Glow up: The entrepreneur behind 'Slay by Shi' natural skincare opens her own salon in Fort Wayne

Shi'Dasha “Shi” James of Fort Wayne originally went into the healthcare field so she could serve other people. But after working third shift as a nurse’s assistant for about 10 years, the job began to take a toll on her.

“I thought: Something else is out there for me; I don’t know what it is, but I need a change,” James says.

in June 2021, Shi'Dasha “Shi” James opened her first location for Shi Essentials Studio and Spa at 5115 North Bend Dr. in Fort Wayne.

While she never considered herself a “makeup person” before, she started practicing doing soft, natural-looking makeup “glow-ups” at home on herself and her young nieces. And when people saw the results on social media, she began getting requests to do makeup for special occasions.

As her clientele grew, James realized she could serve people in a different way: As a full-time licensed esthetician and creator of all-natural beauty products. Today, she is the proud owner of Shi Essentials Studio and Spa at 5115 North Bend Dr. in Fort Wayne, a natural salon and wellness center that helps women and men glow from the inside out.

“I’m known for the glow,” James says.

She also sells her own line of Slay by Shi all-natural skincare products both in her salon and online.

in June 2021, Shi'Dasha “Shi” James opened her first location for Shi Essentials Studio and Spa at 5115 North Bend Dr. in Fort Wayne.

When James began doing makeup around 2018, she quickly realized that one key ingredient is having healthy skin, so she started getting into skincare regimens and creating her own line of products inspired by her three daughters—ages 3, 5, and 11—who struggle with eczema.

“Eczema is common in African American skin, and I didn’t want my daughters to have to rely on hydrocortisone cream or other medicated creams, which can be harmful to them at such a young age,” James says. “That’s why I got into formulating my Body Butter, and it’s a top seller to this day.”

James calls the product “Body Butter Cream” because it solidifies in the jar and then melts into your skin. Another one of her best-selling products is her Rose Glow Face Oil, which helps with hyperpigmentation and inflammation, giving clients an even skin tone.

Rose Glow Face Oil by Slay by Shi is one of the top-sellers.

Shi Essentials Studio & Spa focuses on services for the face and the skin, including lash, brow, and makeup work. James says her lash extension services are extremely popular, and appointments take about two-and-a-half hours.

“It’s not harmful to your natural lashes,” she says. “The extensions actually shed just like your natural lashes as they grow out, so you have to get your lashes filled every two or three weeks.”

James is applying classic lash extensions to her client.

James is applying classic lash extensions to her client using a special adhesive. She tapes down the bottom lashes, to avoid contact with the top set.

She recently added gentleman’s facials to her services, which have become popular, too.

“I’ve had a lot more male clients since then, because before, many men assumed that facials were only for women,” James says.

Along with expanding her products and services, James has built up the business side of her venture in recent years, too. She launched her business in 2018 in a small shop with a nail technician. Then she heard about SEED Fort Wayne’s Build Institute, program in 2019 and enrolled to grow her business and create a plan for longevity.

“The Build Institute is beneficial in helping you get coordinated to run your business from a numbers and expenses standpoint,” James says. “It helped me get to where I am now and develop my plan for the future.”

James is applying classic lash extensions to her client using a special adhesive. She tapes down the bottom lashes, to avoid contact with the top set.

After graduating from the Build program in 2019, James has connected with fellow Build grads who have provided her with support and workspace to grow her business. Rochelle Ulanowicz, Program Coordinator for the Build Institute, believes a mentorship mindset of “paying it forward” is developing among many of the Build Institute’s graduates so far. The nine-week basic business education program launched in 2019 and has graduated 203 entrepreneurs as of July 2021.

“This new network of Build grads are actively feeding each other and helping out other small business owners in Fort Wayne,” Ulanowicz says.

She sells her own line of Slay by Shi all-natural skincare products both in her salon and online.

James earned her esthetician license in 2020, and she opened her own salon on the Southwest side of Fort Wayne in June 2021. Now, she’s helping other young women grow their businesses as they go through esthetician school, including a brow artist Lynnia Noel who currently works at her salon.

James says her goal is to become a full-service medical spa and to develop a national franchise. She wants to move the “mecca of makeup and beauty” in Texas. She also loves teaching and wants to grow that side of her business, too.

“Eventually, I want to be an instructor,” James says. “I love pouring into others and building up women. That’s what I’m doing right now for the women working at my salon. I want to be that voice of encouragement and support for women as they become entrepreneurs.”

In June 2021, Shi'Dasha “Shi” James opened her first location for Shi Essentials Studio and Spa at 5115 North Bend Dr. in Fort Wayne.

Her advice to other potential entrepreneurs in Fort Wayne is to focus on growth and to foster an abundance mindset about their craft—whatever it may be.

“If you’re doing something you’re passionate about, go for it,” she says. “Take that leap of faith, and don’t second guess or doubt who you are and what you are trying to do just because someone else is already doing it. Everyone brings something unique to each business or service they provide and put out there.”

At the end of the day, her favorite part of being an esthetician is seeing her clients “glow” when they receive services.

“That’s what the beauty industry and the medical industry have in common,” Shi says. “Both fields are about caring for others and knowing that you have the ability to brighten someone’s day.”

Learn more
For more information, visit Shi Essentials Studio and Spa at 5115 North Bend Dr., in Fort Wayne or visit their website at www.slaybyshi.com.

Products can be purchased at the salon or online, too.

Follow James on Instagram at @slaybyshi.

This story is part of an Entrepreneurship series made possible by funding from SEED Fort Wayne. To learn more about SEED, visit its website at fwuea.org.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.