One of Savannah’s last great bargains sits off White Bluff Road, on the Savannah Technical College main campus.
A complete salon, staffed by students and instructors in the college’s cosmetology department, offers a full range of services, including hair styling and coloring, pedicures, manicures and nails.
Accepting walk-ins as well as appointments, the salon not only offers deeply discounted prices to the public -- most importantly, it gives the students valuable hands-on experience to prepare them for the real world.
“This is maybe half of what a regular salon might charge, because the cosmetologists here don’t have the state license yet,” says Millie Wilke, Savannah Tech’s head of cosmetology. “But all our students are highly trained before they’re allowed to even touch a client.”
To put this theory to the test, I volunteered to get a haircut from a student at the Savannah Tech salon. As at any other salon, there’s a reception area where you sign in. And as at any other salon, you can request individual stylists if you prefer. I went in determined to just be as good a guinea pig as possible, accepting whatever student and whatever style came my way.
Under the watchful eyes of Wilke, Savannah Tech senior Marcelina Roland gave me a tight, professional and modern cut, costing only $5, in surroundings as clean, bright and pleasant as at any other local salon. (A woman’s cut begins at $10, with shampooing and coloring available; manicures are $5 and pedicures and facials are $10.)
“This may sound cheesy, but what I enjoy most about this is making people smile,” says Roland, who currently lives in Effingham County and plans to stay in the local area to style after her upcoming graduation.
“Someone can be having a really bad day, but when you make them look good you’ve really made a difference in their lives,” Roland says. “It has a real effect.”
Wilke, Savannah Tech’s head of cosmetology for the past 12 years, doesn’t manage it all alone; a team of instructors helps her tutor individual students like Roland.
“I’ve taught a lot of these teachers myself. Altogether our instructors have 94 years of experience,” Wilke says. “A lot of them will go out and get experience in the business world, and then come back here and teach.”
One Savannah Tech instructor who did exactly that is Deatia McFarlin, who patiently shows Roland tips and techniques during my haircut.
“Keep in mind that the back of the neck is a very sensitive area,” McFarlin counsels. “So when you’re using the edger, make sure the client is comfortable with you using it. For some people you have to use clippers instead.”
Wilke and McFarlin both say now’s a great time to study cosmetology, given the current boom in styling services for both men and women.
“Back in the day it was mostly women who used these kinds of services, but now it’s about half and half men and women,” McFarlin says.
“A lot of salons are really becoming more diverse, including more multicultural styles,” Wilke adds.
To fully prepare students for this expanding range of client demands, Wilke insists that all Savannah Tech cosmetology students be trained in “hair, skin and nails,” a mantra she repeats often around the classrooms.
While previously a license from Georgia primarily limited a cosmetologist to work in this state only, new reciprocity agreements taking effect just last month mean that a cosmetology license from Savannah Tech is honored anywhere in the U.S.
And because of the total learning approach in Wilke’s department, “they can go to work in a spa and do facials, or be a nail tech or work in any full service salon,” she says. “I have a lot of former students who go on to become salon owners. A lot that are in the program right now will be salon owners before it’s all over with.”
While Savannah Tech’s salon does charge for its services, the revenue goes back into the cosmetology program to help purchase equipment for students to use.
“That money enables us to buy quality name-brand products to use, rather than educational products that may not be as good, and also to have good technology for the students to learn on,” Wilke says. ç
The Savannah Technical College Cosmetology Salon is located at the school’s White Bluff campus. It’s currently open Tues.-Thurs. 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m., but night hours will begin soon. Call 443-5779 for info, prices or appointments.