Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Jila Malek is a feminist and an activist. In 1978, during the Iranian Revolution, she was in opposition to the Islamic rule that pervaded the country. Unfortunately, she had to leave Iran as a political refugee. She later landed in the United States in 1998. Today she runs a salon and cosmetology school where she educates and empowers women to start careers in cosmetology.
I first met Jila when I was getting some headshots made and I needed … let’s call it a “body upgrade.” Immediately I admired her confidence and knowledge about all things business. I was also starting my own business, so as I got to know her through our many appointments, she shared how she keeps her receipts, what she does with her accounting and the basic in’s and out’s of running a business. What we also shared was a deep sense of commitment to women’s issues. I knew when I came to see Jila that we would go way past the surface level chit chat and dive into complex international issues. Jila is incredibly knowledgeable about these matters and especially about empowering women.
Not until I decided to interview her did I really know just how rich and complex her story was. At 16 years old, Jila Malek was already an activist. She described herself as “always a feminist,” saying, “I wanted to show my power. I need to show you as a woman exactly what I can do no matter what you say.”
She went to college in Germany where she got a master’s degree in Business and Finance before returning to Iran. In 1986 she was contracted to build an online banking system in the credit department of a bank. However, during that time of Islamic rule in Iran, everyone was expected to pray five times a day. Jila did not agree with the Islamic rule and refused to participate in this practice. After a couple of years they fired her.
“I had such a tough head,” Jila remembers. “I was my own woman. I didn’t care if they fired me. So I started my own hair salon in Iran. I opened a big clinic, hired women who were also in opposition to the Islamic rule and we were educating each other about all kinds of things, divorce, jobs… everything.”
According to Jila, the Islamic rule didn’t approve of this and she was forced to leave the country in 1998. “I became a refugee in Europe and then came here to the United States,” she says. “I have always had my own business, like manufacturing clothes and doing alterations, running a hair and nail salon, etc. I was very successful.”
Jila opened her own hair salon in the Tri-Cities and then in Bellingham. Because she was a single mom, like many women entrepreneurs, she needed to find a business setting that could accommodate looking after her son during the day. She decided to buy the house she is currently living and working in so that she could live upstairs and run the salon and academy downstairs. Here she continues the work she started in Iran over twenty years ago – empowering women through entrepreneurship and on personal and professional issues.
In addition to the salon and spa, she started Styles Academy where you can complete courses and workshops on permanent makeup and microblading. She offers 100 hour courses over a span of three months and helps people become certified in Washington. What makes Styles Academy different is that you get to practice on live models, not videos. Her goal is to train two to three students at a time, especially people who might not have direction or might need help being steered in the right direction.
“I know so many people who work so hard and can’t seem to make any money,” Jila says. “Their problem isn’t their skills. They have a hard time managing their money and time.” She also helps them with their self-esteem. It’s not just about getting a certificate but about empowering women to start their own businesses and knowing their own worth.
Need a wax, facial or haircut? Or maybe you’re just fascinated by her story and you need a facial anyway. Make an appointment at Styles Salon and Spa. Jila offers many kinds of services including waxing, eyebrow threading, permanent makeup, facials, hair and nails. She really does it all – and some things I’ve never even heard of. While enlightening me about the best ways to keep track of my receipts, she also gave me the eyebrows I never had!