Love 518 salon owner and Coconut Grove native Hadassa Felix doesn’t just style and detangle her clients’ hair. She also listens to their stories, helps them sort out their lives. Felix detangles a person’s hair, sometimes for many hours while watching shows and movies like Netflix’s Bridgerton with them, and listens to life’s challenges.
Since completing an eight-year stint in the US Army in 2016, the Haitian American has worked in various area salons before launching Love 518 — named in recognition of her May 18 birth date.
Felix opened her Little Havana hair styling business in October 2019. She styles men’s and women’s hair from all backgrounds, and some who travel thousands of miles for her personal care services. Not long after opening, the coronavirus pandemic forced her to temporarily close in 2020 and reassess what mattered to her most — helping people.
Upon reopening her shop, she got a surprise that any small business owner would appreciate: A nine-minute video on her YouTube channel of her detangling hair went viral and garnered 14 million views.
Today, Felix, 39, has 133,000 YouTube subscribers, 430,000 followers on TikTok and an international audience — and client list — of people fascinated by her detangling method and inspired by her life and entrepreneurial journey. Felix took time to speak with the Miami Herald about his personal connection to clients, how social media has enhanced the way he markets himself and more.
The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
▪ Question: Why was it important for you to open a shop here in Miami?
Answer: I’m a first generation Haitian American. I was born in Miami in Coconut Grove and I love Miami. My roots are here. This is my home. I always feel you have to give back to your backyard, before you give anywhere else. I’m also an Army veteran. I want to give back to my community, people locally, in other locations and abroad. I want to be a voice to help people be heard.
▪ Q: How has your worldview from serving in the military shaped your approach to hair clients?
A: I’m more disciplined. I also understand that life happens to everybody. Because of the military, I’m more diverse as well. I was able to meet people who didn’t look like me that I had never seen before. I could educate them, too. I also had a lot of hair issues in the military. When I was serving, you couldn’t wear your hair naturally.
I used to get in a lot of trouble for my hair, but I stood by it. It made me more empathetic about people and their hair. Especially Black women. Our hair grows up. With detangling, I wanted people to know it’s not just a color thing or a hair texture thing. It’s a life thing. I have doctors, lawyers and very successful people whose hair got matted. The military helped me understand these people a little better.
▪ Q: How did your military experience laid a foundation for your business?
A: The discipline in the military taught me that I needed structure as I go so that I can teach this to somebody else. I’m going through all the hurdles and trials and tribulations, so other people don’t have to go through that. The last client two weeks ago had an anxiety attack and almost a breakdown, because her hair had been matted for two or three years and she didn’t know what was next.
It was her being an Army wife and always in different locations by herself where she didn’t know anyone. I was on the phone with her two days later, after her services were done, pouring it into her. I am more empathetic, because I was a soldier. I know what it is to be in a situation where you don’t think about the wife taking care of all the kids and her hair is matted. She’s been on 20 military tours already. Her having the breakdown helped me understand it’s bigger than hair. I like to tackle what’s going on with the person internally and externally.
▪ Q: How did the pandemic challenges embolden your experience as an entrepreneur?
A: When I decided to leave the salon I was working in, I decided to leave on faith. I had to leave not knowing if my clients would follow me. At first, I didn’t want to be a business owner. I tried it before and thought it was too much work. A lot of my clients before didn’t follow me. I decided to trust the process this time and put my trust in God.
▪ Q: Did you ever feel like you would have to pivot again as a professional?
A: Once a week I would have two or three clients and then COVID-19 hit. I decided to use the onset of the pandemic as a break, but at that moment I decided to reevaluate things. At the end of the day, hair is my passion. I used a couple of months to get my thoughts together and do some grounding work. I just knew that it would be OK for me.
I tell people I did this while I was scared. But I knew working for someone was stressful. I’m stressed here, but I would rather be stressed for me. I didn’t know what would happen. The whole world was shutting down. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’m going to find a way to do something. It worked out for me. I never thought in a million years I would be detangling hair.
▪ Q: How has using social media changed your business marketing approach?
A: I’m a millennial, so I’m from a time where we passed out flyers. Things have changed so you have to change with them. At first, I was hesitant to do social media because I thought my voice sounded weird. Also, there are thousands of hair stylists, so I wondered what makes me so special. I decided to just go ahead and post.
Overnight, I went from having 30 YouTube subscribers to then having 10,000, and before I knew it had a 100,000. It propelled my business further than I thought I would. I didn’t think I would go viral. You can assume it would happen, but seeing it happen was mind-blowing for me.
▪ Q: How has helping clients’ with their mental state separated you from other hairstylists?
A: A lot of times people care about money. Because it’s part of my passion, I care about the client. I don’t chase money. Money chases me. I chase the fulfillment of helping someone. My current client came from far to see me and for me to pour into her, and that’s life changing. Some clients say they’re overworked, had a nervous breakdown after losing a child, had cancer, or were in the hospital after being paralyzed.
I get a lot of nurses from New York that come here. If you’re a nurse during COVID you were working 15- to 20-hour days, you don’t have time for your hair. That’s a lot for your mental space. I want them to know I care. I tell people I’m working on your outer but your inner, as well. I had a mother and daughter come and I told the mother she was part of her daughter’s trauma. She gave me a hug afterwards and started crying. I gave her a different perspective. I love doing it. It’s a lot on the body, but I really enjoy detangling hair. I love talking to people.
▪ Q: What’s next for your business?
A: We’re expanding now because we’re outgrowing this space. We still want it to be intimate, but we want to teach people and are looking for investors to help with the process because there’s no one who does it like this. Eighty percent of my clients fly in to see me.
Imagine coming from Hawaii to get your hair detangled or from the UK or Australia. There needs to be more awareness for this and people assume because your hair is matted it is dirty. It is simply the way you deal with things. For some people, it’s putting your hair in a bun. But you put your hair on the back burner. My goal is not only to train other people, but teach them, and expand my business to other states and countries.