Katie Cooke was on the hunt for a salon that felt like home—a "hair home," as she calls it. "I wanted to work in a positive and inviting space where my clients would always feel comfortable," Cooke says. When she couldn't find one that fit the mold, she decided to create the space herself.
In 2012, Cooke and her husband opened Mirror & Mantel. Located a few blocks west of Center City, Philadelphia, the sun-filled boutique fits the image Cooke had always envisioned. "Even though it's grown quite a bit since we started, we've maintained our vision—a welcoming space with creative stylists that breaks away from the pretentiousness that's sometimes synonymous with high-end salons," Cooke says. "Our salon is positive, collaborative and constantly filled with a lot of noise and laughter. We wouldn't want it any other way."
Like other city-based salons, one of the biggest challenges Cooke faced was finding a way to stand out, but she found small ways to make it happen. "I would say we have extremely high standards," she says. "We are dedicated to only carrying product lines that are vegan and cruelty free, plus free of sulfates, parabens and chemicals that can be harmful."
On top of environmentally responsible product choices, Cooke prides herself on the stylists that keep Mirror & Mantel afloat. "Our stylists are all experienced, creative and experts in their craft," she says. "Rather than having an assistant program, we focus on cultivating a collaborative environment of peers to help one another grow." In her time as a salon owner, Cooke has also recognized the importance of valuing her staff. "We give our stylists scheduling flexibility, education opportunities and compensation that go above the normal standard in the salon industry," Cooke says. "These things aren't always easy with a small business, but they're so important."
Kaite Cooke with a client in her Philadelphia salon.
Cooke has an extensive list of lessons learned from the process, but she can pinpoint a few that have been crucial to her success. "In the first few years, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to please difficult clients and stylists who weren't a match for our salon environment," Cooke says. "While it's important to pay attention to issues that arise in a business, I've learned that it's more important to put a majority of my energy into relationships that will be successful. If someone seems impossible to please, even with your best efforts, then they might be just that: impossible to please," she says. "That negativity will make it very difficult to nurture the relationships that matter."
With a long list of loyal clients, Cooke credits her passion above all else. "My biggest piece of advice is to create an environment that makes you happy," she says. "Start there. If you're passionate about your craft and build a space that you're excited about, the rest is easy."