A school counselor once told Susan Perdue that she “could never be a hairstylist” because she is deaf.
“Everybody comes in for a hair color and talks, and you wouldn’t be able to do it,” she remembered her counselor saying.
But the now wife and mother of two decided to follow her dream anyway. Today, she is the salon manager of the Great Clips on Freedom Parkway in Cumming, working as the sole deaf leader for a company employing more than 40,000 stylists across the United States.
Perdue said she has always loved the company. She and her family always went to a Great Clips salon to get haircuts when she was a child, and she remembers how much she loved talking with the staff and the joy of walking away with a fresh hairdo.
“That was what really made me want to become a hairstylist,” Perdue said.
She has now worked as a hairstylist for nearly 10 years, spending the past two years as a salon manager.
But the Dawson County resident said following her dream and getting through what her high school counselor had told her hasn’t always been easy.
Following high school, Perdue didn’t believe she could be successful in cosmetology, so she decided to join a career in banking instead. She worked for a bank for many years before it closed and she found herself looking for a new career.
She made the decision to go back to school to study accounting at Lanier Technical College until she attended an open house event one day where she saw the school also offered a cosmetology program.
“So tell me you signed up for it,” her husband said when she came home.
He convinced her to enroll in the program, and when she went to switch her major, she was shocked that the school — and counselor — supported her decision.
After finishing beauty school, she started working at different salons and realized she had reached another standstill in achieving her dreams of a successful career in cosmetology.
“I wanted to move up in the company, and the last company that I worked for, I was not moving up,” Perdue said. “They weren’t going to move me up. I felt like they used my deafness as a roadblock. That I could not move on because I can’t hear, so I can’t do certain functions — even though I tried to explain [that] I can.”
That was when she decided to call Great Clips.
The company told her she would have the opportunity to move up in their salons if she came to work for them, and a year later, they followed through on that promise.
“I want to continue climbing the ladder and showing people that you can do it even if you have a disability of any form,” Perdue said. “You can move up.”
For the first time, she is truly living out the dream she had since she was a little girl sitting in a Great Clips salon chair next to her mom and sister.
And she said the company has made that dream easier for her to pursue. When she tells upper management that she needs something — like an extra tablet to watch a translator during team Zoom meetings — they provide it without question.
“It’s just frustrating because I felt like in all of the other jobs I’ve had, I didn’t see that,” Perdue said. “They just saw my disability and said, ‘No, you can’t do it.’”
After nearly 10 years as a hairstylist, Perdue said the only task she doesn’t do is answer the phone — or choose music that plays over the salon’s speakers.
Luckily, her team members are happy to do it for her, and some have started to learn sign language to better communicate with her and customers that are deaf. One hairstylist even put up a poster in the salon with the American Sign Language alphabet to encourage everyone to learn.
Perdue said she is beyond grateful for how supportive her staff is along with the salon’s owner, Greg Thomas and regional general manager, Robin Self.
“I’m still dreaming, I think,” Perdue said. “I can’t believe I’m with a company that doesn’t see me as a disability. They see me as a person. I have a name …. I’m not the deaf girl or disabled girl or the girl that’s limited or however everyone calls it. They see me for who I am, and I love that.”
She hopes that her career and work as a stylist can inspire others with disabilities to follow their own dreams.
“Don’t let somebody tell you [that] you can’t do something,” Perdue said.
This article was originally published in the Forsyth County News, a sister publication of the Dawson County News.