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Lovely Lashes

Kami Hill stands in front of her Pure Lash & Beauty building on Centre Avenue in Portage. © 2018 Encore Publications/Brian Powers
Kami Hill finds success in the blink of an eyelash

In February 2015, when Pure Lash & Beauty opened its doors at 1106 W. Centre Ave. in Portage, business instantly boomed — and that’s an understatement.

The shop specializes in eyelash extensions, and Kami Hill, a certified lash stylist and the shop’s owner, had anticipated demand and planned on hiring one other lash stylist. But almost instantly a line of enthusiastic clients created a three- to six-month waiting list for lash services, which changed her plans a bit.

“We have seven (lash) stylists now, and I’m hiring more,” says the 37-year-old Hill, “and I have two in training.”

In 2006, Hill discovered the demand for lash extensions after taking classes in Detroit. She received certification from Lash Affair, a Phoenix-based company that provides professional eyelash extension supplies and training.

Lash extensions used at Pure Lash & Beauty are made of polybutylene terephthalate, Hill says, which is a soft, flexible lightweight material that withstands heat and retains its shape and curl. A latex- and formaldehyde-free adhesive is used to apply the extensions to a client’s natural eyelashes during a two- to three-hour process.

Most clients of Pure Lash — who range from teenagers to baby boomers — generally find the technique relaxing and fall asleep, Hill says, as each extension is attached “one by one” to each natural lash. It doesn’t disrupt the growth cycle of the natural lashes because the extensions shed with the natural lashes. Customers return every two to three weeks for “fills,” which take about an hour and a half.

“We can make it dramatic, or we can make it natural-looking,” Hill notes.

‘Demand kept growing’

Back when Hill underwent her initial training, she says, nobody in the Kalamazoo area was offering lash extensions. She was working as a cosmetologist at Studio 24 SalonSpa in Portage and, after becoming newly certified in lash extensions, started practicing application of lash extensions on co-workers. Customers immediately took notice.

“Within probably a year and a half I was doing more lashes than hair,” she says.

Studio 24 SalonSpa didn’t technically have a space for a lash extensions station, so Hill did her work in a converted closet.

“It wasn’t ideal as far as lighting, and the demand kept growing,” Hill says, so she decided to open her own business.

Hill didn’t open Pure Lash & Beauty on a whim. She had always wanted to open a salon and possessed the skill set to do it. She was armed with an associate’s degree in business from Kalamazoo Valley Community College and a family lineage of entrepreneurs — her parents, Larry Hill and Andrea Khairallah, owned businesses before retiring, and most of her siblings have followed suit. Hill designed the look, brand, name and feel of her salon — she wanted a warm, uplifting environment for employees and clients — long before the building on Centre Avenue became available. When it hit the market, Hill was prepared.

“It was the right spot and the right timing and the right price,” Hill says. “It was a lot of upfront investment, but I’m very glad I did it.”

Entrepreneurial parents

Was Hill scared to purchase a property, tear down the building and construct a new business from scratch? Sure, she admits, saying leasing a spot was a consideration. But her parents’ example helped dismiss any fear and fuel her determined attitude.

“My mom and dad owned multiple businesses,” she says. “While we were growing up, I always saw that hustle and heart and the dreams that would come to life.”

Hill’s dream also came true. Currently, Pure Lash & Beauty has four private rooms for lash services and 17 employees. She recently replaced three hair stations with recliners to accommodate the growing market for lash services. Business is brisk, and even though Hill had the opportunity to expand her business by moving into another, larger building, she chose not to. Pure Lash & Beauty has a cozy, welcoming atmosphere, she says, and maintaining that, as well as keeping customer service the top priority, came to mind while she was getting ready to sign on the dotted line.

“That’s what stopped me from expanding,” she explains. “I just was afraid I would lose that. I think that’s what makes us really unique.”

Doing lash extensions was and still is Hill’s favorite part of her business.

“I really, truly love the art of doing it,” she says, “and especially the relationships that I make with clients. Then they open their eyes and see what it does for them. I love that reaction and the confidence that it gives women.”

This spring Pure Lash & Beauty will launch a new service: microblading, a type of tattooing, to enhance eyebrows. In microblading, a small, manual tool made of multiple tiny needles is used to create brushstrokes of ink in the skin that are semi-permanent. (In traditional tattooing, ink is injected into the skin with an electric hand tool.) Hill trained under celebrity microblading artist Lindsey Ta, of Microblading LA Studio & Academy, in Los Angeles. This service is great for people who have sparse eyebrows and regularly draw them on, Hill says.

The technique seems to have originated in Asia about 25 years ago, according to multiple websites. “It’s been around for a long time,” Hill says, “but it’s new to the beauty industry here in the States. It’s just starting to grow and be a more mainstream beauty offering.”

While speaking with Hill, one can’t help but notice her full lashes and frequent smiles. She has good reason to smile. In addition to having a thriving business she loves, in October, Hill was named a trainer for Lash Affair, the company from which she received her lash extension certification. Hill travels to salons and classrooms throughout the country, training groups of three to 20 cosmetologists and aestheticians as future lash stylists.

For Hill, who started out as an elementary education major at Western Michigan University, conducting the trainings is icing on the cake, especially when she knows it is empowering women.

“(It’s) being able to give them the tools to grow their own businesses and potentially give them financial freedom.”

Lisa Mackinder

Lisa’s work has previously appeared in various Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Animal Wellness, Dog World, Michigan Meetings and Events Magazine, MiBiz, and other publications. Though having covered a wide-range of topics, Lisa most enjoys composing people-centric pieces, as well as those featuring nature and animals. She lives in Portage with her husband, and when not at her Mac, participates in outdoor activities, including fly fishing, gardening and hiking.

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