S&S ABROAD with Debra Barrett: Salon/Spa Owner and Bridal Consultant

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



Where are you originally from? Did you grow up there also?

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.

Photo by http://jtbportraits.com

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!

What are the three best things about living in Jamaica? And the three worst things?

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.



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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning, Ethiopian-American travel writer, photographer and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Moon Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic (October 2016). Her work focuses on Caribbean culture and adventure, and has been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Every Day With Rachael Ray, among many others. Lily is also the 2016 recipient of the Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for her Caribbean coverage, from the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–she speaks four languages fluently and has lived in Cote d’Ivoire, England, Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and traveled to some 30+ countries around the world. Last but not least, she is a former corporate attorney who ditched her Washington DC office for the road in 2009 to pursue her dream of becoming a storyteller. Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish (summa cum laude) from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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  1. Ashlea P. 1 August, 2012 at 3:38 PM #

    Great interview. I love to read how people find ways to make a living where they travel. Just goes to show that anyone can do what they want, if they want.

  2. Veronica Hazle 1 August, 2012 at 9:09 PM #

    Debra is a really good friend of mine and such an inspiration, it was difficult at first. But she is strong and determined. Love you! Wish you all the best

  3. Lebawit Lily Girma 1 August, 2012 at 10:50 PM #

    Ashlea, thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. And yes, anything is possible.

    Veronica, thanks for sharing! Great to hear from one of Debra’s friends. And I have no doubt it wasn’t easy – change rarely is – I admire her strength and determination as well.

  4. Verdell Woods 19 August, 2012 at 9:01 PM #

    Congratulations on you success Debra. I wish you all the happiness in the world my friend!

  5. Karletta Moniz 26 August, 2012 at 12:24 AM #

    What a wonderful service Debra is providing. I am sure that her clients must feel truly blessed to have found her.

  6. Lebawit Lily Girma 26 August, 2012 at 10:59 AM #

    Indeed Karletta! I am sure they feel so relieved to have someone like Debra on their special day, especially in another country.

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