4th generation of Oregon’s oldest African American salon, launches haircare line

Andrew M. Santos

Ella Dean Haircare is all organic, made in Portland and celebrates natural, textured hair using oils from fruits, vegetables and herbs.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Starting a brand new business is really hard. Of course doing it during a pandemic, is even harder. And when you’re the face of the next generation of a historic Portland business…the pressure is on.

In Portland’s Eliot neighborhood, between the Moda Center and Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, sits the city’s oldest, continuously operating Black-owned business. Dean’s Beauty Salon has been on N.E. Hancock St. since 1956 when Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean moved it out of their basement. Years later, their daughter, Gloria Ella Dean, took over.

“I love Deans, I love the shop. That was a second home to me. It was actually like a playground to me,” said Nicole Rose with a huge smile on her face. 

She is Ella’s granddaughter, the fourth generation. “I’m inspired by her because she was also a teacher at cosmetology school. She was constantly in articles and newspapers and magazines, and I just always wanted to be like her.”

Nicole is, just now, following in her family’s footsteps. She graduated from Portland State in 2017 with a marketing degree and has a full-time day job. But got the itch this year to start her own haircare line. “It was very frustrating going into stores like Target, Walgreens and Walmart and not being able to see Black haircare products on the market. It was very frustrating having to go online and order and then wait for shipping. So I want to be the person to give access to people who need it,” she said.

Her products are all organic, handmade from scratch by Nicole, and use oils from fruits, vegetables and herbs. Each hair oil costs $18.99. Her most popular is called “Look But Don’t touch”, made with pomegranate, mustard and watermelon oils to promote hair growth. There’s another to sooth itchy scalp, one to stop dandruff and another to prevent breakage.

“It takes me hours, like 10 hours to make hair oil. I get up and start work at 9 and get off at 5 and start working on my hair oils. And if it takes me until 4 in the morning, then that’s just what it is.”

She named the line Ella Dean, after her grandmother. The real Ella is still with us. But sadly, she battles dementia and likely doesn’t realize the incredible homage Nicole has created.

Right now Nicole is just selling on her website, elladean.com. Because she makes everything by hand in a home kitchen, she wants to be able to guarantee the products are always in stock before she approaches beauty supply chains, or even stocks them in Dean’s Beauty Salon.

This family’s story has come full circle. Not just with Dean’s Beauty Salon, now owned by Nicole’s aunt. But in a 2007 book as well. “Hair Dance” is a photo and poetry book of happy empowerment for young Black girls. A young Nicole as a child is on the cover. Her mother was the nationally recognized photographer and co-author. Nicole didn’t fully understand it at the time, but her mother’s book is about celebrating the real you, something her business now preaches hard.

“For many years we were always told that straight hair is the beauty standard. That’s why we were getting relaxers and making it permanently straight. But for me, I went natural in 2010 because I wanted something new. And when I did, there wasn’t a lot of natural haircare products on the market. I will never go back to relaxer. I love the way I am. I love the way I look. I appreciate my hair. No one can tell me differently. I feel like my hair gives me superpowers. And if you don’t like it, I don’t know what to tell you, but this is my hair. You know, it comes in different, different colors, different shapes, different styles, different textures.”

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