In June 2014, former professional muralist and army wife Stephanie Jordao was relocated to Denver after living in California for 16 years. Her husband was getting ready to embark on an 11-month deployment, so Jordao wanted to learn a new trade and meet new people in the process. “It was either going to be pastry school or nail school,” she says. She decided on the latter, graduating from a local nail program as Student of the Year. It didn’t take long for her to decide to open her own salon, followed by a brainstorm session on how to differentiate her salon from others in the area.

“I needed to offer something unique, and henna tattoos were the first thing I thought of,” she says. “I drew plenty of tattoos for friends, but the thought of being a tattoo artist was always too much pressure because there’s no room for mistakes. I’m an artist, so the creative aspect of henna tattoos came easily to me, but I also did YouTube searches for different henna recipes and techniques.”

She opened Denver-based Design Culture Salon in November 2016, offering a Groupon for a spa pedicure to drum up business. Now, her schedule is almost always booked, whether that means she’s drawing henna on a slew of kids for a birthday party, or offering her clients free nail art. “I started offering it for free because I love doing it,” she says. “Plus, my clients are more adventurous and open to nail art when it’s free,” she says.

Many of Jordao’s nail clients will ask questions about henna while they’re sitting in the manicure or pedicure chair. Some clients want to try out a size and shape in preparation for getting an ink tattoo, while others are going on vacation and want to show off a hippie-style henna design on their rib cage. But even those who aren’t existing clients are intrigued by Jordao’s henna body art, which she wears constantly as her own form of advertising.

“I always have a henna design on myself,” she says. “People see it everywhere I go and I often get asked where I got it done. That’s when I hand them my card and introduce myself.”

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