Abena Tetteh, UCHS ’17, is no stranger to taking risks. As a high school student, Abena was always passionate about the haircare industry and used her summer experiences to explore and amplify that passion, but she admittedly did not think of cosmetology as a viable career path until years later. Abena’s inspiring journey from Ithaca College student to small business owner is one that all students can learn from—and is a reminder to all of us that pursuing your passions can lead to an exciting and fulfilling career, even if it seems risky at first!
Abena gained her first professional experience in the haircare industry during the summer of her 10th grade year at UCHS. She was matched with Bombshell Studios, a hair salon in Brooklyn, through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and quickly hit the ground running as an apprentice to the owner. Abena was initially hired to contribute to the salon’s social media and marketing efforts, but her responsibilities increased as the salon began to pick up more customers. “The salon started getting really busy, so I began to assist the owner and learned how to style hair and make wigs from start to finish. I really enjoyed getting to learn both the marketing and cosmetology sides of the business,” says Abena. It was this experience that led Abena to enroll in Ithaca College as an Integrated Marketing major upon her graduation from UCHS.
As a freshman at Ithaca, Abena picked up a series of jobs to make money while she took her marketing classes. One of her jobs was working a Phone-a-thon that enabled her to hone her communication and customer service skills, which she cites as a major contributor to her success with customers as a business owner. She used money from her campus jobs to buy hair supplies and ultimately began doing her peers’ hair on campus as another way to make money and gain experience in an area she was passionate about.
When COVID hit, college students across the country were forced to leave campus, and Abena took this as an opportunity to reevaluate her future. “I was doing fine in college. I had a 3.07 GPA, but my heart wasn’t in it, and I decided to take this opportunity to take a risk and start my business,” Abena says. She ultimately decided not to return to Ithaca after her junior year and began to focus on her business full-time. Abena cites her Integrated Marketing coursework and her experience at UCHS as incredibly helpful in navigating the professional world; she is still very grateful for the communication and organizational skills she gained at UCHS. Ultimately, she knew the best way to expand her craft and network in her field would be to attend cosmetology school, which led her to enroll in Empire Beauty School this year.
One of Abena’s goals at Empire has been to learn from beauty professionals, which she has been doing during her year-long credentialing program. She has been able to meet and network with other hairstylists and salon owners, which has opened her eyes to a lot of things in the beauty business, such as different styling techniques and where to access the best products. When she’s not working on her Empire classes, she is dedicated to expanding her business, ABWigs LLC. In a truly full-circle moment, Abena signed her business up to be a mentor site for SYEP, and she’s really excited to give back to the program that was so instrumental in her journey. “I’m planning to teach [my mentees] the skills of doing hair, but also the business side of things, as well as things like self-confidence and believing in yourself,” says Abena.
Abena’s story is inspirational to the many alumni in our community who are aspiring entrepreneurs, and is a true testament to the value of pursuing your dreams even if they scare you at first. You can check out Abena’s business website here or follow her on Instagram at @A.B2.0__.