Beauty Spotlight – Roots Salon
Once a month, Emily Blackmon spends three hours cutting hair for people in need at Collegeside Church. What the hesitant people who sit in her chair on those special Sundays have come to realize is that they are not all that different.
Now a successful salon owner, being a master stylist and businesswoman didn’t come easily for Emily. Her road to creating the thriving beauty establishment that is Roots Salon was full of curveballs, which ultimately shaped her into the strong, resilient, and faithful woman she is today.
Originally from central Florida, Emily grew up as a dancer. Her lifelong dream was to be a backup dancer for Justin Timberlake, so academics naturally took a back seat. When the time came for Emily to attend College, she spent one semester skipping the basic courses and only showing up for dance and photography classes. Quickly realizing college was not the right path for her, Emily decided to focus on working. She got a job teaching dance and worked in retail for years. Then one of her friends told her she could make some extra cash dancing in clubs in downtown Orlando. Emily recalls that time in her life with mixed emotions, “Think about the movie ‘You Got Served.’ We were basically having dance-offs every night and I was a real-life Go-Go Dancer. My mom and Aunt finally sat me down one day and had the ‘come to Jesus’ conversation I needed. They suggested I try hair,” said Emily. She enrolled in the Aveda Institute in Orlando and quickly found a rhythm that felt right. “I finally felt like I fit in,” Emily recalled.
After graduation, Emily landed a job working at the Aveda Institute in Orlando where she met her husband. The two picked up and moved to Atlanta, GA where Emily accepted a position at one of the top salons in America, Van Michael. “I was working under the Head of Color for Aveda. She was on the Wall of Fame at the Aveda Institute where I studied and I walked by her picture every day,” said Emily. It felt like fate. For two years, Emily worked side by side with the master stylist who she remembers as straight out of the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’
But something was missing for Emily.
“I was longing for the artistry that I had as a dancer,” she said. “I had started doing hair for the Falcon Cheerleaders in Atlanta and really enjoyed that. I decided I needed to explore working in New York City.” Emily traveled to NYC and got an apprenticeship doing hair for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and other various productions. After eight months, she decided the big Apple was not right for her and her husband. She moved back to Atlanta and got pregnant with twins.
At 30 weeks, Emily delivered her baby boys. “One of my sons had open heart surgery when he was first born,” she said. “He didn’t come home until he was five months old.” This was not only an emotional time for Emily and her husband, but it also put them into poverty. “We had to get on food stamps and couldn’t afford to live anymore. One of my husband’s friends found us a place for $300 a month in Albany, KY. We had no cable or internet for almost a year and a half. We were poor, but my kids were healthy, and I didn’t have stresses from the outside world,” she thinks back on fondly.
After trying to no avail to find a salon to work at in Albany, Emily decided to travel once a month to Atlanta to make some extra cash doing her existing client’s hair. After the strain of being away from her kids for a week every month became too difficult, Emily went back to the drawing board. “My husband was working in construction and had a client in Cookeville who was opening a furniture store in Washington Crossing. There was a small room available for rent in the building, and my former boss had gifted me all his old salon furniture when I left,” said Emily. They had a little bit of cushion and decided to go for it. Emily opened the first location of Roots Salon and hit the ground running.
But she had zero clients. “I would go to local restaurants and seek out women who I thought likely got their hair done. I would strike up a conversation and offer to give them a free hair cut if they would come check out the salon,” she said. It worked. Her referrals started pouring in and soon, Roots was booming. After two years in the small room, the building sold to new owners, and they approached Emily about moving into the larger space where Roots is located today.
Throughout that time, Emily was facing her own demons. “I was struggling with alcohol abuse and one day one of my clients came in and said, “God told me you are not okay.” I broke down. She took me to the back room and prayed over me. I bent over and heard rushing water in my ears. I felt like I had been cleansed,” Emily emotionally recalled.
Now three years sober and active in therapy, Emily has figured out how to navigate the stresses that come from being a business owner, mother, and wife with healthy outlets.
She started teaching adult dance workshops at Storyteller House for the Arts, while also taking dance classes at Stage One Dance and it has helped reignite her passion for the craft. “I love teaching people to let their bodies be exactly how they are supposed to be. Our organic natural movement and personalities are how we were made, and we should honor that,” said Emily.
Overall, Roots Salon now serves roughly 2,600 clients and Emily personally handles 200 of those. The vibrant and vibey space has all the makings of an upscale salon, but none of the pretentious energy. “I try really hard to focus on the mental health of my staff,” said Emily. “If someone is off, it affects the entire salon. We have staff meetings and give everyone a chance to discuss what is going on in their personal lives. Then, we do guided meditations and spend 30 minutes doing affirmations. If my stylists are not healthy in their mind, body, and soul, then they will not be present for their clients.” Also offering a flexible schedule and model for her stylists, Emily tries her best to provide opportunities for her employees that are not capped.
It is quite simple. Emily just wants Root’s clientelle to feel comfortable expressing what they need without pushback. Cleary stated on a sign when you walk through the front door of the salon, her mantra says it all: “A Positive and Creative Space Focused on Uniting and Supporting All Good Things.”
When she looks to the future, Emily knows there will continue to be growing pains and welcomes them with open arms. As she has her entire career, she plans to take steps that may feel uncomfortable in the moment, but are necessary for overall progress.
“I am a lifer,” said Emily. “Roots is somewhere that I want to drive by when I am 60, and still see the lights on,” she continued through tears. “It is more than a hair salon and I will always give my 100% to know my staff is happy and my guests are taken care of from the inside out.”
Emily credits her husband, Justin Blackmon for being the partner she needed throughout each challenge and triumph thus far. A successful artist and art teacher at Prescott Elementary, Justin is also the President of Art Round Tennessee. Justin and Emily are looking forward to welcoming a new baby into the family this Spring and are nothing but optimistic about what the future holds in the hometown they didn’t know they needed.
So the next time Emily cuts hair for people who are a little down on their luck at Collegeside Church, they will likely look at the charismatic, radiant red head as their friend and confidant. “When I tell them my story of poverty and substance abuse and how I got out of it, I hope it gives them hope. I am open about my struggles because, in our weakness, we can find connections that will build the strongest bridges. I feel like I was supposed to go through hard times to be able to sit with people who are wounded and give the reassurance that we are the same,” said Emily.
– written by Chelsea Dartez, photos by Olivia Merritt
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