner Kelly Harris, who is so much more than a cosmetologist. She’s a business professional, friend, mother and an inspiration to those in her circle. But the woman she is today didn’t just happen overnight, it took many years of hard work and determination.

As Kelly explains, she originally wanted to be a lawyer and ended up working in a salon as a receptionist while attending college. However, she quickly discovered esthetics and knew she had to change directions. “So I withdrew from school, packed up and moved across the country and then I told my parents,” she says laughing. Thankfully, it was the right choice and the first step toward what would become a successful career.

Kelly Harris Olympia Selfie
The secret to Kelly’s success? She says it’s all about finding balance in your life. Photo credit: Kelly Harris

While attending The Aveda Institute of Minneapolis, Kelly says she learned everything from chiropractic care to aromatherapy. Both the school and Aveda itself were on the forefront of new ideas. “A lot of people at that time in the eighties really believed our school was a cult because everyone wore black and used essential oils,” she tells me. “People thought we were into all kinds of witchcraft and everything else.”  Instead, the company was just paving the way for the future.

Upon graduation, Kelly went to work for Aveda educating others in the industry about their certified organic products, while also working in her former salon. “It was so different at the time to have something that was environmentally friendly, that came out of the earth and back in without disturbing anything,” she explains with a smile. “It was way ahead of its time. Aromatherapy was something people hadn’t heard of and now you have it in dish soap.”

Aveda continues to be ahead of the game environmentally, relying solely on wind power for more than a decade and using 90 percent post-consumer recycled plastic for their packaging.

Kelly Harris Olympia with kids
Although Kelly had to make sacrifices over the years, she’s proud of the two wonderful children she’s raised. Photo courtesy: Kelly Harris

As Kelly’s career began to grow she quickly realized she needed her own salon. “I wanted to create an environment I could work in and have a future in that other people would want to be a part of,” she shares. “This business has an 80 percent drop-out rate within the first two years.” Even as a single mother of a 10-month-old and a toddler, she took a leap of faith and went out on her own, which she explains wasn’t always an easy balance. “You can’t quit either one,” she adds. “I don’t know how I did it when I look back now. You just do it because you have to. There are times I look back and wish I had more opportunities with my kids, but then there are also lessons they have learned that other people haven’t.”

Originally her Premiere Salon and Spa operated at a location on the west side of town, but when the Market Center went up in downtown just across from the Olympia Farmers Market, Kelly knew that’s where she wanted to be. “I took some masking tape and said I want this wall here and this station there,” she remembers. “Now, I wish I had twice the space I do, but we can’t really expand out where we are at and we aren’t going anywhere either.”

Kelly Harris Olympia Store Front
As an Aveda salon, Kelly is proud to use and carry environmentally friendly certified organic products. Photo credit: Jessica Hoppe

Exclusively an Aveda salon, Kelly is proud to stand behind the products she uses and sells on a daily basis, but what’s really important to her is the team she’s built. Some of her stylists are going on 10 years with her and are more like family. “Ninety-five percent of the time it is pure joy to go to work where we laugh so hard my stomach hurts and be with people who are good people and friends,” Kelly says. “We share life, deaths, births, marriages and divorces. To be able to share that with people I spend majority of my life with is really a blessing.” And her employees are the lucky ones too. Kelly has built an environment unusual for her industry where stylists receive not only medical coverage, vacations and maternity leave, but a place where the owner is right there working beside them sharing the same ups and downs.

Sometimes Kelly says it’s difficult because she grows so close to her “tribe” as she calls them, but the one thing she knows, change is certain. “When people move on, and everyone eventually does, it just hurts so much,” she explains. “For me, the biggest challenge is always how to sort out my own hurt because they’re leaving and still maintain that relationship with the person because I miss them.” Yet even with the tough times and sometimes the hurt, Kelly wouldn’t have it any other way and it’s worked very well for her.

Kelly Harris Olympia Stylists
At Premiere Salon and Spa the stylists are not just co-workers, they are a family. Photo credit: Kelly Harris

After hearing the story of this woman I’m proud to call a friend, I’m curious what advice she would give to other women wanting to take that leap into their own business. “Look at your opportunities, find out where it balances with your family and be realistic financially,” she advises. “You aren’t going to make instant money, it’s a painfully slow process. I worked very hard and for a long time to get to where I am.” As for her own future, Kelly says she’s still working to find that perfect balance.

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