Jumping on couches with cousins, taking naps, helping with mopping and vacuuming – these are all typical things kids do around the house. In this case, however, Nicole Rose describes her childhood memories at Dean’s Beauty Salon & Barbershop. Founded by Rose’s great-grandparents, Benjamin and Mary Dean, in 1954, Northeast Portland Salon is the oldest black-owned business in Oregon. And now, nearly 70 years after opening the store, Rose is expanding the Dean family legacy with her own business: Ella Dean, a natural hair care line named after her grandmother, the daughter of Ben and Mary, who also worked at Dean.
“I actually wanted to be a beautician like my grandmother, until I saw [just how much] job she had to do,” Rose said. “But I loved doing my hair and my mom’s hair, and I love the products.” What she didn’t like were the ingredients she found in many of these products, from harsh chemicals to coconut oil. The latter, she says, dries out the hair, not to mention that “it also solidifies your hair in the winter.”
Rose began to do some research – from deep internet dives to trial-and-error experiments – and landed on other fruit and vegetable oils few used in this way: pomegranate, lettuce, lemon, lime, and spinach, cold pressed and organic. Some are now ingredients in the Ella Dean range. So far, there are four products: Honor Thy Crown (the subtle scent makes this blend a must-have for men), Look, But Don’t Touch (a scalp conditioner and Ella’s best-selling Dean), No Time For Flakes (with black cumin, onion and galangal root to reduce scalp inflammation) and So Long, Itch! (for the relief of eczema and psoriasis).
“The ingredients are all-natural oils that promote hair growth and a healthy scalp,” says Laura Oliver, PAZ Hair Lounge stylist and fan of Ella Dean, who also co-founded beauty retailer BIPOC Viby. “Because it has a variety of different oils for all your needs, it’s a little easier to customize the oil for the specific needs of the hair you’re doing.” In addition to Viby, Ella Dean products can be found at several Portland businesses, including Mid-K Beauty Supply, Coral Story Beauty, and Drink Mamey. Rose also sells at local farmers’ markets, where she’s often approached by Dean’s former clients who tell her, “I went to the salon and met your great-grandparents.”
Ella Dean, who is approaching her second birthday in November, has already been in the celebrity gift bags for the 2022 Grammy Awards; a JC Penney partnership that will put the oils in more than 600 stores is in the works for 2023. And although Ella Dean herself now has Alzheimer’s disease and is unaware of her granddaughter’s success, Rose is confident that she can feel it. “My grandmother was very smart. She probably knows she’s celebrated.