Amanda Saephan’s small business story is one of many I will highlight as a part of my women in business campaign for the Summer of 2014. This campaign will not narrow the gender pay gap but, as Amanda’s story reveals, she’s not afraid of hard work and that’s exactly what will bring about gender pay equality.
Hair is just one reason – though it’s probably the best excuse — to visit Amanda Touch of Color Salon in Laurelhurst. Amanda Saephan owns the tidy business, sandwiched between a nail salon and a restaurant. She rents space to four other beauty stylists, although she’s the main attraction and the high energy that makes the place a success.
While turning your hair from a “before” disaster into an attractive contemporary style, she tells you jaw-dropping stories about her life growing up in Laos during troubled times.
Amanda’s family had few worldly goods. The house had no running water, much less electricity. “We got water from the well, but we did have oil lamps and wood stoves.” Amanda lost both parents when she was 14 and she and her siblings somehow survived five years in a the Chiang Kham refugee camp in Thailand while waiting to come to America. “A horrible time,” she remembers.
She arrived in Portland, speaking little English. She had a husband and soon two young children. Sadly, this marriage ended. She recalls one day as a single mom taking her two toddlers to a laundromat and being told by another patron that, if she wanted to support her family, she should enroll in beauty school.
Amanda and her sister earned a little money cleaning houses, enough to pay the beauty school tuition. She also enrolled in a basic English class at Portland City College. In just 13 months, she graduated from beauty school and took the state test, two and a half hours and 100 questions. “I studied hard,” Amanda reports. “And I passed everything.”
After coming to Seattle with her new husband – they’ve now been married 16 years – she worked first in a local salon, then managed to buy the salon she now owns and has even expanded. Her website has one sour review, but the rest are so glowing that it’s easy to see that Amanda has the right stuff. “She rescued me from bad hair two years ago,” writes one customer. “She’s a genius with scissors. . . and does a beautiful job with color.”
Family, church and her business keep Amanda busy. But she still finds time for singing; she’s made several CDs. And, when time permits, she’s an avid hiker and bicyclist. It’s a life that she could never have dreamed of in her years growing up in a household with no water or electricity. As she says, “I’m a hard worker.”