By Kim Tingle
What started as a trip to the barber to tame his curly locks would change the course of Kenneth Cote’s life, leading him to open his own salon in 1977. Now celebrating his 40th year in business, the owner/director of Kenneth Cote Renewal Center shares the “highlights” of his career and how being comfortable with your own style is always on trend.
After 40 years in business, what keeps you inspired to do what you do?
KC: I know! Jimmy Carter was POTUS when we opened. My mentor and inspiration was Vidal Sassoon, the pioneer of modern hair-cutting techniques. I continue to be inspired by architecture and by the color palette in art and nature. I also have a driven passion, fueled by a touch of OCD, to create balance, proportion and harmony. I believe that visiting the salon is more than just a haircut. It’s a renewal of your look and a rejuvenation of your spirit.
How did you get your start?
KC: Actually, I started quite by accident. I had very curly hair in my early 20s and because I was working in a conservative field, I wanted it to look less unruly. I discovered a barber who was able to straighten my curls with styling. I then decided I wanted to become a barber. However, my mother encouraged me to become a hairstylist so that I could service both male and female clients – best advice she ever gave me. Eventually, I wanted to create a nurturing team-based environment for both staff and clients, where staff shared information and worked together to enhance the client experience. This led to the opening of my first location in Providence in 1977, followed by a satellite location in East Greenwich, maintaining both until 2001. Wanting to enhance customer service, I decided to consolidate both locations into one and focus on expanding the Main Street salon in East Greenwich.
What have been the most popular hairstyles you’ve seen through the years?
KC: Variations of the bob and the wedge are always timely. Multidimensional color has transitioned from frosting to balayage. The techniques have changed but the desire to have hair color that mimics nature, with highlights and lowlights, has never gone out of style. The best haircut is always the one that’s designed specifically to complement the client’s lifestyle. My motto has always been that fashions change but style remains.
What’s your secret to keeping up with the ever-changing trends?
KC: My staff is one of the best sources of new information and trends. I also keep myself informed about what’s going on in fashion worldwide. However, style is much more about attitude than subscribing to the latest trend. If the shoe fits and you feel fabulous, then you begin to blaze your own trail. We’ve always been innovators offering the latest in professional services, techniques and products. Currently, we’re expanding our spa hair treatment menu and offering therapeutic cosmetic hair renewal.
Describe your longstanding engagement with the community as well as your clientele.
KC: We’ve been involved in many charitable events and organizations throughout the years, including Bradley Hospital, Miss RI America, the Autism Project, TIDES, Big Sisters, AIDS Project RI and the Imperial Court, just to name a few. I also founded the RI chapter of the Art & Fashion Group. Going beyond the community, I was the first member of Intercoiffure Mondial de Paris from RI, as well as a guest artist for Redken, where I traveled the world teaching American hair-cutting techniques. I still have a handful of very loyal clients that have been coming to me since before I even opened my first salon. I have watched them become mothers and grandmothers. They are caring and successful women who are not only clients but friends and confidantes.
How are you going to celebrate your anniversary?
KC: We’ll have a variety of activities to celebrate, but we’ll also do what we’ve done every day since the beginning: give thanks and show our appreciation to our clients. My amazing staff, clients and the people I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with are my favorite parts of the job. Every day is a new challenge, a new opportunity, a new beginning. After 40 years, it truly never gets old.