Ashley St. Clair, Ink & Dye
“OKAY, SO I WAS NOT THE MOST STUDIOUS OF STUDENTS.
I was very bad at doing my homework. When you go to college and you don't do your homework, that is not a good thing.
I went to Central Michigan for my freshman year and rarely went to class. By the end of that year, I was on academic and financial aid probation.
I ended up going to WCC back and forth for a couple of years but I didn’t find anything to study that I was super passionate about. Then, I just started working and I thought I would eventually figure it out.
I got the idea that I wanted to join the AirForce. I met with a recruiting officer. I had my physicals. I was going to be a military police officer.
I had been dating Thad for a few months then and was working at Friday’s. The same day that I received information about my ship date for basic training was the same day that I found out I was pregnant with Gavin.
Same exact day.
I called my recruitment officer. She was not very happy with me. She suggested that I go to basic training after the baby was born. I didn’t think basic training and a newborn would work well for me.
Thad and I were living in Pinkney at the time. I started tending bar at the Dam Site Inn in Hell, Michigan. I liked it but I felt like I needed something else.
I’d worked in salons as a receptionist before so when I found a posting on Craigslist for an apprentice position at a salon in Brighton I thought it would be a good fit. I interviewed for the position but the timing wasn’t working for either of us. I was going to have a baby and be on maternity leave during their busiest season.
After Gavin was born I decided it was time to get back to finding that second job. A search on Craigslist led me to the same posting for that apprentice position at a salon in Brighton.
I called and said, ‘I don't know if you remember me, but I interviewed with you last year.’
It was a two-year tuition-free training program. I thought I could learn how to do hair and make money to go back to college. But, at the end of the two years I was having fun. I realized that I was actually kind of good at it.
I started traveling to hair shows. That’s when I really fell in love with what I was doing. I loved the education part even more than being behind the chair. I was teaching people on stage at the Chicago hair show before I was even a licensed hairstylist. It was amazing.
I worked at a salon in Ypsilanti for about a year when I made friends with some cool hair stylists who were also educators. They had a salon in Detroit. I went to work there.
It was cool but, man, that’s a long way to drive every day. After about three months, I found my way back to Ann Arbor and worked at Avissa Salon for a couple of years until opening my own space at Sola Salon.
I was pregnant with Evelyn when I convinced Thad to leave his job in Brighton and open his own tattoo studio room at Sola Salon. I helped him get his studio space set up and Evelyn was born a couple of days later.
The Ink & Dye thing just kind of happened.
I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to open our own shop someday where I do hair and you do tattoos and we put our crazy shit all over the walls and call it Ink & Dye?’
We had both been at Sola for maybe three years, when I realized how much we were paying in rent for our two little rooms. About that same time, I saw Dave Baldwin post that his business on Main Street in downtown Milan was closing. I messaged him that I was sorry to hear about Co-MIlan closing but also, ‘how much is your rent? Because, I have this crazy idea.’
Apparently, I get pregnant when we are making big changes in our life because at this point I was pregnant with Piper.
When we were renovating the space, we assumed there was subflooring or just cement underneath the carpet. Our plan was to pull up the carpet and paint whatever was underneath black. When we lifted an edge of the old carpet we were stunned. It was not a subfloor! It was terrazzo.
We restored those floors 100% by ourselves. The carpet had been glued with an adhesive that was a half an inch thick in some places. We got on our hands and knees and used adhesive remover and those pushy scarper things.
I wore a gas mask because I was pregnant. Thad wouldn’t let me be there without it.
We did it piece by piece and layer by layer. It took us two weeks or three weeks to get all the glue off of those floors. Then we rented a floor sander from Latham’s and went to work removing all of the glue from the wood floor, restoring those.
We tore down walls, turning three small offices into one bigger space for my studio. We drove to Fenton to pick up antique double doors for my studio space. We went to Brooklyn, Michigan to get an antique display case that looked like it belonged in an old general store.
We officially opened Ink & Dye in October of 2019.
A few months later, in March of 2020, we had to shut down.
That time during COVID was terrifying. We had taken every little bit of money we had saved to open this business. We didn't take out loans. We didn't put anything on credit.
I was part of a team of people who helped salons reopen safely in Michigan.
Hair salons and stylists are regulated by the State of Michigan and the health department as well as the State Board of Cosmetology. They all seemed to be working independently of each other. Nobody knew what anybody else was doing. We got a group of hair stylists together and started reading all of the opening requirements from different states and made recommendations and suggestions.
At the time we called ourselves the Michigan Beauty Pros. We sat in on calls with the health department and with the CDC. Michigan Beauty Pros is an official Association now.
I like to think of myself as an avid collector of eclectic things. I've always just had random stuff all over. I like to look at the things that I have. Thad is also a collector. He has a big collection of wooden toys and things you put on shelves and behind glass.
One of our favorite pastimes is going to garage sales and antique stores together. We walk around and look at things. If one of us likes something, we just get it. It doesn't really matter the subject. Sometimes, price doesn't even matter. If we like it enough we will spend too much money on it.
It’s just a fun thing.
My favorite collected piece is behind the register at Ink & Dye. It is a hand painted picture of a young school-aged girl. I found her at a yard sale at an old farmhouse on a dirt road somewhere between Milan and Willis. I saw her and fell in love with her. I don't know what it is about her. She speaks to me. She's very calm and she's just beautiful. I love everything about her.
People bring us stuff, too. They say, ‘I saw this and I thought of you.’
That’s how we got the possum. He is probably the most talked about because he's right next to the front door. He’s stuffed and mounted on a stick. Adults come in and are like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ Kids love to pet him. They pop him on the nose.
His name is Rat Damon.
We also have a very large sepia colored picture of Jesus in the bathroom. It makes me chuckle thinking about people walking in and having Jesus staring back at them. I like to make the bathroom as creepy as I possibly can by putting a lot of pictures of people in there. When you sit down on the toilet, there's a gentleman directly across from you. He just stares at you.
I'm pretty sure that picture is haunted.
At some point, I realized that doing a short haircut on a man was very similar to doing a woman's pixie cut. So why was the woman paying $10 or $15 more for the same haircut? I started looking into how other places were structuring their pricing and found salons in more progressive areas that set prices for haircuts based on length and not gender.
That made a lot of sense to me.
Now, when people book an appointment on my website they pick the length they want and don’t feel like they have to pick a women’s cut or a men’s cut.
Having a salon —having this safe space— when there's so much going on in that whole arena right now feels like a good thing.
I spend time with so many young adults and teenagers whose parents will bring them in. It's never the parents saying you have to get this haircut or that haircut. It's parents coming in and saying this is my kid. They want to get a haircut. I'm gonna have them talk to you.
So, I talk with the kid. We end up talking about shapes and lengths and how they want to feel in the haircut not about a cut that is more feminine or more masculine.
I’ve had kids come in very closed off, wearing their hoodies. They're very quiet. I get to have these conversations with them and give them the haircut that they picture on themselves. It changes them. They sit up straighter. The next time they come in, they're more engaging. I'll get calls and texts from parents saying how happy their kid is and thank you for letting them be themselves and for letting them have this space.
If that makes other people not want to come here, I'm okay with that.
When I used to travel and do presentations I always used a Mother Teresa quote: ‘I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone and cause many ripples.’
During Covid, I realized I didn't need to travel for work any more. I could focus on having an impact where I live.
That's what I want to do. I can't do everything. But I can make a small change. One small thing that will hopefully ripple out.
Maybe other stylists will notice the gender neutral pricing. Maybe they will do that, too."
—Ashley St. Clair