Winnetka, Community

‘I’m 100,000 times happier’: Hairstylist uses stimulus check to take leap of faith

Spirit Elephant customers follow server Jenny Kawecki to vegan hair studio

Like millions of other Americans in the spring of this year, Jenny Kawecki was forced to ask herself, “What now?”

She worked at a hair salon. It closed. She side-hustled at a local restaurant. It had to cut her shifts. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown had left her with minimal options. So, what now? 

Truth be told, it wasn’t the first time Kawecki stared down that existential question. Whether it was moving to Seattle on her own or moving back 10 years later, or deciding to go to beauty school in her late 30s, or being turned away by city salons seeking “someone in their 20s,” Kawecki was used to proving her mettle.

That built resilience was at the forefront when Kawecki answered “What now?” by taking her government stimulus check of $1,200 and betting on herself.

Jenny K’s Hair Studio is open for business in a collective, mostly made up of beauty professionals, in a Highland Park storefront at 229 Skokie Valley Road, just north of Lake-Cook Road.

“I’m a one-woman show. No trust fund, no husband, no business loan,” Kawecki said. “I thought, ‘All right, just spend $1,200 and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be OK.’ I tried so many things and failed so many times, it wouldn’t affect me. I didn’t want to stop trying. The ultimate failure is when you quit. That’s really it. I’m willing to take the risk.” 

Prior to the pandemic, Kawecki, 42 and a resident of Edison Park, had been a lifelong waitress and recent prospective hairstylist. She had part-time gigs at a hair salon in Palatine and the vegan restaurant Spirit Elephant in Winnetka when nonessential Illinois businesses closed.

“I thought, ‘All right, just spend $1,200 and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be OK.’ I tried so many things and failed so many times, it wouldn’t affect me. I didn’t want to stop trying. Jenny Kawecki, owner of Jenny K’s Hair Studio

Since graduating beauty school, she interviewed for three years for full-time work to no avail. When the pandemic hit, her work at Spirit Elephant led to connections that helped fill the void, as she cut customers’ hair in her home and washed their hair in her kitchen sink. 

Then, she made her decision, putting her entire $1,200 stimulus check into Jenny K’s Hair Studio, paying for a studio deposit, equipment and decor. 

And she doesn’t regret a thing.

“Going off on my own was the only way I could see myself doing what I love to do, and I love to do it. It’s my favorite thing in the whole world,” Kawecki said. “… It feels pretty good to do what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s the first time I’ve done something full-time other than wait tables. I’m 100,000 times happier. It’s crazy.”

A big part of the early success, she said, was her regular customers from Spirit Elephant who were charmed by Kawecki’s vegan lifestyle. She does not use products that contain or test on animals. 

Starting with five clients just four months ago, Jenny K now has close to 70. And it’s led her back to the same question, but in a much more appealing tone:

So, what now?

“It’s growing pretty quickly, which is awesome,” she said. “I’m getting a lot of whole families. The studio is really small. My goal is at least to get a tiny storefront with a waiting room for kids. I didn’t anticipate being a family person, but I came to be one.”

joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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