Katie Steller’s Whyography is one of more than 30 stories featured in the “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose” book. 100 percent of proceeds from book sales benefit the Fueled by Purpose micro grant fund for womxn-owned businesses. To purchase the book, visit the Marketplace page.
As 18-year-old Katie Steller was wheeled into the operating room, a million thoughts went 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 medical procedures that forced her to drop out of school—twice. Now, having her colon removed 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 found herself thinking back to an event that took place in the weeks before her surgery, an event many people take for granted—a day at the salon. Her hair had begun to fall out, and her mom treated her to some TLC with a professional stylist. On that day, Katie felt cared for in a way that transformed her inside and out.
After surgery, Katie thought about her future in a new way. She decided to pursue a career as a hairstylist, and she felt driven 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 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. And above all, be kind.
At 22, Katie realized her dream. She launched Steller Hair Company as a five-chair salon in Northeast Minneapolis. A true entrepreneur, Katie continued to grow, adding chairs and staff and imagining what was next. She also started a nonprofit, Steller Kindness Project, to recognize individuals who are making a difference in the world through acts of kindness. She hopes to inspire others to be kind as well. She and her kindness squad head out into the community regularly, offering complimentary haircuts and care packages to those in need.
Katie has received numerous awards for her workplace practices, including the Minnesota Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2018. That same year, through the Steller Kindness Project, she received something even better: the privilege of gifting a compassionate salon experience to a 12-year-old girl with similar medical issues to her own.
In late 2018, Katie celebrated another milestone when she opened the newly expanded Steller Hair Company with 10 chairs and her dream team. She kept her former salon space for training and special events like a Kindness Boutique, which offered thousands of gently used clothing items to single moms for free. It was the first of many community events Katie has hosted.
Over the years, 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
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support womxn-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.