A local beauty school offers a whole lot more than just haircuts.
At a cosmetology academy in Back of the Yards, Jaime Romero is using his entrepreneurial spirit to guide his students through the beauty industry. He also knows what it’s like to face obstacles because of undocumented status.
“We help a lot of people that English is a barrier,” Romero said. “So we have bilingual instructors. We help a lot of students who are coming from other countries and are in the process of fixing their papers.”
Romero says he never imagined he was going to own a beauty school one day.
“I was going to school to be a mechanical engineer,” Romero said. “I was working as a mechanist but during that time. I was undocumented so I ended up losing my job.”
When his dreams of following in his father’s footsteps came crashing down, he pivoted.
“It was one of those moments that was like OK, what am I going to do with my life now,” Romero said. “Where do I go? And my mom was like pick up a pair of scissors and come work with me.”
That led him to enroll at the Futurama Beauty Academy to obtain his cosmetology license. It’s the school he now owns.
“A haircut is about geometry, it’s all about symmetry and art so I was able to blend that together and I realized I was good at it,” Romero said.
The school has been a community staple for over 30 years. When the owner died Romero, became part owner in 2018.
“My first day in the office I looked out and there was literally one student,” he recalled.
Determined to grow the business, he found opportunities to participate in fashion shows, exposing his students to another side of the industry.
“We started to do the fashion shows and (in) 2019 I had this crazy idea to go to New York fashion week and sure enough with persistence we actually go invited,” he said.
For students like Loira Leon, it was the first time she had access to work a runway show.
“I felt intimated because it was a challenge,” Leon said. “We were doing hair for professional models but I realized we can do it.”
Two years ago, Leon migrated to Chicago from Venezuela, where she was a nurse and ran a small business. She says Futurama was the only beauty school she found offering bilingual classes.
“My goal is to get my beauty license and open my own place one day to start a spa,” she said.
The academy teaches everything from hair and nails to makeup, offering a flexible class schedule. Students have up to seven years to finish the program.
For Romero, his determination to succeed goes beyond the school.
When his parents and two brothers migrated to the United States, he was 7 years old.
“I know the sacrifice my parents made,” Romero said. “They sacrificed everything for us. So I feel it’s my responsibility.”
A responsibility to not only make a name for himself in the beauty industry, but also to uplift others to do the same.
“I was in their shoes so by them seeing I came in just like you and now I’m the owner if this academy,” he said.
Romero will soon open his first barbershop inside the former Goldblatt’s Building as part of a massive Back of the Yards project. He hopes to provide his students with jobs.