Arlene Lyons
Owner, Paul Mitchell the School Esani & Sacramento

 

AACS recently spoke with Arlene Lyons, owner of Paul Mitchell the School Esani & Sacramento. Lyons shared her journey from a career as a marketing executive in corporate finance, to that as a cosmetology school owner on both coasts – and the discovery of her true passion along the way.  

“I got started in the world of cosmetology education when the ‘entrepreneurial bug’ bit after 12 very successful years in executive leadership in the financial services industry. Once I decided to take the bold step from executive to entrepreneur, I gravitated to the beauty industry because of my own disappointing salon service experiences.” 

Lyons was determined to take her negative experiences and transform them into something positive to make real change. “I was driven to bring to the industry my extensive business experience, passion for customer service, and vision for a more inclusive and integrated service experience. I soon figured out that I needed to start at the foundation – beauty education.”

With a determined attitude and an entrepreneurial spirit, Lyons started from the ground up and found Paul Mitchell along the way. “I visited one of the first Paul Mitchell Schools and soon after met the Dean and Founder of Paul Mitchell Schools, Winn Claybaugh, and the rest is history. I fell in love with the Paul Mitchell culture, the visionary education model, and the people behind the brand. I immediately knew that owning a Paul Mitchell School was the way forward on my new entrepreneurial journey. And so, with no experience whatsoever in cosmetology or education, I made the life-changing decision to open a Paul Mitchell School in the suburbs of Atlanta.” 

Building a Brand

Lyons and her co-owner Ozzie Moore are now the proud owners of two Paul Mitchell Schools: their flagship school Esani in Atlanta, and a second location in Sacramento. “Our brand, ESANI, stands for Empowerment through Science, Art, Nurturing, and Innovation. This is the DNA of our schools. Our Team shows up every single day with a purpose and passion for transforming lives and empowering our students to be the best that they can be.” 

Lyons says her schools thrive on diversity and inclusion; in fact, on any given day you can find her students working on natural hairstyling, so their students are comfortable with all hair textures. “We even offer an advanced training on European techniques from one of our world-renowned education partners, which we take to a whole new level each year through the opportunity for a study abroad experience in Europe.” Lyons’ goal is ultimately to see more diversity represented in the education, imagery, branding, and boardrooms of the beauty industry – and she knows that her role as a school owner gives her an opportunity to fight for that cause. “I am humbled to be in an industry that attracts a significant number of black women and other diverse people, where my success as a black female entrepreneur can be a shining example to the next generation of leaders.” 

Finding Inspiration

When asked who inspires her, Lyons noted her parents – both of whom were lifelong educators. “My parents had a transformative impact on the lives of hundreds of young people in my home island of Tobago.”  She is also inspired by Madam C.J. Walker, “the perfect historical role model for blending creative talent with an enterprising spirit.” 

However, the most powerful inspiration that keeps Lyons going each day is having a front-row seat to her students’ transformations. “Some of our students come to us with big dreams but broken spirits; having had to battle unimaginable odds like homelessness, domestic abuse, and so much more. In many cases, our schools are their only safe haven. Our care and compassion are the only motivation they have, and their chosen trade is (in their minds at least) their only ticket to a happy and productive life. Seeing these future professionals graduate and fulfill their dreams as professionals, salon/spa owners, educators, and even school owners in the beauty industry is all the inspiration I need to keep me going.” 

With her determined spirit, it is no surprise that Lyons was recognized by her colleagues and industry peers. She is recipient of a Caribbean Outlier Award presented by Malcolm Gladwell in 2012, numerous Modern Salon Excellence in Education awards, and most recently, she won the AACS School of the Year award in 2023. “It’s so gratifying to see my ‘labor of love’ validated,” said Lyons. 

A Labor of Love

And it truly is a ‘labor of love’ as she puts it – “my job isn’t just a job – it’s a calling.” What started as a goal to elevate the quality of service in the industry, turned into a realization of her true passion: to inspire positive change in the lives of others. “What I love most is mentoring and empowering ordinary people to find their greatness and to fulfill their own true purpose in life.” 

Naturally, with any passion project comes challenges. Lyons noted the unjustified attacks and misguided regulations against the industry as her biggest career challenge. Luckily, AACS has been there to help defend these schools. “AACS has been an invaluable resource for navigating these challenging times as we fight against the various regulatory threats to our industry. AACS has provided us with an opportunity to pool resources, network, stay abreast of developments, and use the power of our collective passion to advocate for the change we all aspire to see.” 

Though the industry presents unique challenges to school owners, Lyons is not defeated. “In spite of the regulatory challenges, I am confident in the future of our industry as long as we have the courage of our convictions to fight for what is right and the spirit of innovation so we can adapt. Our students, the future of our industry, are counting on us.”