The “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” list serves to elevate awareness of the innovation, professionalism, competence and tenacity demonstrated by Native entrepreneurs across Indian Country. Native Business is rolling out profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs online, in no particular hierarchy, to document and memorialize their innovation and self-determination. The inaugural class of the Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs recognizes leaders across 13 business sectors, demonstrating the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Among the entrepreneurs recognized in our Beauty sector is Falisha Steplight.
Arch Salon & Spa owner and citizen of the Nisqually Indian Tribe Falisha Steplight is no stranger to stepping out of her comfort zone. After years of working with children, she launched her successful business located in Washington state in 2016 entirely on her own.
“I have never taken out a business loan,” Steplight said. “I didn’t have any credit, and I wasn’t going to get approved for anything anyway, so I had to do it with all cash.”
As a child growing up on the Nisqually Indian Reservation, Steplight did not get to experiment openly with makeup.
“We were more kind of all-natural, and we didn’t wear dresses or makeup or anything like that,” she explained.
Once at school, she would often apply cosmetics in secret.
“So when my mom allowed me to wear makeup, I kind of went overboard with it,” Steplight said, then laughed. “But that’s what really inspired me was the art side of it.”
Steplight felt drawn to a career off the reservation and received a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. After having children of her own, she began reevaluating her career choice.
“I wanted to go down to more core values and really do what made me happy,” she said.
Steplight strove to find her role in the beauty business and pave the way for other Native American women to go after their passions, even though she experienced moments of guilt.
“I felt like I was leaving for an industry that was very vain … so I didn’t feel like there is very much reward in it,” Steplight said. “I just felt really bad about doing it, but it made me really happy. And so I did it anyway.”
After accepting a position in the industry, she felt like she found her calling, and she began building Native American clientele.
“Which was phenomenal to me because that kind of wasn’t our culture and what we did, so to have women come in and get their makeup done, get their eyebrows done, it was such a great feeling, because then I felt like I was giving back to my community,” she said.
“It really filled that void that I thought I was going to be missing.”
Building the business
The support of her Native American clientele and personal cultural ties inspired her to open her own eyebrow studio.
“The artistry, it’s always been there (in Native American culture),” she explained. “It’s been there with beading; it has been there with drawing.
“Then the business side of things come from like bartering when you’re at powwows,” Steplight added. “When you’re at certain events, you’re really running your own business.”
Steplight strives to boost women’s natural confidence through her salon and spa’s services. However, when thinking about branching out on her own, doubts flooded her mind. She brushed the negativity aside and focused on her dreams.
“I just wanted to do eyebrows because that’s what made me happy,” she said. “I opened up my own company called Arch.”
Since she only provides eyebrow services, which are usually one of the cheapest options at a spa or salon, Steplight worried about finances. She calculated how many clients she needed to make ends meet.
Shortly after opening, Steplight found herself needing to hire additional employees to meet demand and provide all salon and spa services in-house instead of referring customers to others.
Today Steplight owns and operates two locations and plans to expand up to five. She strives to deliver high-quality services to clients of all backgrounds, and through her successes, provide inspiration to other Native American women entrepreneurs.