When Ouidad Wise used to play with her mom's curly hair as a child in Lebanon, she developed a passion for both shaping curls and for making people feel good by helping them look good. Now, 25 years after opening Ouidad Salon in New York City—and becoming well known by just her first name—Ouidad has established herself as the industry expert in curly hair.
The road to success wasn't always easy. After moving to New York City in 1978 and building a name for herself as a makeup artist and hairstylist for Broadway shows and advertising campaigns, Ouidad and her husband and business partner, Peter Wise, decided to open a salon dedicated to the art of curls in 1983. However, when it came to getting people to back them, they found a lot of resistance. "Bankers told me I might as well just burn my money," Ouidad says, "and beauty editors scoffed at the idea." But once the 1,200-square-foot salon opened, word-of-mouth in the previously neglected curl community spread, and it only took about seven months for the salon to be in the green. Ouidad has since trademarked her Carving and Slicing cutting technique—she's the only hairstylist in the world who can make such a claim—developed the "rake and shake" styling method, and launched a successful line of haircare products and accessories.
In 2004, Ouidad moved her salon to a 5,000-square-foot flagship location in a swanky area of Midtown Manhattan. That same year, she and her husband started Curls for a Cure, which raises money for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). The cause is close to Ouidad's heart: She lost her mother to the disease 25 years ago and is herself a survivor. Fundraising takes place year-round on ouidad.com, a portal for buying Ouidad products. "The fight against breast cancer is 365 days a year, not just in October," Ouidad says. When customers check out online, they are given the option to make a donation, which, according to Ouidad, more than 80 percent of customers decide to do. Not only does the company underwrite the administrative costs and credit card fees, but Ouidad matches all donations dollar for dollar. Curls for a Cure has raised almost $170,000 to date.
Last summer, San Francisco-based private-equity firm JH Partners, which has invested in brands like Bare Escentuals and Jurlique, saw the value of the Ouidad brand and bought a majority stake in the company. "We've had many buy-out offers over the years," Ouidad says, "but this is a true partnership, not a sell-out. Our goals of building the name are the same." To that end, this month brings the opening of a new Ouidad salon on trendy Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, CA, and the launch of the line's first new product in years, Moisture Lock Leave-In treatment. They are also ramping up the company's training program, which certifies stylists from other salons in the Slicing and Carving technique, allowing them to offer prestigious Ouidad services and products in their own salons. To date, there are 12 accredited salons in the United States and Canada.
Ouidad is extremely proud of the team she has assembled and the difference she has been able to make in both the industry and in the lives of her clients. "I have a hunger to take care of curly hair and help the curl community," Ouidad says. "That will be my legacy." —LORI MORRIS