As 18-year-old Katie Steller was being wheeled into the operating room, a million thoughts were going through her mind. Growing up with an autoimmune disease was far from easy. She dealt with issues most kids her age couldn’t imagine, including multiple medical procedures that forced her to drop out of school—twice. Now, removing her colon was Katie’s best shot at getting better. But it came with mixed emotions. While the surgery was expected to improve her life, it would bring a new set of challenges.
Katie thought back to an event that took place in the weeks leading up to her surgery. As it turned out, it was far more impactful than she expected and something others took for granted—a day at the salon. Her hair had begun to fall out and Katie’s mom treated her to some TLC with a professional stylist. On that day, Katie felt cared for in a way she never thought possible. Her interaction with the stylist transformed her inside and out.
After surgery, Katie thought about her future in a whole new way. She decided to pursue a career as a hairstylist. But beyond that, she wanted to explore small business ownership. She trained at the acclaimed Aveda Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, took a job at a salon to learn the ropes, and then worked as an instructor. All the while hatching a plan to build a different kind of salon. Katie’s vision: Focus on people first. Pay a living wage. Offer training and benefits rare to the industry. Provide a flexible work environment. Create an inclusive community. But above all, be kind.
In 2013, at age 22, Katie realized her dream. Steller Hair Company started as a five-chair salon in Northeast Minneapolis. It was only the beginning. A true entrepreneur, Katie continued to grow, adding chairs and staff and imagining what was next for her business. She launched Steller Kindness Project a few years later as a way to recognize individuals in the community who are making a difference through small acts of kindness. Those selected receive a salon day with Katie, much like the one that inspired her own journey.
Katie herself has been recognized with numerous awards for her workplace practices and in 2018 she received the Minnesota Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration. A couple of months later, through the Steller Kindness Project, Katie received something better than any award—she had the privilege of gifting a salon day to a 12-year-old girl named Aria who was battling the same disease as Katie had and also had her large intestine removed.
As 2018 wrapped up, Katie celebrated another major milestone. She opened the doors to a newly expanded Steller Hair Company with 10 chairs and her dream team of 17. She kept the former salon space for special events and training and kicked off December with a Kindness Boutique for single moms. Thousands of gently used clothing items, shoes and accessories were donated for the event, and women in need were invited to take anything they wanted at no cost to them. It was the first of many community givebacks Katie has planned for the space.
Steller Hair Company has become much more than a salon. Ask Katie why it exists and she’ll tell you: “To do the most good that my heart and hands can accomplish in this short and uncertain life.”
Photo: Steller Hair Company
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