A project by Acumen America

The beauty industry isn’t fair to workers. We’re trying to fix that.

© Felipe Barrera / Stocksy United

April Dominguez is the founder and CEO of Handsome, an app building community and career paths in the beauty industry.

I started out working in the oil and gas industry. Whenever I looked around the table, I was always the only minority and the only woman at the table. I wasn’t helping anybody who looks like me, or came from a background like mine, to advance their careers. It was around this time of feeling unsupported in my own career, where I witnessed the lack of mentorship and career pathways in the beauty and barber industry that my sister was experiencing. 

So we immediately got to work. In 2018, we launched Handsome to improve working conditions and career opportunities in the beauty industry, which is 90 percent female and 66 percent Black and Latinx. It is an industry traditionally full of strong upstarts and underdogs that has long been underserved and overlooked. We wanted to change that—to create pathways and opportunities, to improve working conditions, and to help those who looked like us build careers. 

Here’s how we are trying to do it.  

Give people structure and pathways

The beauty industry—which includes everything from skin care specialists and manicurists, to barbers and makeup artists—has long been a source of low wage and vulnerable jobs, and innovations in this industry can provide a template for other workers across the country. 

It’s a massive industry, employing over 1.4 million people across America and, compared to other segments in the labor force, higher rates of women and people of color, many of whom are low-income. In many states, only a GED and a certificate are required to work in the industry, making beauty jobs one of the most accessible professions for low-income Americans—and a job that offers a lot of upside.  

Joining the profession entails navigating training, upskilling, and a fragmented, opaque industry on their own. We have created a more structured way for professionals to find education and advance in their careers. We’re bridging the gap within the industry for education and career advancement. And we’re actually creating those career pathways. 

Most “professional” industries have a de-facto clearinghouse for finding work. LinkedIn, Dribble, Upwork. There are many digital networks that help people find work and advance in their careers. The beauty industry, more than anything else, is a word-of-mouth business—which has left many talented people without inroads and opportunities. What we’ve built with Handsome is a digital space—true structure around career paths and opportunities—with community forums, open dialogue, and educational opportunities.

Education, education, education

Education is critical in the beauty industry. And no, I don’t mean the traditional four-year degree. Education in the beauty industry cuts in a few ways: people need education to become beauty professionals and people also need education to continue moving up in their careers. 

In the history of beauty education, the major conglomerates—like Paul Mitchell and Aveda’s education systems—essentially controlled the education system within the industry. Then, there was a major shift in the industry with Instagram. Now, individuals are able to both create and take advantage of education.

Now, successful barbers and beauty professionals can create their own, brand-agnostic educational content—and charge and distribute that across the internet. It’s not exactly the wild west, these are experts in barbering, braiding, makeup—and they’re big names in their field. Instagram has democratized the beauty education industry for the better. 

But what Instagram is not doing is actually providing a way for these professionals to monetize and to generate income off of their education. There’s no transparency. There’s no distribution outside of your Instagram feed. There’s no way to get it in front of the right people and those in the industry who actually need it. What we’re doing is filling in the information gaps in the field. We are finding and building a way to bring all of these educators and experts into a more structured  space to sell their education—and for beauty professionals to understand the pathways to building a career that can pay a living wage and beyond . 

The upside is two-fold. Established veterans will be able to generate revenue in addition to the work they do behind the chair, like cutting or styling hair. Newcomers can learn from experts with real experience in the field, as opposed to having the choice of a couple of brand-specific schools. Which is not to say those big conglomerates are a bad choice—it’s a good path for many, but we’ve opened up countless new avenues and entry points for beauty education, and made it more lucrative for creators and accessible for new beauty professionals. Simply put: we’ve created jobs, opened up more revenue streams, and given beauty professionals a way to navigate their careers in the industry. 

Help people build careers that build wealth—through community.

Particularly for the beauty industry, we believe that community is critical for building careers that build wealth. The beauty industry has always been community-based, but we want to help enable and strengthen this community.  We want to help build a community that can help build a solid foundation for the current and future workforce. 

The industry has never operated as a large community. Local salons have always worked to lift up their employees, as their own kind of micro-community. At Handsome, we aim to build  a true industry-wide community that works to improve the profession, career opportunities, and working conditions. 

What we’ve done with Handsome is bring together this larger community into a virtual townhall to say hey, let’s work together and raise the tide as a whole. That might sound Pollyannish, but we can serve as an example for other industries looking to improve career paths. 

What we’re doing is we’re bringing it all into one platform, so it’s first and foremost accessible, but also easy to find, reasonably affordable, and transparent. Whether you’re going into manufacturing or barbering, workers need reliable resources and a platform built around trust and community. We’re not there yet, but that’s what we’re trying to build with Handsome.