November 2021

Hair and beauty alumna who received surprise visit from teenage Beyoncé opens Birmingham salon

By Melanie Hall

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A former hair and beauty student from University College Birmingham who was lucky enough to meet a teenage Beyoncé has defied the challenges of Covid-19 to open her own salon in the heart of the UK’s second city – despite living 4,000 miles away in Atlanta.   

Born-and-bred Brummie Janet Nelson, whose first salon was visited in 1998 by a relatively unknown “new girl group” called Destiny’s Child, moved to the US 15 years ago. But she had always dreamed of her own business back home again one day. 

And with the help of her two Birmingham-based brothers, this is exactly what she has done, cutting the ribbon to Mary Jay’s Hair & Beauty – named after her beloved grandma – in the Minories shopping centre this month. 

"I consider Birmingham to be my forever home"

Janet Nelson Mary Jay's Hair & Beauty

Specialising in extensions and braids and with a retail maintenance section with products brought in from Atlanta, Janet hopes to bring a taste of Georgia to the city. 

And she has even recruited another University College Birmingham alumna to do beauty treatments, including microblading and eyelash extensions.  

“It was in 2019 that I decided I really wanted to set up a salon back home,” said Janet, who lives with her seven-year-old son in Atlanta. “We had literally got the ball rolling when Covid hit.

“But I wouldn’t give up. We found this beautiful space and this year we made it happen. We had some master stylists fly in from Atlanta to the launch too. It was definitely a special occasion.” 

Janet during her studies aged 17 (left), and aged 19 (right)

Janet opened her first salon in Birmingham in 1997.  

Cutting and styling hair for the community and celebrities, including the young daughter of the late footballer Ugo Ehiogu – who played for Aston Villa and England – she also had the visit of a lifetime during this era. 

“I was approached by a supplier in London who was looking for a location to hold a Proline hair care promotional event,” said Janet. 

“They were going to bring a new young girl group who were performing in the city that evening to give out some merchandise and copies of their CD for their newly-released song, No No No. 

“Lo and behold, when the vehicle pulled up, it was none other than the original members of Destiny's Child. Beyoncé, Kelly, LaTavia and Letoya. And Beyoncé's mum, Miss Tina. 

“They spent the rest of the afternoon at the salon signing autographs and giving out merchandise before going on to perform at their show. Now I think about it, it was incredible.”

'Best days'

Janet’s University College Birmingham journey started back in 1988 when she was just 17, which she says were some of the “best days” of her life. 

Over three years, she gained her City and Guilds Certificate in Hairdressing, International Beauty Diploma, wig-making qualification and, as a stand-out student, was recommended to take the National Hairdressers Diploma at what was then Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies.   

“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “It was the eighties and I did SO many perms on the mannequins back then, it was untrue.  

“They’ve come into fashion again, but not many people can actually do them, which is something I can brag about!  

“We loved having walk-ins when Reflections, the college salon at Richmond House, opened late on Thursday evenings. And I loved our beautiful pinstripe uniform. My mum still has all my certificates on her wall too.”

After college, Janet worked in various Birmingham salons and did the hair and make-up for a local freelance photographer, her work being featured in various newspapers and magazines.

However, even as an alumna, Janet never lost ties with University College Birmingham. When her former lecturers gave her the chance to gain her further adult education teaching certificate and come back to train other wannabe stylists, she jumped at the chance, ending up making a real mark.  

A move to Atlanta later after “falling in love with the city” on business trips to the state, and with a wealth of experience behind her, she is now planning to open a branch of Mary Jay’s in the US state capital, catering for customers with all hair types, from Afro-Caribbean to European.

Having recently completed her Hairdressing Masterclass Certification and Level 3 Advanced Diploma in Hairstyling, on top of diplomas she has also gained in physiology and anatomy and communications, Janet added: “I consider Birmingham to be my forever home, Atlanta my home from home. 

“To bring the two together with my hair and beauty businesses is a dream come true.”    

Find out more about Mary Jay's Hair & Beauty on the Mary Jay's website or on Instagram.

Find out more about University College Birmingham’s college and degree-level hair and beauty courses within the Department of Creative Services, now all based at brand new studios at the Summer Row campus.  

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