A married couple of cosmetologists/estheticians have started an esthetics school in Kernersville that caters to students’ financial needs as well as offers low-cost spa services to the public. Corey and Julie Barham are both cosmetologists, instructors, salon co-owners and the co-owners of the new esthetics school, Dermacademy Spa Lab is located at 210 N. Main St. Suite 106 and tucked inside of The Factory.
Julie said she is from upstate New York, while Corey hails from Florida. After four hurricanes chased them and their small children out of Florida, the Barhams moved to the Triad.
Julie said that they have owned and operated hair salons since the 1990s, and presently they own and operate Tocco Haircutters, located at 5389 Robinhood Rd. in Winston-Salem.
“[Dermacademy] was sort of born out of that,” Julie said. The Barhams originally wanted to open a cosmetology school; however, the “barriers of entry were just too high.”
Corey said he has been teaching cosmetology/esthetics for 20 years, and seeing how other schools treated students and how their programs were set up, was the motivation for him to start their own school.
“Our program is designed to teach business,” Corey said. “A lot of the schools, they teach for the students to pass the state board, and they don’t really teach students how to build a business. You are teaching them to perform services on the public, safety and disinfection—you teach them how to make a salon or spa but not how to get people into that salon or spa.”
“It has been a really good industry to both of us,” Julie said. “This career has allowed us to buy and sell four houses, travel all over the world—it has taken care of us.”
Julie sat down with Mackenzie Cates-Allen, president of the Winston-Salem Ambassadors, and told her of their passion for the industry and love for the city, and how they wanted to give back to both.
“It has been going on two years now that we have been in the gestational stage with this baby,” Julie said. Dermacademy Spa Lab opened and started classes Jan. 2 and opened the spa clinic to the public at the end of January.
“A student will spend about three weeks in class with us before she is able to take clients,” Julie said. “It takes about a three-week period of teaching things like infection control, sanitation, product knowledge and other foundational stuff.”
The curriculum is set up so that when students learn a technique, they first work on their mannequins, then they practice on classmates, and when the student is really confident, Julie said they could bring in a family member or friend. After they pass, Julie said that is when they are sent out to the floor for the public.
Corey explained that all of the school’s teaching materials (tests, quizzes, etc.) are available online and that students also get a textbook as a supplement. Julie said that the Dermacademy has an occupancy of 20 students in both the day and night classes, and there are four instructors counting Julie and Corey. Julie said day classes are flexible because it is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so if students need to split up their day for work and other obligations, they can attend 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
“There are four schools in North Carolina that offer esthetics programs,” she said. “But, as far as we know, we are the only ones in the world that are offering this brand new business model.”
Julie said that 99% of Dermacademy students are women, which makes this venture even more special to her.
“I hate to put a political spin on it because it really is about the love of the industry and the love of the community,” she said. “But, we are going to be able to offer up to 40 women a year, a way to make a living for their families—a good living, too.”
Julie estimated that income for someone fresh out of esthetics school could be around $35,000 a year in Winston-Salem. According to statistics from www.estheticianedu.org, her estimation appears accurate because the site states that the low-end salary of what those new to the profession could earn in Winston-Salem is estimated at $38,170.
“We were awarded a grant from the foundation at Forsyth Tech, and that is part of what helped us start this,” Julie said.
Julie said that they competed and won second place in the Forsyth Technical Community College Launch Challenge, which divides up $50,000 between small businesses, who compete in the contest.
“They just empowered me so much,” Julie said of the Launch Challenge. “Every time I left there, I knew my shoulders were a little squarer, and I was walking a little more upright and feeling like, ‘I can do this.’ I had this army behind me pushing me along.”
Corey and Julie said what sets Dermacademy apart from other esthetics programs, are their small classrooms, intimate setting and their unique business model of meeting the needs of students.
