BUSINESS MONDAY: Local entrepreneur fills gap for women of color

Destiny Saunders is on a mission. Literally.

She is the evangelist at Pastor Akilah Edgerton’s New Generation Global Ministry in Pittsfield, but she also founded her own ministry, She Laughs. The phrase is taken from Proverbs 31:25 — “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” Both the passage and the ministry perfectly reflect Saunders’ main interests: community, faith, and female empowerment.

“She Laughs helps women to understand their identity in Christ and recognize their purpose in life,” she said. “Everything I do I’m working with women.”

Saunders is a full-time licensed social worker at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and serves as a resident hall parent at Miss Hall’s School, a Pittsfield-based college preparatory boarding and day high school for girls. This weekend, she will add “entrepreneur” to her growing list of titles when she opens Dolc’e Rose Beauty Supply, a pop-up store on North Street.

A Facebook ad for the pop-up store selling beauty products for women of color.
Saunders has been promoting the pop-up on Facebook for several months, posting photos of select products. Photo courtesy Dolc’e Rose Beauty Supply

“Beauty, fashion, and styling were always my thing,” she said. Born and raised in the Bronx, she grew up with beauty playing a prominent role in her life.

“I did take a lot of pride in taking care of her hair,” said Saunders’ mother Gloria, who is helping to manage some aspects of the business including accounting and ordering. “All the way through college, I helped [my kids] get the supplies they needed,” which ranged from Just for Me kids hair care products to olive oil conditioners.

Saunders relocated with her family to Pittsfield when she was 16, enrolling in Pittsfield High School and participating in its four-year cosmetology program. She went on to Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut, to study human development and family studies but continued to style friends and community members in her spare time.

Her styling services were well-received, even displayed publicly at a fashion show held at The Colonial Theatre during the 2014 Made in the Berkshires Festival, but the lack of beauty supply stores in the Berkshires was an obstacle not just for special events but in daily life.

“Moving from New York City to a small area, I didn’t have access to what I used to,” she said. “Products for women of color are really limited, and we shouldn’t have to travel an hour to buy something we need.

A handful of beauty stores can be found 50 miles east in Springfield, and BSW Beauty Supply on Central Avenue in Albany is a large retailer of hair extensions, hair care, and some cosmetics. But beauty suppliers in downtown Pittsfield are much harder—if not impossible—to come by.

Shirley Edgerton
“We have had some supply stores on North Street, but it’s a limited choice,” said Shirley Edgerton. “That’s been that way for a few years.” Photo courtesy ROPE

“It’s a major need in our community,” said Shirley Edgerton, founder of Rites of Passage and Empowerment (ROPE), a personal and professional development program for young women. “It’s exciting to know that there will be a store that will cater to Black hair.”

Ulta Beauty, Walmart, and pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens offer a small selection of “ethnic” products but Saunders said a good beauty supplier should be “like a candy store,” stocked with an array of oils, skin and hair care products, makeup, and accessories.

“Sally [Beauty on Merrill Road] was good but for some reason they stopped selling certain products during COVID,” said Amanda Ines of Pittsfield. “That happens too often here.”

“The scarcity is so bad in terms of finding products to keep my hair maintained,” said Edgerton, who has worn her hair in dreadlocks since the ‘90s. “I have issues finding products I need to twist the new hair growth into the dreads.”

Ines, who manufactures and sells her own wigs, has difficulty finding personal products as well as color treatments and heat protections like serums and sprays made especially for wigs. “I usually travel or buy things online,” she said.

Saunders developed the idea to open a pop-up last year and spent months polling the community online and in person for the best and most sought-after products. “We’ve already talked about what I need,” said Edgerton, who has worked with Saunders as a ROPE mentor and Youth Alive volunteer.

For both women, natural products are more desirable. In fact, more Black American women are forgoing harsh processes and chemical treatments like relaxers and styling their hair naturally. Saunders will be carrying brands like SheaMoisture, Mielle Organics, African Pride, and Creme of Nature that make it easier to protect and style different hair textures and skin types.

She will also stock a sampling of lace front wigs, hair extensions, weaves, bonnets, edge wraps, eyelashes, nail polish, makeup, and skin care, with more to come as she establishes relationships with larger vendors.

An ad for KISS eyelashes
“We were definitely strategic and we asked, ‘How can we serve you?’” said Saunders, who is also pricing her products, like these KISS lashes, affordably. Photo: Julia Dixon

The pop-up will be open this weekend only, June 12 and 13 from 11am to 4pm both days. Saunders hopes to hold monthly pop-ups at the same storefront, 305 North Street in Pittsfield, until she finds a permanent location this fall or the owner of the building finds a lessee, although the downtown space is ideal. Not only is it easily accessible and in walking distance for many customers, it is next door to Ann’s Beauty Salon and two doors down from MR Barbers Groomery and Barber Shop.

“I would love to partner as a supplier for women who are going to get their hair done,” she said. Saunders also plans to eventually carry supplies for men such as specialty shampoos, conditioners, beard oil, and clippers.

“With the wealth gap and return on money going through the community, it’s nice to see a woman of color open a business,” Edgerton said. “She is a role model for young women [who want to] to be an entrepreneur.”

It’s that sense of service that drove Saunders to create Dolc’e Rose. “I just like us all to look good and enhance [our] beauty,” she said. “God gave [me] talents and a business mindset. I want to make something, serve my community, and not have it go in vain.”

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