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Community Chest: Karen Mitchell Owner, True Indian Hair

Karen Mitchell is an example of everything that is right about Brooklyn. Like most of us, she didn’t come from riches and didn’t graduate at the top of her class at some big-time business school. Everything she has accomplished has been of her own doing, and her hustle and business acumen have been the keys to her success.

Born in Jamaica, Karen immigrated to Brooklyn at age 12. She is the youngest of nine children. Her mother immigrated with five of them to Brooklyn, settling down in a two-bedroom apartment in East Flatbush. “I never knew we were poor because of the way my mother raised us. My friends were all in similar situations in their households with 4 or 5 family members living in a 2-bedroom apartment. I didn’t know anyone who lived in a fancy house, so it was normal to me.” Even as a teenager, Karen was always selling things. Her entrepreneurship started simply enough as a way to make extra money. In high school, she used to buy bandanas in bulk and decorate them with rhinestones. She’d make beautiful patterns on the bandanas and then sell them to her schoolmates. In college, she found colorful bracelets at wholesale, and sold those to her friends and classmates. Her business sense was curated through her willingness to provide goods and services to her community, identifying trends and providing quality products that people liked.

Her breakthrough happened in a most inconspicuous way. After college, unable to find a job, Karen went to an employment agency and the agency placed her at a fashion company as a receptionist. Her work ethic was noticed, and despite having no fashion background the company promoted her to Sales Assistant and then to the Production Department. Part of her work at this company involved travel. One of the places that she traveled to as a young woman was to India. In India, she was exposed to the human hair industry. Though she didn’t know it then, that exposure would shape her entire future.

While working at the fashion company, Karen opened a beauty supply store on Nostrand Avenue. It was a small business that never flourished. She had the store for about a year and then moved it to another smaller space hoping that she would spark some success. Still languishing, Karen was approached by a barber about turning the space into a barber shop. After giving it some thought, she accepted the idea and turned her beauty supply store into a barber shop. She had already began using her connections in India to bring in human hair extensions to sell to her friends. Once she opened the barber shop and business began increasing, she decided to place a showcase at the front of the shop and place the human hair extensions she was getting from India in the showcase for display, hoping that people would be interested. True Indian Hair was born. After the fashion company that she worked for closed, Karen made the decision to bet on herself. She sold the barber shop and opened her first True Indian Hair store on Flatbush Avenue. She now has three stores and an online boutique, and her business continues to grow and develop. She credits her success in the beauty business to three very key points. First, because the beauty business is all about trends, it is important to stay ahead of the trends so that you can be the first to offer them to your customers. Second, the quality control of your product is important. We live in an age where everything is critiqued on the public stage of social media. If you design or create a product, make sure that the product will hold up to inspection. Finally, money management is very important in sustaining a business. No matter how much money your business makes, if you can’t manage the money properly you will fail in business.

Karen has come a long way from the 2-bedroom apartment in East Flatbush where she was raised, but she’s never left Brooklyn. “I love Brooklyn. Brooklyn is home. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else.” From selling bandanas and bracelets to controlling a leading company in the billion-dollar beauty industry, Karen has proven time and again that having a good work ethic, a great attitude and the will to create is enough to drive your dreams into fruition.

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