By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times
Few could understand Courtney Kirk’s vision when she graduated from college, played professional basketball in Portugal, and returned home to Fairfield, Alabama, to shampoo hair.
“When you tell people you’re a college graduate and you’re shampooing hair for someone for $5 an hour, … people are like, ‘Oh, what are you doing with your life?’” she said.
They may not have known, but she did.
In May of this year, Kirk opened her salon, The Kirk Effect Hair Studio in downtown Birmingham, where clients are welcomed into a comforting, luxurious atmosphere adorned with plush couches and rugs and illuminated by lighted candles and hanging lights.
“Women in the Birmingham area deserve it,” said Kirk, an industry professional for 14 years. “I have people from professionals in the city to those who just love to get their hair done. When they leave here, I want them to feel loved, to feel that this is the level of customer service they deserve.”
Treating clients with the utmost of care is something Kirk sees as important for a Black female business owner.
“When you talk about Black businesses, sometimes in the hair industry it can be noisy and unprofessional, and we want to change [that false] narrative,” she said.
Love of the Game
Kirk, 40, grew up in Fairfield and is the middle child of five siblings. Growing up, she would play with her dolls and do their hair to make them look pretty, but that wasn’t really the beginning of her professional ambitions.
While attending Fairfield High School, the 6-foot-tall Kirk was recruited by the basketball coach.
“At first, I didn’t think I’d be into it,” she said. “I think I’m a little too prissy for basketball.”
Kirk went to tryouts anyway, and that’s when she discovered her love of the game and decided that basketball would pay for her education. During practices, Kirk pushed herself to know the ins and outs of the basketball.
“[I] had great coaches [at Fairfield] and played Amateur Athletic Union basketball, [a youth sports program], over the summer,” she said.
During Kirk’s junior year, in 1997, Fairfield made it to the state championship.
“We were pretty good! We didn’t win, but it was a great experience,” she said.
Kirk’s dedication and hard work on the court earned her several scholarship offers. Her parents, a high school counselor and a veterinarian, stressed the importance of going to college. The entire Kirk family is college educated. “I continued my education because of my parents’ love of school, but I still had that dream.”
Kirk attended Howard University (HU) on a full basketball scholarship and graduated with a degree in communications in 2003. Her love for hair flourished during her college years.
“My teammates used to come by my dorm, and I’d do their hair,” she said. “It’s very therapeutic for me.”
After leaving HU, Kirk lived in Lisbon, Portugal, for four months to play basketball on a professional level.
“For me, going to Portugal was mostly to play ball, but it really wasn’t a big transition going from Washington, D.C., to Portugal,” she said. “People in Portugal were very nice. … In America, we [can] mistreat foreigners. I didn’t get any of that when I was [overseas].”
Hanging on to her non-athletic dreams, Kirk returned to Birmingham in 2004 and looked for a job in a salon. When she became a shampoo assistant in a natural hair salon, she considered it her destiny.
“I loved it so much,” she said. “While I was shampooing, I enrolled in Roebuck Beauty School. I didn’t tell anyone.”
The now-defunct school was small, with only about 15 students.
“I can remember being at the school, and on the first day our instructor told us only about two of us would make it in the hair industry,” Kirk remembered. “I knew I would be one of them.”
Kirk graduated from beauty school in 2006 and worked in two Birmingham-based salons, including one that closed in January of this year. That’s when she knew it was time to open her own.
The Kirk Effect
Just as she began to open her own studio near the beginning of the year, the COVID-19 pandemic began to cause global disruptions.
“I knew, at the end of the day, it was sink or swim—and sinking wasn’t an option,” said Kirk, who delayed the salon opening until the end of May.
Though the pandemic caused her stress, she didn’t let it stop her.
“Every day I came in and tried to be positive. I had come too far to turn around, … and here I am! It worked out perfectly,” said Kirk, who credits her current team—including Tassady Smith and stylists Stephanie Law and Lethia Taunton—for their professionalism and care, which motivate her.
Kirk said she couldn’t think of a better city for her salon.
“I feel like [Birmingham] is a great and thriving city,” she said. “I wanted to bring a new experience to the city. … My clients were like family to me, so they deserve service at a high level.”
The Kirk Effect’s Birmingham location on 11th Avenue South isn’t where she intends to stop. Kirk likes to plan her life in five-year intervals and expanding to other cities is one of her goals.
“Whether it’s Charlotte, [North Carolina], or Atlanta, [Georgia], I’m open to all of it,” she said. “I want to keep the brand going in the direction of more cities.”
Kirk’s growth also includes expanding into the skin-care business. She and her sisters, Carmen and Yvonne, teamed up to create “The Love Effect,” a brand of body butters and face and hair oils. The brand focuses on natural and organic ingredients, such as cocoa butter and vitamin E.
“We’re in the process of launching a shampoo and conditioner line,” Kirk said. “There’s a kiosk in the salon where we sell our products.”
Currently single with no children, Kirk aims for self-improvement and growing her business one day at a time. Much of the support for her business endeavor came from friends, such as event coordinator Brittany Sharp and her stylists, who Kirk has known for years.
“It was important to get sound advice from people who are not only in business but also know me and my personality,” she said.
Kirk prides herself on how far she has come in the hair industry.
“I want everyone to experience The Kirk Effect,” she said, adding that discovering what style works best for each client is what makes the experience so special.
“[I] get to know them and understand their needs and wants, their lifestyles and hobbies,” she said.
To make an appointment, visit TheKirkEffect.com, call 205-202-2560, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Kirk Effect on social media at The Kirk Effect on Facebook and Instagram, and @kirk_hair on Twitter.