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Locally Richmond: Dejavu’s Hair Salon

on October 30, 2015

Locally Richmond is an occasional series of profiles that highlights the small businesses that contribute to making Richmond a unique community. 

Sumatra McGilbery knew how to cut hair before she went to cosmetology school. Her high school friends were her first clients.

“They’d tell me, ‘If you can do this to yourself, I know you can do this to me.’”

McGilbery is the owner of Dejavu’s Hair Salon, located on MacDonald Street near downtown Richmond. Next month will make 17 years she has been involved with the salon, first as styling assistant, then as stylist and now as owner.

McGilbery was born in San Francisco and moved to Richmond in the sixth grade, later graduating from Middle College High School. For a class assignment, she planned the layout of a salon, which she called Deja.

By then, classmates were already coming to her house for haircuts and styling. She had learned by watching local professionals, and then practicing.

“Sometimes in these salons, you’ll be here a couple of hours,” McGilbery said. “I would just watch them. I would watch and then go home and do it on my friends.”

Graduation did not stop her friends from visiting the house for hairstyling sessions.

“My dad had bought me a salon chair and my room was like a mini salon,” McGilbery said. “But I was driving my parents crazy with girls coming in and out.”

Her father found the answer across the street from the family home: Cuttin’ Up Styling Salon, owned by Curly Miller, who agreed to hire McGilbery as her assistant and eventually convinced her to go back to school.

McGilbery attended the Greater East Bay Barber and Cosmetology Apprenticeship for three years in an apprenticeship program, through which she was required to complete training hours in a local salon.

She was able to continue her training at Cuttin’ Up and became a stylist after graduating in 2002. During that time, McGilbery became a mother, naming her first daughter Deja Monet.

The salon moved to its current location on MacDonald and, three years ago, McGilbery bought it from Miller, now retired.

McGilbery remodeled the salon and added new styling stations. She also renamed the salon Dejavu after her initial high school project.

Her daughter would say otherwise.

“She seems to think it’s all about her, but it’s really not,” McGilbery said of her daughter, who had left some minutes earlier to buy her lunch. “But she is a little part of it. I just really like the name Deja.”

The salon offers hair styling services for both genders, as well as waxing and styling for photo shoots. Next April, the business will move into a new location down the street at Fourth and MacDonald.

Just as McGilbery began as styling assistant for Miller and continued while at the East Bay academy, she now trains a student from the same program, who adds to her staff of six stylists.

“I always watched (Miller) – she always helped,” McGilbery said. “Now I’m able to help. Whether it’s an apprentice or someone going to a job interview. A lot of clients come in looking for us to make them feel better.”

On one occasion, McGilbery styled a woman in the Rubicon Program, which helps low-income people achieve financial independence through employment, housing and other services.

“She was fighting custody for her child and about to stand in front of a judge,” McGilbery said. “She left here so happy and feeling good about herself.”

Abiama Harris, McGilbery’s cousin and a stylist at the salon, said it is in McGilbery’s nature to help.

“She is the type that will teach you everything she knows,” Harris said. “She has no problem stopping what she’s doing to help you.”

And helping others is what keeps McGilbery motivated.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was young,” McGilbery said, “and to actually be able to do it – that’s the best part. It can be overwhelming, but when you enjoy what you do, it makes it easy.”

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