Emigre Entrepreneur Makes Beauty Her Mission

En Español.

When Colleen Nguyen left her home in Vietnam 30 years ago, she landed in San Francisco. Fifteen years ago she began a career in cosmetology. “I like beauty because it makes people happy,” she explained.

After receiving a license in cosmetology, Nguyen teamed up with a colleague to open a beauty school in Oakland. Despite her success, Nguyen felt that her heart was in San Francisco.

In 2005, Nguyen decided it was time to launch her own business in the city, and opened the doors to the San Francisco College of Cosmetology, near the intersection of 17th and Mission streets. It was rough going at first.

“For any business, the beginning is hard,” said Nguyen. She recalls that the block between 16th and 17th streets was not a desirable location for a new business.

“A lot of people used to hang out on the front, and it was messy,” she said. “Right now it’s clear, people can walk by and they feel safe. A lot of good compliments have come to the school.”

Today Nguyen, 50, oversees students and instructors as they hold classes and help clients. The college offers courses in cosmetology, aesthetics, hair care, nail care and manicuring.

In addition to their classroom training, students learn their craft by serving walk-in clients. Services include haircuts and styling, waxing, manicures and pedicures. All students are supervised by instructors as they attend to their clients. The hands-on lessons are designed to prepare them for the California licensing exams, which test novice beauticians on both their practical and written knowledge.

The fees for cosmetology courses at the college can be anywhere from $6,800 to $10,000. Although the college does not currently provide financial aid, Nguyen is working on ways to help low-income students afford the cost of their training.

“Hopefully that’s coming soon, in the next few months,” she said. “I want the world to look beautiful, so more students will make the world more beautiful.”

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