Local resources help organic salon owner prioritize health inside and out

Armed with a cosmetology license, two bachelor’s degrees and a love for organic hair care, Mariatu “Tu” Browne is on a mission to unlock the natural beauty of every client she encounters. She discovered her passion for hair at the early age of nine while braiding hair for her friends and family in her native home in Sierra Leone.

Today, she is the owner of Tu Organics Salon and Spa, the only organic salon of its kind in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. After a client inquired about using organic hair products, Tu began to do some research. She discovered that several of the shampoo and conditioners she used contained harmful chemicals, and she sought out products that worked for a variety of hairstyles.

As a highly sought after master stylist with more than 10 years of professional cosmetology experience, Tu is also known for her creativity, her chair-side manner and innovative styling techniques, all of which have helped her achieve a loyal following.

However, the road to success was not easy for Tu.

Tu opened her salon in 2016 after her first entrepreneurial venture ultimately failed. She struggled to get her plans to open a salon off the ground as a working single parent and a part-time business student. To help make ends meet while building her business, she received food stamps, and worked as a package handler for two large package delivery companies to supplement her income and support her business.

When signing up for food stamps, Tu was referred to Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, which offers free or low-cost healthcare for children and adults with limited income. However, she hopes to enroll in Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, this year after she grows her business. 

“Programs like Medi-Cal really helped me financially while I got my business off of the ground. I hope one day I’ll be able to offer benefits like healthcare to my employees.”

Tu has also benefitted from local resources available to help entrepreneurs identify responsible capital options and business assistance providers. She received a scholarship to study business and was able to put seed money aside through a program offered by Citadel Community Management. She also worked with the Inland Empire Women’s Business Center to improve her business skills and develop a strong business plan, which helped her then go on to work with a local CDFI to improve her credit and secure a loan to buy her salon and business equipment.

With her dedication and drive, it’s not surprising that Mariatu has been recognized in her community for her achievements in various publications and has won awards, like this year’s Inaugural Inland Empire Small Business Week Micro Business Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Tu says when she started using organic products at her salon, it felt like a metaphor for “removing toxicity from her life” after a tough period for her personally and professionally. While Mariatu’s road to entrepreneurship hasn’t always been pretty, she is now pursuing her dream and helping her clients look and feel their best every day.

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