New Rules to Survive and Thrive in the New Economy

Nothing about The Pretty Pretty Collective is traditional. With shops in San Francisco and Los Angeles, it’s a multi-location business that, in addition to doing hair, includes coffee bars, rotating art installations and forays into fashion and event production.  

Owner Georgia Rew says the key is a collaborative spirit—one that extends not just to her staff, but to other salon owners, educators, local artists, bands and the fashion world. Almost everything about Rew’s background is unconventional, including a stint at a San Francisco salon that catered to the drag community and assisting on movie sets in L.A. Her business tactics have been equally unconventional, making her a poster child for success in the uncertainty of the new economy. 

She opened the first Pretty Pretty Collective in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2010 just a year and a half after getting her license. “I had no money and a credit score of something like 520,” she says, laughing. She found financing and help with her business plan through a non-profit called The Women’s Initiative (now defunct). On the strength of that plan she generated another $120 thousand in in financing in just six months.
Within a few years, Rew decided she wanted to open a second salon in Los Angeles. “I had reached my potential in San Francisco and I wanted to push myself,” she explains. She spent six months going back and forth between cities, researching. "I looked at which areas were going to understand the concept of what we’re doing,” she says.

She settled on Fairfax Village, an area central to several crucial freeways and close to trendy shopping like Melrose and the Grove but with more affordable rents. And she liked the vibe. “They get it here. It’s all about collaboration,” she says.

Opening a second location hasn’t been without its challenges. The build-out took two years, during which time Rew spent alternating weeks in each city. Unforeseeable construction issues, like black mold inside the walls and a sewer line break, sent costs soaring to nearly double the budget. Funding from the Small Business Administration helped, but Rew says, “I’m not a wealthy salon owner. I still don’t have a lot of money. But you’ve got to take risks. If you don’t then you don’t grow.” 

Staffing provided another challenge. Rew readily admits her standards are high. Integrity and respect are important to her, which is why she sticks to a strict fifty-fifty arrangement for her commissioned stylists, and never asks them to “donate” their time for things like photo shoots or special events. And she has contracts that keep both employees and herself accountable to each other. “It’s the only way to keep drama out,” she says.

Rew has kept the branding in the new location consistent with the San Francisco shop, down to the décor, which can be described as eclectic scavenger chic, curating found objects in a way that is at once utilitarian, thought-provoking and artistic. Cast-off pieces from movie sets, like the antique klieg light in the bathroom or the black panels in the selfie room, populate the L.A. space. In both locations, mirrors at the stylist stations are raised and lowered via a system of cables and black wrought-iron pulleys. It lends a touch of steampunk edginess but the design is also practical, enabling the narrow space to be opened up for the regular art shows and other events Rew has planned.

Those events include lash extension and tooth gem nights by GBY and after-hours food pop-ups by local restaurants in the L.A. shop. (In addition to the coffee bar, the salon is fully licensed to serve food. “I had to go through the health department. That almost killed me!” Rew says.) Regular art shows bring in up to 600 people, and the salon hosts release parties in partnership with Burger Records. The five-year plan includes hosting a designer for L.A. Fashion Week. 

“I want to make  a statement,” Rew says. “Pretty Pretty Collective is going to make a mark.”