Roxana Wise has been cutting hair since she was 13 years old.
She began by cutting her own hair before proceeding to her brothers–with her mother’s permission.
“I remember watching the woman cut my mom’s hair, all of the hair just falling,” Wise said. “I had to go to the barber with my brothers in Mexico.” Years later, when she told her father she was going to beauty school, he said, “you know, I always knew you were fascinated by that.”
Wise, who works as a stylist and colorist and owns R Salon, didn’t always know she would end up owning her own space. But she’s always had an uncanny ability to master complicated tasks visually. “You can tell me something a hundred times, but I will never get it as much as if I see you do it. I take pictures with my head.”
This former McAllen, Texas, resident attended the University of Houston and received her bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management. To earn money, she cut her friends’ hair in her dorm room.
In 1976, Wise ’s then-boyfriend was visiting Austin and she tagged along. She said she remembers crossing I-35 and Town Lake and getting this incredible feeling that she would eventually live in Austin. After college, she moved briefly to New York City to follow another boyfriend but ended up coming back to Texas. When she did, she discovered that her sister had moved to Austin.
After breezing through Baldwin Beauty School in 1993 and amassing the required 1,500 hours of credits, Wise was ready and eager to do her own thing. It wasn’t easy for two reasons: first, the school’s 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule meant that she couldn’t work; second, she was older than most of her classmates. “In beauty school, it was mainly about cutting,” she said. “For me, it’s about carving. I love to use my hands.
Wise was a natural leader growing up, bossing around her five siblings and generally getting her way–or bending the rules, as needed. “We used to come to the states to go shopping, and I used to buy candy, and because I was in private school, I would sell the candy for triple the price,” she said, laughing at the memory of her days as a 9-year-old candy dealer. “I was always in trouble with the nuns, but it was entertainment for me. If it’s not fun, you’re not going to see me doing it.”
R is for Relaxation
Before she was cutting hair, Wise worked at Castle Hill (now Corazon) for a total of nine years, on the floor and in the kitchen. Her coworkers were impressed with her efficiency. Her first job, at the Wyndham hotel in Austin, was followed by a position at the Saga Corporation as a food and beverage consultant for Embassy Suites hotel. A fast learner, she excelled at profit and loss work, too, showing her superiors how to save money in such areas as supply purchases.
Her mother, who’d been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was very ill around the time that she purchased the house that would become her salon. Although Wise initially thought it was a sign that her mother didn’t want her to take this step, she returned to Austin from McAllen after her mother’s death and decided that she was meant to move forward–and that’s what her mother would have wanted.
Her adorable salon, in a cream-colored house with a red door on Evergreen Avenue, wasn’t so cute five years ago when she purchased it. The space was uneven and quite run-down, with bars on every window. Wise, with the help of friends and family, gutted the space; repainted it; in- stalled new plumbing, wiring, and flooring; and moved in all the new furniture, equipment, and fixtures. The entire process took an impressive three months. “It was so fun and so worth it,” she said. “This place is like my baby. it is so rewarding every day. I never dread going into work.”
Wise ’s friend Vicky, who is also her accountant, helped convince her to buy it. “In this industry, some people last a long time and some people don’t–most people don’t,” Wise said, noting that she’d placed her trust in her friend. “I feel lucky that every day I can come here and play with people’s hair. It feels good to me when people feel good about them- selves.”
Wise put her stamp on every aspect of the business, including the hiring of the other stylists and the myriad of details. Even now, this true multitasker doesn’t employ a receptionist. All calls at the salon go to voicemail, and Wise schedules all the appointments.
Leading With Passion
At R Salon, Wise excels by listening to her clients and adapting each cut to the varying needs and lifestyles. “When someone comes in and they don’t know what they want, it has to do with me understanding their lifestyle so they can do it without me.”
Believing in the power of giving back, Wise has donated to SafePlace, which prevents and combats sexual and domestic violence in Austin. Other than working with hair and staying fit at the gym, Wise ’s other passion–for the past 15 years–is tennis. She plays every week, tirelessly, and she loves it. “I think that if you really want to know a person, play tennis with them,” she enthused. “Everything shows up on the court. As I’ve heard before, and I truly believe, tennis is life!” Brought up Catholic, Wise never took to traditional organized religion. “My church is every day with everybody, just when I’m smiling. It’s just easier, more natural.”
Wise has certainly forged her own path in the world of beauty, and that attitude extends to some aspects of her personal life. When she was in high school, she had a crush on her literature teacher, a woman who she felt a connection to, but Wise was always dating men at that time. “Then, I met a woman and I felt the same thing, but I didn’t know how it would work.”
Even if she always felt comfortable in pants (and she believes her sexuality was probably obvious to her parents), no one ever questioned her explicitly. Her mother had the kind of reaction most lesbian and gay people hope for, stating that it didn’t matter so long as Wise was happy.
“I have never said, ‘I’m gay.’ I was just me. I don’t have a title,” Wise said, smiling. “It was never necessary for me to say it. My dad was the same no matter who I brought home.”
Working with her girlfriend, Kristina Baker, who’s a colorist at R Salon, was described as awesome. “It has always been very comfortable,” Wise said. “I don’t have to go home and tell her about my day. That person knows you in situations that are uncomfortable, or situations with other people, and all of that makes a relationship stronger.” The couple has been together for four years.
“It’s the best environment I’ve ever been in professionally. She’s chill but focused,” said Baker. “As far as what it’s like to have Roxana as my partner, she’s the best.”
This hairdresser measures her success on the personal interaction with each client after she’s done and ultimately, on how much they trust her. “When they get out of my chair and they hug me and say thank you, that makes my day,” Wise said. “It has to do with seeing something in their eyes and knowing they just get it.”
Asking a lot of questions. Listening to her clients’ needs. Being diplomatic. Explaining how each step works in layman’s terms. These are all tools at Wise ’s disposal. “I have been very lucky with my clients,” she said. “I try to make it all about positive things.”