Jumping on the couches with cousins, taking naps, helping mop and vacuum floors—these are all typical things kids do at home. In this case, however, Nicole Rose is describing her childhood memories at Dean’s Beauty Salon & Barbershop. Founded by Rose’s great-grandparents, Benjamin and Mary Dean, in 1954, the Northeast Portland salon is the oldest running Black-owned business in Oregon. And now, almost 70 years since the shop opened its doors, Rose is expanding on the Dean family legacy with her own business: Ella Dean, a natural hair care line named after her grandmother, Ben and Mary’s daughter, who also worked at Dean’s.
“I actually used to want to be a beautician like my grandma, until I saw [just how much] work she had to do,” Rose says. “But I did enjoy doing my hair and my mom’s hair, and I just love products.” What she didn’t love was the ingredients she found in a lot of those products, from harsh chemicals to coconut oil. The latter she says dries hair out, not to mention that, “it also solidifies your hair in the winter.”
Rose started to research—from internet deep dives to trial-and-error experiments—and landed on some other fruit and vegetable oils few were using in this way: pomegranate, lettuce, lemon, lime, and spinach, cold-pressed and organic. Some are now ingredients in the Ella Dean line. Thus far, there are four products: Honor Thy Crown (the subtle fragrance makes this blend a go-to for men), Look, But Don’t Touch (a scalp revitalizer and Ella Dean’s best seller), No Time For Flakes (with black cumin, onion, and galangal root to reduce scalp inflammation), and So Long, Itch! (for eczema and psoriasis relief).
“The ingredients are all-natural oils that promote hair growth and a healthy scalp,” says PAZ Hair Lounge stylist and Ella Dean fan Laura Oliver, who also cofounded the BIPOC beauty retailer Viby. “Because she carries a variety of different oils for whatever your needs are, it’s a little easier to customize the oil for the specific needs of the hair that you’re doing.” In addition to Viby, Ella Dean products can be found in 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 former Dean’s customers who tell her: “I went to the salon and I met your great-grandparents.”
Ella Dean, which is approaching its second anniversary this November, has already been featured in the 2022 Grammy Award celebrity gift bags; 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 and remains unaware of her granddaughter’s success, Rose is confident she can feel it. “My grandma was very smart. She probably knows she’s being celebrated.”