The women I’ve been interviewing since May for my S&S ABROAD expat interview series keep blowing me away. I hope their courage to live on their own terms and to pursue their passion inspires you to go out there and do the same.
An American who left California to create a brand new life abroad, Debra Barrett is a nurse turned beautician extraordinaire. Her office is the beautiful backdrop of Jamaica, where she uses her talents to turn women into princesses on their big day or on any day. After taking the chance of moving to Negril to work at a resort-owned salon, she opened her own, manages yet another salon/spa for a hotel and launched a”mobile bridal” business – traveling wherever she’s needed for weddings on the island. Pretty cool life, eh? From her amazing beauty skills to her fun, lively and positive spirit, Debra is truly one of a kind.
Here’s what she offered to share with us – thanks Debra!
NAME: Debra Barrett
OCCUPATION: Beautician, Salon/Spa Manager at Negril Escape Resort and Owner of Scissors Salon and Queen Bee’s Mobile Bridal Services
CURRENT LOCATION: Negril, Jamaica
I’m from a small city 35 miles south of San Francisco, called East Palo Alto. I also grew up there.
Did you always know you’d be a beautician?
No, I actually went to nursing school but I was always very fashion oriented.
When was your first trip to Jamaica? What did you like about it and what kept you returning?
My first trip was in 1989, right after Hurricane Gilbert. To me, Jamaica was like the closest thing to Africa, without going to Africa. It was so relaxing and just paradise.
You moved there permanently in 1999. How did that come about, and did you have an idea of what you would do for work?
Everything in my life was changing, and I had no control over what was happening. The one thing I could control was my own destiny, so I chose to get my life in the order that was good for me. I sat for 4 months looking out from my veranda and one day a friend came and took me with her to meet the General Manager at one of the all-inclusives in Negril. I was introduced to the spa manager and the rest was history. I worked at that spa for seven years.
What was that like, going from visiting to working day to day and living there?
Very different, but I got used to it. You learn what’s important in life and that a lot of material things are not necessary to be happy.
Was it difficult adjusting as a solo female? Easy to make friends? Did you have any kids and did they move with you?
It wasn’t difficult – I was so into trying to heal myself at the time, that the difficulty of being female was not even a thought. I made friends easily, I’m a people person. My kids are grown, but they do visit.
How long was it before you opened your own beauty salon, Scissors?
I went back home to California for a year to decide what my next move was. While in Jamaica I had met a man and I came back a year later and >>married him. I’m a licensed cosmetologist and I specialize in bridal styling. I also specialize in special needs brides — women that have gone through some sort of medical situation, leaving their hair and skin in a compromised state. This way, they can have their hair and makeup done and still feel good about themselves.
Most recently, I’ve taken on a new adventure in the wedding field — I’m doing beautiful Jamaica Weddings, now focusing on small intimate services, cruise ship brides, and vow renewal, commitment services.
Right, that’s the Queen Bee’s Mobile Bridal Services that you launched in 2008, based out of Negril. How long did it take before you had a steady stream of clients?
Since weddings are seasonal, it’s hard to say, but I guess I can say that I’m blessed — some days I can have as many as 5 wedding going at one time.
What is it like running your own business in Jamaica – did it require a substantial investment? Do you have partners?
Doing business in Jamaica is different, people spend for different reasons here than in America. That’s why you have so many people here doing the same things. It was a pretty good size investment, thanks to my family. No partners, but open for discussions!
The people, the vibe and the food.
The 3 worst things are the lack of education, the violence and 51% duty tax on certain items.
What advice do you have for those who want to live in Jamaica and start a business – are there any skills or industries in need right now?
Do something that is lacking here. I asked a young lady the other day what her degree was in and she said teaching. So I asked her, why not open a child care center? In the near future the need will be here and she’s looking to live abroad. Manufacturing of clothing would be a good thing as well, there are so many skilled seamstresses.
From your journey as a female entrepreneur and expat, what quote best illustrates what you’ve learned about life?
You’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.