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One of the most exciting yet harrowing experiences one must encounter when moving to a new city is finding the person you can rely on when times get tough; the person you can wholeheartedly trust and commit to in moments of uncertainty. That person is called your hair stylist.
For me, it took a few hours of scouring Instagram, Yelp, and even Facebook reviews (yes, Facebook. I was desperate). It didn’t take long to discover West Vibe Salon (W46th St – 9th/10th Ave), co-owned by business/life partners Maria Rutilio and Claudiu Vasilescu. After reading pages of rave reviews, I was sold.
But I’d never thought much about the innate kindness she brings to her business until she shared her own story with me. “When I was 12 years old, my parents brought me to New York from Mexico. I was raised in a small village, so the chaos of the city was a huge shock to me. I didn’t speak the language and began to struggle. I ended up dropping out of high school and became pregnant at 14. I was making all the wrong decisions and was a kid who had a kid. However, having my son is what pushed me to be who I am today. He is my biggest inspiration.”
As a single mother without a high school diploma, Maria was trying to make a living to provide for her son. “I decided to go to beauty school. Without even knowing what I was doing, I fell in love with it. I realized I could make people happy. I could make people feel good about themselves.”
I ended up dropping out of high school and became pregnant at 14. I was making all the wrong decisions and was a kid who had a kid.
After completing beauty school, she worked as an assistant for five years then as a stylist. While she learned the ins and outs of hair, she learned even more about herself. “It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, but at the same time it was the worst thing. The environment was toxic and I was struggling to go to work every day. My clients saw how unhappy I was and they pushed me to move in a new direction.”
With this motivation and the support of her clients, Maria and Claudiu left their respective jobs and bought West Vibe together in December 2018.
“If everything you do is done from the heart,” she says, “you will never go wrong. If you really care about what you do, you are going to be great. When I read the reviews, I keep seeing this word over and over. ‘Family.’ That’s what makes it all worth it.”
Maria’s energy, resilience, and care leaves her clients with the confidence to take on the city of Gotham, and that’s what makes her a Hell’s Kitchen hero.
I had the privilege of catching up with Maria in our now post-apocalyptic world. Since we last spoke, Governor Cuomo issued the closure of all salons across the state. While the fear of uncertainty can be overwhelming for us New Yorkers, Maria continues to radiate positivity to those around her. The West Vibe family, while struggling, remains strong and dependent on each other through these less social, more distant times. In fact, Maria is dedicated to helping her employees grow now more than ever.
“I will send an email to each of my stylists with a challenge for the week in an area I believe they can truly grow. I’ll speak with my teammates one-on-one for 15 minutes every day to see how everyone is progressing with their individual challenge. I want them to build their own brand and be the best they can be. This is the love and support we all need right now.”
Maria only has two rules for her staff’s group chat: no negativity and no news. These are the types of rules we could all benefit by following. Alternatively, we can look to better days ahead of us. To help ease the financial burden the stylists of West Vibe are enduring, Maria has set up a GoFundMe page. And for anyone missing their fresh-from-the-salon color, they’re offering at-home color kits to clients. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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