-Hat-trick of awards for local beauty business owners-
Having an interest in hair, beauty and looking good is nothing new for young women the world-over.
However, two local ladies, Katie Stevenson and Sarah Graham have turned it into a booming, multi-award winning business – having just scooped their third award in only 18 months of trading.
La Bella Vita - a hair extension specialist and beauty salon located in Dundonald - began life as a part-time hobby for the two students, both at university, but both with a love for looking good.
Katie explains: “As students, Sarah and I loved fashion and beauty and were always trying out the latest trend in hair extensions and celebrity styles and had spent a lot of our own money over the years trying to have longer hair! That’s when we decided it would make more sense and save us a lot of money if we learned how to do it ourselves.”
“I had just celebrated my 21st birthday, and had received some money from gifts from family. Sarah was just 19 at the time, and asked her family for a small loan. We did our research into best course available and made the journey to London to learn the art of hair extensions.”
It wasn’t long before the word of their trip spread to friends, and before long they were getting bookings.
Sarah continued: “As soon as we returned from London, lots of our friends asked us to do their hair, and before we knew it we had solid bookings for the following weeks – we were astounded.
“We decided to make a Facebook page and see if we could get any bookings outside of our friendship circle to make a bit of extra cash whilst studying.”
And that move turned out to be one of the best things the girls could do.
“Literally within a few hours, we had private mail, after private mail and found ourselves booked solidly. At the time I was studying Cardiology at the Ulster University and Katie was studying Film studies at Queens, so our appointments had to fit in between our busy lectures and course work.”
The team worked night and day from their parent’s houses whilst studying, with both turning spare bedrooms into mini salons – and the two just alternated between houses depending on who wasn’t at class.
Katie continued: “At one point we got so busy that we had three or four people sitting in our parent’s living rooms waiting on appointments. That’s when we knew if we were going to make a go of this, we had to look for premises and hire some staff.”
And that’s just what they did. On June 1, 2014 La Bella Vita, Dundonald was launched with six staff and a treatment list to rival any city centre salon.
“Our clients literally came from all over Northern Ireland and a few from the Republic of Ireland we needed somewhere close to main arterial routes. The perfect location came up in Dundonald which was right on the main road, with lots of passing cars, was a great size with a separate treatment room, kitchen and store and even had parking spaces.” Sarah recalled.
The business boomed, the girl’s graduated and the clients just kept coming. And within just eleven months of trading, Katie and Sarah were recognised at a glittering event at the City Hall, picking up the Young Business Person of the Year awards at the the Belfast Business Awards.
“It was a very proud moment for everyone who had been on the journey with us. Both of our parents were there, our partners and the team – it made all of our very hard work worth while.”
But the celebrations weren’t just a one-off - a few months’ later, the entire team were recognised at the Northern Ireland Hair & Beauty Awards scooping Hair Extension Team of the Year 2015.
And to top it all off, Katie and Sarah have just been recognised as the Young Entrepreneurs of the Year at the Lisburn and Castlereagh Business Awards 2016.
Sarah concluded: “It has been a whirlwind few years, and we have had to learn by hitting the ground running. But we have a fantastic team, a very loyal client base and were are very much looking forward to what the future holds.”
And for this dynamic duo, we are certain that the sky is the limit.
La Bella Vita is located at 767 Upper Newtownards Rd, Belfast, employs 14 staff, offers a range of services, from hair extensions, hair treatments, beauty treatments and retails the latest products in hair and beauty.
Owner of La Bella Vita, Katie Stevenson and Sarah Graham are pictured.