Top celebrity hairstylist and entrepreneur Nicole Mangrum has become the preferred choice for actors, entertainers, and influencers. She is best known for being the personal hairstylist of TV icon Oprah Winfrey; however, she has also worked with other renowned women such as Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and Gayle King, to name a few. But don’t be fooled—there were no shortcuts in her journey. Mangrum refined her craft, worked her way up the ranks of her industry, operated with precision, and witnessed the manifestation of her dream.
Mangrum has been nominated for three Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild Awards for her work on the Emmy award-winning Super Soul Sunday series and Oprah Winfrey Presents: Becoming Michelle Obama. To her credit, Mangrum created the stunning colorful curly ponytail that Oprah rocked on the cover of the 2018 February issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. Mangrum’s work has also appeared on the covers of Jet, Harper’s Bazaar, Vibe, Essence, Ebony, and Modern Salon.
In a candid conversation with VIP Global Magazine, Mangrum discussed her love for styling hair, tips for aspiring entrepreneurs, and the journey that took her to work with the global powerhouse Oprah Winfrey, whom she has been working with since July 2015. “It was a dream come true,” Mangrum says. “I had made a vision board and one of my goals was to work for Oprah.”
From owning a small successful salon in Chicago to traveling the world and styling top celebrities, Mangrum serves as an inspiration for all entrepreneurs. Her journey is a reminder to set goals and pursue them relentlessly. Dive in! This interview will forever change the way you look at your dreams.
VIP: How did you get started styling hair?
NICOLE:Hair is something I’ve always had a passion for. At 11 years old, I was braiding the kids’ hair at my church and around the neighborhood. I practiced for a long time, learning techniques and expanding my abilities. Then one day my mom said, “I'm going to let you braid my hair.” When I finished Mom’s hair, I couldn't believe how professional it looked. At that time, I wasn't considering styling hair as a career, but the joy I got from seeing how happy and confident my mom and other clients were ultimately drew me into the industry.
VIP: The number of entrepreneurs increase each year, and we’re seeing an influx of people who are establishing profitable businesses based on their interests. Talk to us about the importance of learning about the industry before striding out.
NICOLE: People think things happen overnight, but true success comes with ups and downs. Putting in work behind the scenes is a part of the process. I started in my mom’s kitchen, went to cosmetology school, and worked twelve to sixteen hours a day to develop a large clientele. If there is an area where you naturally excel and hope to pursue professionally, it’s important to learn that trade and practice it as often as you can.
I worked in different salons and absorbed as much as I could, but I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit and knew one day I would have a salon of my own. You need to believe you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. I prayed to make sure this was the right direction for my life and just went for it. I stepped out on faith and God blessed my effort. I opened a salon in Wicker Park,Chicago called Freedom, and we were very successful for the fifteen years that we were there.
VIP: How did you go from stylist to entrepreneur?
NICOLE: When I started, I didn’t have a lot of mentors. I was just very observant. And back then, there was no internet to easily access information, so you had to be vigilant if you really wanted to do something. And I was just very tenacious. Fear was there, you know, and I had a small amount of money to get started, but I declared, “I’m a hard worker. Nobody can outwork me. I’m going to figure this thing out.” I did a lot of research, a lot of observing, asked a lot of questions. Fear was definitely there, but I did it anyway. I prayed a lot during that time and just stepped out there.
I see a lot of people open salons right away, and managing it gets out of control. It’s always best to start small and learn how to systematically manage your business. The first three years, you’re still learning business management, marketing, finances, and customer retention.
Entrepreneurs are perfectionists by nature, and we struggle with relinquishing control. But it’s impossible to have growth as an entrepreneur without delegation. I expanded my business when I started to experience burnout, but I had high expectations and wouldn’t settle for anything less than excellence. My vision for the future was wider than the space I was in.
VIP: I talk with young entrepreneurs all the time, and one of my biggest things is that you must see it before it happens. I’m a big advocate of vision boards. A lot of people figure out how to create vision boards digitally, but I like the old school vision boards where you cut words and pictures from magazines.
NICOLE: Me too. I have my big pizza construction board. I like the process of creating a vision board. You think about a word or picture and you look for them in a magazine and cut them out. I feel like it really helps you to connect with your vision.
I create a vision board every year and when I accomplish something, I replace it with a new goal. It’s important for business owners to visualize their goals. Write them down in a journal or create a vision board. Without realizing it, you'll begin to accomplish what you see on your vision board.
VIP: You are the personal stylist for Oprah Winfrey, one of the most significant women in history. How did that happen?
NICOLE: Oprah was on my vision board. I thought maybe I would do work on her show, but I never imagined being her personal hairstylist. I put in the work long before this opportunity presented itself. Years of styling a wide range of clients and producing high quality work gave me a good reputation in the industry. I had owned my salon for fifteen years, but I wasn’t fulfilled in my role as an entrepreneur and hairdresser. I felt like there was something bigger I needed to do.
A friend who used to work at my salon referred me to Andre Walker, Oprah’s former personal hairstylist. He was planning to retire and was searching for a replacement. We met, chatted, and I cut his hair that day. He said, “I think you’d be a really good fit, but it’s up to her. I’ll make the introduction and we’ll see what happens.” I met with Oprah and did her hair several times, so that’s how the opportunity unfolded. Six months later, I was working for her full-time. I encourage every entrepreneur to put the dream out there. Dream big, write it down, and network.
VIP: How did you prepare for your interview with the Queen?
NICOLE: It was mostly mental preparation. As a professional hairdresser for nearly 25 years, I’d acquired everything I needed to excel in that moment. I just had to remind myself of that.
