Takiya Smith says she wakes up every day at peace. But not so long ago, the owner of Beautique was homeless, living with two children in a leaky-roofed stable. The story of her current serenity and a life devoted to making people look and feel more beautiful is intimately bound to her adopted hometown.
Smith grew up in California, a self-professed "complete Cali-Valley girl." She moved to Beaufort in 1996 from St. Louis with her family; her father was in the Marine Corps before his retirement in 2000.
"I hated it at first," she said. "No street lights, no malls. It was just a culture shock. I remember crying for two weeks."
But now: "I absolutely love it. It's a great place to raise my children. There's a lot of opportunity here."
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She joined Lifehouse Church 13 years ago, and though her family moved back to St. Louis, she has her beloved "church family" here.
She once was a medical assistant, but when her daughter Mayah turned 2, Smith wanted a more flexible schedule. She and Mayah distributed fliers for her company, Southern Coastal Cleaning, and quickly got calls.
In 2007, to escape "an unhealthy relationship," Smith gave up her cleaning business and returned with her children to St. Louis. But she and the kids missed Beaufort, particularly her church, so they returned after a year.
When plans to stay with a friend didn't work out, a real estate agent helped her find a place. The rent, however, was exactly what Smith managed to make each month at her job, so she had to leave.
So the agent, whom Smith said "didn't know me from a can of paint," owned a stable and let the family stay in its tack room. "We took it, because we had nowhere else to go. ... I came back to nothing. Children are so resilient, though. ... They were happy to be back with friends, and all they really cared about is that we were together.
"As a mother, I felt like a failure. It strengthened my relationship to God, though, because I had no one else to lean on and believe in."
With "nowhere to go but up," Smith's friends and church members helped her get back on her feet after a couple of months. Her former cleaning clients welcomed her back, and the business grew bigger than before she left. Within a year, she was fully re-established and able to get a house. Two years later, this past May, she realized a dream by opening Beautique and now tries to help women that have struggles of their own.
Smith's cleaning business was always meant to raise money to start the boutique.
"I love everything about fashion and design," Smith said. She calls herself "a very social person. The beauty industry is where I wanted to be."
She decided to train for certification in permanent make-up (also known as cosmetic tattooing) and to be an eyelash-extension specialist. Eyelash extensions are synthetic fibers that look like natural eyelashes. Applied with medical grade glue one at a time at the base of the natural lash -- but not to the skin -- the extensions look as if they're growing from the eyelid. The process does no damage to the natural lashes, Smith said. In fact, if the lashes are properly applied by a professional, they can help natural lashes to grow in over time.
Permanent makeup and eyelash extensions can be a boon for those who have lost facial hair due to chemotherapy. Smith recently met with Susan G. Komen for the Cure Lowcountry about offering her services to cancer survivors who might like to enhance their appearance and self-esteem, even if they can't afford her services.
Threading is an ancient hair removal technique in which an anti-bacterial piece of cotton "beauty thread" is run across the face, removing the hair follicle as it twists around.
Smith also earned certification in threading to help her develop a unique brow and lash-grooming business, something that would "set me apart, that was different" than other salons.
A client recently told Smith that she had been "converted to threading for life" because, unlike waxing, shaving, or plucking, it is less painful and left no blistering or redness. Hair becomes finer and sparser as the process is done more and takes longer to grow back in.
Smith's children continue to motivate her, and says they have both inherited and inspired her entrepreneurial spirit. Mayah, now 12, has a babysitting business during the summer and weekends, and Jaeden, 7, has a lemonade stand.
Smith continues to dream big and would like to expand throughout the Southeast, certifying and training staff to work at lash and brow boutiques, perhaps even franchising them as the practice grows in popularity.
"I credit everything that I have and everything I am doing to the hand of God," she said. "My children and I have really seen some struggles. God's purpose in what I'm doing is really shaping itself, and I just really love what I'm doing. I love to see my clients looking good and feeling good. It's turned out to be so much more than what I expected."