Like many young women growing up, Estilo’s Exclusive Salon owner and operator Brandy Cardenas watched, admired and emulated the women in her life. Ever since she was little, she tells me, “I would watch my mother (Elsa Sixtos) put on her makeup and do her hair before she went out and that intrigued me.” The fascination with the transforming powers of color and style grew during a visit to California to see her aunt (Elizabeth Cardenas) who also worked in the salon business, further inspiring her dream to open a salon.
As a student at Lanier High School, (which offered Cosmetology certification to its students), Cardenas’s developed marketable skills and a career path to be pursued immediately upon graduation. Starting at age seventeen, she began a ten-year span honing her talents at a local salon. When the owner retired, she used her income tax money to become an entrepreneur, officially opening Estilo’s Exclusive Salon in 2002. “I had only one hairstyling chair and furniture that friends and customers donated and my grandfather (Dan Cardenas) gave me an old tin cookie box with $500 and told me to use what I needed and if it became empty to go see him and he would refill it,” Cardenas explains. Thankfully, she never had to ask for a refill and believes that “all the prayers my grandparents have prayed for me have paid off and keep paying off.”
The location was ideal too, on the Westside on Commerce and Trinity, near her grandparents whom she helped take care of with family. A beautiful black and white photo of Brandy embracing her grandmother (Clara Solis) prompts a description of the family matriarch as “ahead of her time…very strong, fair and hard-working woman who raised real strong women.” The photo hangs prominently on the mauve wall next to a profile photo of her daughter as a child, further enhancing the feminine, familial energy of the salon. There are also inspiring messages of gratitude, passion and humor that pepper the walls such as “Love the Life you Live,” “Well behaved women have no fun,” and “It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a nail.”
The biggest seller at the salon are haircuts and styling, which range $25-$50 for adults and $15 for children, with every customer taught how to style their hair and use products correctly. As for customer appreciation, every Wednesday, women can save 20% on any service offered while dining on hors d’oeuvres and sipping wine. Other services include eyebrow and body waxing, eyelash extensions (faux eyelash fringe is glued to the lash line, requiring refilling every two weeks to maintain) and complete makeovers featuring the use of drugstore classic brands and high-end cosmetics. Clients come for quinceñeras, weddings and other special occasions to be made up, with Brandy telling them, “Any of us can look like a celebrity with two hours of hair and makeup,” a promise usually kept under 120 minutes. It is clear that Brandy Cardenas is passionate about her profession, telling me she loves seeing the look on clients faces when she turns the salon chair around after providing services.
Manicures and pedicures are also available at Estilo’s. Having never had a manicure or pedicure at a salon, I asked how long manicures typically last (two to four weeks, depending on client’s preference) and if they can be done using client’s own nails (yes – $20 for a natural shellac, or $30 for shellac and dip, which helps nails grow). Stylized, faux nails start at $35 using standard technique and range to $50-$65, depending on the amount of nail art complexity and “bling” required by client. Cardenas also rents out stations to business owners Martha Pruneda, who styles hair and Marco Gomez, who, adding yet another service to Estilo’s, offers facials and massage (under a self-designed fluffy white cloud that lit up with LED lights) to clients.
Business is due mostly to word of mouth from customers, who are loyal. After buying a house in the area, the business relocated to W. Mitchell and Probant, but faithful clients from all over San Antonio continued to go to Estilos (“Style” in Spanish), for the exceptional catalog of services available. Cognizant that not everyone can afford these services, Estilo’s Exclusive Salon has participated in community events that give back, donating hair styling and makeover services for students going to prom and partnering with local businesses to create gift packages of services for special events.
Moving forward, Cardenas is hoping to expand services to full makeovers – a “one-stop” for hair, makeup and clothes and continue to inspire customers.