Of course, when fear kicks in you wonder, Am I good enough? But you stop and ask, “Why not me?” If you have confidence and believe in yourself, then others will believe in you too. I did my best and trusted that it was enough, but I felt like the position was already mine. That’s the mindset I had going in, but I can’t say my hands weren’t shaking when I was curling.I am so grateful that I can do what I love, and that I get to do it on the Queen.
VIP: You mentioned that your success was not overnight. Let’s dive deeper and discuss why professionalism and loving what you do are essential for entrepreneurs.
NICOLE: High-quality service and a good reputation; I can’t stress enough how important these areas are with your brand or business. People talk, and in our industry word travels fast. As a stylist, I want each person who sits in my chair to feel like he or she is the only one who exists. I focus on my client, our conversation, and making him or her look good. In that moment, nothing else matters.
My good reviews, referrals, and high-profile clients are a result of my dedication to excellence. We must debunk this notion of success happening in months. Nothing in business, or entrepreneurship, is as immediate as people think. It is an uphill climb, a constant grind. There were a lot of long days and early mornings, and I wanted to give up so many times. That’s why it’s important to really love what you’re doing.
VIP: You are the personal stylist for Oprah Winfrey, but I also know that you've styled several other celebrities. Who else have you styled?
NICOLE: I have styled Michelle Obama, Gayle King, Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, Macy Gray, Fantasia, Mellody Hobson, and Sanaa Lathan. Also, Valerie Jarrett, a woman I respect for what she has done for our country.
VIP: What are some of the upcoming hair trends?
NICOLE: I expect that there will be more natural hair and hairstyles depicted in mainstream media and with celebrities. We’re in this new age where embracing the real, authentic you is being echoed all over the world, especially with women of color. Our self-acceptance is rippling into other areas, but especially with beauty and haircare. Naturalistas are here to stay!
Also, bright vivacious hair color trends are continuing to emerge every season. People are all about self-expression and distinguishing themselves from others. There’s no better way to do this than altering your hair. Custom wigs and temporary hair dyes, trends that are tailored towards individualism, are definitely trending.
VIP: Bailey Officer, an 11-year-old from Alabama, wants her hair to be curly, not poofy. What can she do to produce a defined, curly texture?
NICOLE: I’m assuming that she was putting products on her hair, and allowing it to air dry without styling, to create the texture she wanted. I would find a product that works with her hair texture. If she has wavy hair or loose curls, she should use a product with less oil and more hold. Curl custards and curl defining whips with light holds will work better with this hair type. If she has a kinkier texture, she’ll want to use thick hair lotions or creamy, oil-based leave-in conditioners. She can even pair mousse with a heavy conditioner.
Our hair has natural curl patterns but to eliminate frizz, apply product on damp hair then style and let your hair completely dry. For naturals, twist and braid-outs are typically successful for creating frizz-less curls; for relaxed hair, flexi rods create more volume and curls. It all depends on her texture and how her hair responds to certain products.
VIP: One of the most frustrating and beautiful realities of having curly hair is the variety of textures that fall under the “curly” category. Hair aficionados and newbies alike know that products for curly hair are never one-size-fits-all. Can you offer any advice regarding this situation?
NICOLE: I combine products that work well together to produce the result I’m looking for. Use a product or two and see what effect that has on your hair, then take note of what you like or dislike as well as how the product reacts to your hair. Experimentation is part of the process.
VIP: Asha Doe is 15 years old and she wants to wear her naturally curly hair, but years of heat and chemical damage has changed her pattern and caused thinning. How can she restore her natural curl pattern?
NICOLE: If she gets relaxers, the product could have over-processed her hair. Weekly deep conditioning treatments will maintain consistent hydration. She should also begin taking hair supplements with biotin, which promotes hair growth. However, she should check with her physician first, to ensure she won’t have a negative reaction to the supplements.
VIP: Amber Humphreys, an actress and entrepreneur, wants to know what protective styles help to grow hair?
NICOLE: If it’s summertime and you’re going swimming a lot, braids might be the best option. Make sure they’re not too tight, and be sure to use a clarifying shampoo and conditioner right after swimming in salt water.
In the colder months, if you typically wear hats or scarves, you might want to try two strand twists. You should also protect the ends of your hair from rubbing against harsh fibers by wearing a loose bun, or using banana clips and bobby pins.
VIP: What is one thing that women should never do to their hair?
NICOLE: For me, it’s more about moderation. Sometimes, women overdo it with chemicals, heat stylers, weaves, and braids. If you do the same style for an extended period, you’ll see hair loss or thinning around your hairline. Periodically changing your styles will give your hair a chance to recover from damage. If you flat iron your hair daily, try a protective style or pull your hair into a ponytail for a few days.
VIP: What are your hobbies?
NICOLE: I love shoes! Shoes are one of my favorite things. I’m also a foodie and I enjoy gourmet cooking, so I have quite a few cookbooks, and a lot of good things up my sleeve in the kitchen. Traveling is another favorite activity of mine.I love experiencing countries that are rich in culture and have historical resonance. I really enjoyed the different places I went to in Italy, such as Florence. It was one of my favorite places—a quaint city with a lot of history. I loved going to Rome and seeing the ruins, the coliseum, and catacombs. I also did an African safari in Stellenbosch, right outside of Cape Town. Being in nature, I felt so much peace and appreciation for the Earth. It was incredible.
For more information about Nicole Mangrum and her upcoming events, or to ask additional questions, contact her on Instagram @NicoleMangrumHair.