Special things happen when you apply passion, determination, and sheer hard work. LeAnn Drake, a resilient and ambitious Black business owner, has turned her dreams into a vibrant reality with the inception of Fusion Natural Hair and Braiding Academy.
With endless happiness, LeAnn expresses, “I’m overjoyed to see all the faith I’ve poured into Fusion come to life. Now, I can step forward and begin empowering my community by teaching them this invaluable new skill through the art of hairstyling.”
LeAnn’s unforgettable journey toward becoming a successful businesswoman began at the age of 8. She fondly recalls those early days, saying, “I had thick hair and didn’t want others to touch it, so I began styling it myself. During my free time, I’d style my dolls’ hair, and that’s where it all began to take shape.”
As the years passed, LeAnn’s natural talent for crafting sleek, intricate braids captured the attention of many. By the time LeAnn reached junior high, she had assembled a robust clientele. With a smile, she proudly states, “I became the go-to braider for everyone in Joliet.”
LeAnn’s natural gift for hair styling led her to a career as a model and a hairstylist for hair shows. Her experience continued to flourish when she worked as a shampoo technician at La’Marchalle’s, eventually transitioning into a braiding role at Tiff’s Beauty & Barber Salon. Then, in 2009, she made the pivotal decision to elevate her braiding skills by enrolling in cosmetology school.
Reflecting on that period, she says, “I made a commitment to myself. I attended school daily, remained focused, and poured my heart and soul into it. While in school, everything I had observed the stylists do at Tiff’s seemed to flow out naturally. My instructor was so impressed with my knowledge that she allowed me to teach the relaxer class while I was still a student, and it was a moment of pure pride and accomplishment.” It’s a memory that always brings a smile to my face.”
After graduating, LeAnn returned to school and earned her instructor license. She started searching for educator positions but was unable to find opportunities. So, in the meantime, LeAnn took employment at JCPenney Salon as a hairstylist, gaining valuable experience. Eventually, she decided to become an independent hairstylist.
The birth of Fusion Natural Hair and Braid Academy seamlessly integrates into LeAnn’s journey. The initial spark for this venture ignited during her annual event, the Fusion Beauty and Barber Expo.
“I decided to establish Fusion Natural Hair and Braiding Academy alongside Fusion Beauty and Barber Expo and my Fusion hair care line, Luv’le Style. I envisioned my products being an integral part of my school and salon. Since I already had the brand name Fusion Beauty and Barber Expo, I decided to keep going to connect the expo with my haircare line and now Fusion Natural Hair and Braiding Academy.”
“It took every ounce of patience and faith to keep pushing forward, believing it would pay off.” -LeAnn Drake
LeAnn’s ambition to bring Fusion Hair and Braiding Academy to life was not without its trials. She secured the lease and keys to her location in November. Before she could even apply for a license, the state required city inspections, fire inspections, and extensive documentation.
She recalls, “IDFPR received my application on February 13th, and I thought, based on what I’d read, that it would take 12 weeks. Little did I know it would stretch into seven long months. While waiting, I was paying rent for a building where I couldn’t enroll students. It took every ounce of patience and faith to keep pushing forward, believing it would pay off.”
LeAnn emphasizes the significance of networking and being in the right circles. She made calls and sought help from her connections, and local resources. Shout out to Representative Lauren Underwood’s Office and shout out to Senator Rachel Ventura’s office. for the assistance with helping me push this through with the state.”
After what LeeAnn says felt like an eternity, the state inspector came, and within 48 hours, LeAnn received notification that she passed the state inspection. LeAnn reflects on that moment, “It was such a huge relief. It showed that all the faith I had poured into this project had finally come to life. I can finally enroll students and start helping my community build a new skill set.”
Reflecting on her journey, LeAnn acknowledges, “In my very first business venture, I didn’t have a plan. It was just an idea I ran with.”
However, for Fusion Natural Hair and Braiding Academy, she took a different approach. “I had a business plan this time,” she emphasizes. “I tapped into the resources within my community. I received invaluable support from Allies for Community Business, the Joliet Junior College EBC Center, who helped me through the process. Joliet City Center Partnership played a significant role in helping me find the perfect building for my academy. They even provided a grant to facilitate the necessary building improvements and a big thank you to Lisa Williams of Carter Reality for closing the deal on my lease. Before you launch your business, do your research to locate the resources available to you. Seek out individuals and organizations that can offer guidance and support to help your business thrive.”
Fusion Natural Hair and Braiding Academy, located at 18 Ohio St, Joliet, IL, is now open for enrollment, with classes beginning October 17th, 2023.
For more information, contact LeAnn Drake at (815) 782-2294.