Shelley Nelson transforms one head at a time

Shelly Nelson owns and runs Royal Belle Hair Studio in Arima.  -
Shelly Nelson owns and runs Royal Belle Hair Studio in Arima. -

Shelley Nelson's work contract expired during the height of the pandemic in 2020, leaving her jobless and with little chance of finding a new job in the corporate world.

Due to the covid19 restrictions in place at the time, she could not even earn money from her side hustle – hair braiding.

Today, the 28-year-old woman owns and runs Royal Belle Hair Studio at Sanchez Street in Arima.

Nelson holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from UWI in management studies, specialising in HR and marketing. She has work experience, having worked in varying HR capacities in different companies. But, she said, job hunting in the corporate world during the pandemic proved unsuccessful.

"I had bills to pay, I had other obligations and was struggling financially. In times of struggle, I just fell back on braiding. I started with two clients, and I was content. Back then, I was braiding from my gallery. I wanted clients to feel comfortable, so I started using a little room at my dad's home," Nelson told WMN.

"I was ready to return to the corporate world. In 2021, I had my work clothes waiting just in case this did not work out."

But as restrictions started to ease and she was still unable to find a job, she began volunteering to style the hair of beauty queens, masqueraders and for photo shoots, etc. She is also dabbled a bit in makeup and tried to pay her dues as an up-and-coming creative.

Nelson said, "I planned photo shoots for fashion shows and events. It was not paid work, but it was geared at getting my name out there. I worked hard and sacrificed a lot. The hard work paid off. Now, I have a lot of clients who appreciate my work, and I am glad for that."

"I realised that the corporate environment was not working for me. I know many people enjoy it, but it did not do anything for me."

Braiding hair comes naturally to Shelley Nelson. -

Her braided hairstyles, which include faux locks, knotless box braids, cornrow braids, and butterfly locs, are fashionable, practical and chic.

In building her business, Nelson also believes she was making a stronger, more resilient version of herself.

She continued to market herself and depended heavily on social media and referrals. She placed a few ads on Instagram, but she firmly believes in growing her clientele naturally.

Nelson said she has gifted hands when it comes to hair braiding, and recalled when she was about nine years old when she braided her older sister's hair in a micro braid style. She never thought it would one day lead her to a career.

"For me, braiding has always come naturally. I have always braided as a side hustle. I had clients on evenings and weekends," Nelson said.

She chuckled as she recalled her first "paying client."

Shelley Nelson started doing hair on a mossy bench at UWI, St Augustine. -

She was employed at a department at the university, and after work, a female co-worker wanted to redo the front braids.

Excited, she immediately took up the challenge and they sat on a "mossy bench" under a huge tree at UWI's compound in St Augustine. The only product she had for the task was Vaseline's petroleum jelly in her handbag.

"It was that simple, and she loved it! She paid a very small amount. She became one of my clients and I styled her hair just Sunday.

For Nelson, braided hairstyles are associated with royalty.

"It is regal. It is a unique hairstyle," she said, adding that belle refers to a beautiful girl or woman.

The combination inspired her to name her business Royal Belle Hair Studio.

She said when she is done styling clients the expectation is that they are transformed into a more magnificent version of themselves.

Although Nelson is content with her growing clientele, she views her academic qualifications as something she can always rely on.

But if she is forced to return to corporate work, she does not see herself sitting behind a desk all day, doing the same thing.

"Yes, the corporate world is still an option. But there must be flexibility and some degree of independence because of the nature of my personality," she said.

Shelley Nelson transforms her clients into a more magnificent versions of themselves. -

Her advice for her 21-year-old self or to any young person who wants to pursue their dreams and goals is to build a solid foundation.

"Do not go after it carelessly. You have to be smart about it. Do not make it about money. Keep working hard and the money would come. I also believe in the power of networking."

She works from 8 am to 6 pm, by appointment only.

"Braiding takes hours so there is a booking site on my Instagram page (@royalbellehairstudio). For now, I alone work in the studio, but I plan on building a solid team in the near future."


"Shelley Nelson transforms one head at a time"

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