Nekita Sullivan ’96

Starting Over

By Sara Ann Hutto ’17

This year, Sullivan has faced the struggles of starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic

One summer night, Nekita Sullivan was closing up her salon in downtown Clemson after a long day of prepping the business for reopening. When she turned the key and turned around, she found a young Hispanic student waiting for her. He said, “I understand you are opening soon and know how to do multiethnic hair. I have been driving to Charlotte and Atlanta since I’ve been a student here just to find someone who can do my hair.”

Sullivan knows his story all too well. “When I was at Clemson, African American students had nowhere to go to get their hair done; there were no multiethnic hair services in the area,” she says. “So, my friends and I would pile up in someone’s car, and we would drive to Easley, Seneca, Anderson or Greenville to get our hair done because we had to.”

This need in the Clemson community is what inspired Sullivan to open Butterfly Eco Beauty Bar, located on Earle Street across from the All In Coffee Shop. But she didn’t always dream of starting her own business.

After graduating from Clemson with a degree in health science, Sullivan attended the Medical University of South Carolina to get a master’s in health science and physical therapy and, later, a doctorate in physical therapy. She’s been a licensed physical therapist in the Upstate ever since, working in hospitals, assisted-living facilities and even at BMW as a certified hand therapist.

Sullivan was inspired to start her salon when one of her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters suggested she start a business on the side for fun — a passion project. “2017 is when I decided to go for it,” she says. “That’s when I started looking for funding, looking for a commercial space, applying for loans and hiring realtors.”

In February 2020, Sullivan opened the Butterfly Eco Beauty Bar, for the first time, offering students, faculty and community members hair care, nail care, skin care and massages.

“I wanted to build a salon that could service everybody’s needs,” she says. “I want the white students, Black students, Hispanic students, Asian students — everyone to feel comfortable about coming here.”

Just one short month later, COVID-19 forced the salon’s temporary closure. With the shutdown, Sullivan lost all of her employees, including one salon manager, four hair stylists, two estheticians and one nail tech. “Now I’m having to restaff, rehire, find money to reopen, to advertise, to promote,” she says. “It’s almost like I’m literally having to start over.”

As a double minority, an African American woman, Sullivan explains that funding wasn’t easy to come by to begin with, let alone during a pandemic. But she isn’t giving up yet. She’s using her health science background to find ways to offer services virtually, like stress-management classes and virtual yoga.

In the meantime, she’s continuing her physical therapy work and looking forward to opening Butterfly Eco Beauty Bar’s doors again soon: “I’m excited about the fact that I’m still getting so much interest. I have people emailing me, Facebooking me, Instagramming me, ‘When are you reopening? I need to get my hair braided.’”