“A student would pay tuition and then would also be expected to work in the student clinic, and the school would keep that money,” she explained. “I don’t want to make it sound like everything we do is completely altruistic—cause we are mercenary to a certain degree, too—but, because of our passion for the city, and the industry, we have built our business model so that, the students can earn every single penny of [tuition costs] by working in the student clinic.”
The cost of attending Dermacademy is $4,500 from start to finish, and the course requires 600 hours—which for a full-time student ends up being about four months. Julie said that they also allow students to pay their tuition weekly as well.
“For a part-time student who was going to go to school 20 hours a week, the tuition would be around $150 a week,” she explained. “Facials are $25, so all she has to do is one facial a day, and a little more, and she won’t owe us a thing for that week.”
Julie explained that the services offered at Dermacademy by students are “at a huge discounted price” compared to a spa. Students perform the services while their instructor watches over them and checks their technique every step.
“It is super easy for them to earn that amount of money and not pay us tuition,” Julie said. “So, as opposed to going to a private, for-profit college that will charge them around $15,000 in tuition and keep their money in the student clinic—where they are already going to come out with student loan debt to their eyeballs, where they may never be able to pay off through the course of their careers—we are going to let them get started on what they want to do the day they graduate. They are going to have all the tools they need in their hands to go to work and make a better life for their family, and hopefully, the industry will bless them as it has blessed me.”
Mary Julia Smith, 37, is a student at Dermacademy, who is based in Winston-Salem and has a degree in marketing and communications. Smith said she worked in a corporate setting until she had her son, and after staying home with him for a few years, she said she tried going back to work, but she realized it wasn’t her passion anymore.
“I have always had a passion for skincare, makeup and taking care of people,” Smith said. “I did some research, ended up meeting with a career coach and decided this was the route I wanted to take… When I found this school, I was so excited,” she added. “It is such a unique program, and I had done some research with other programs in the area, and this just felt like a really good bet.”
She said she loves giving facials and that she has learned so much during her time at Dermacademy.
“It is kind of fun being a little bit older than the rest of the group,” she said. “I think I bring a little bit more life experience and knowledge to the program. I have a lot of business experience—part of why we are here is to learn about skincare and all the things that go along with a skincare therapist, which is a lot of fun, but it also gets my business sense is tingling.”
Elisabeth Sullivan is the instructor at Dermacademy, who supervises the students while they do spa services. Sullivan said she has been in this industry her whole life, and she got her esthetician license three years ago, in addition to her nail technician license. She also got her teacher training license from the Health and Style Institute about a year and a half ago.
“My favorite part is the intimacy of this profession and where we can really help people be their best selves,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said everyone in downtown Kernersville would benefit from the school because she described the Dermacademy as “cutting-edge and very student-friendly.”
“It is a personal, laid-back vibe and learning-friendly,” she said. “And the atmosphere is so nice. I love this building and this area. I was thrilled to get the position here, absolutely thrilled.”
Dermacademy also offers full-ride scholarships to students in need. Brittany White, 19, is one of the two students at Dermacademy receiving a scholarship. White said she originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but after having to experience an animal being put down, White said she couldn’t emotionally handle it.
“I started getting interested in makeup, and I knew somebody who was an esthetician,” White said. “I started learning more about it and taking better care of my skin, and I want to help people feel confident in their own skin instead of just putting makeup over it like a bandage.”
White said she is more attracted to the skincare route of being an esthetician, which she said mainly focuses on facials. When White was interviewed last Wednesday, she was in her first week of classes.
“I am a science junkie, and right now, we have been learning about microbiology,” she said. “I like learning in-depth about skin so that way you can tell your clients more knowledge about their skin, instead of just putting a product on and not knowing why.”
White said her tuition is covered by the Barham’s scholarship, and all she has to do is pay for her starter kit, do her class duties and maintain a GPA/attendance record of 80% or higher.
White said the scholarship had helped her significantly since she and her family have fallen on hard times.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, and we weren’t really financially stable,” White admitted. “I was very grateful for that,” White said of the scholarship. “I lost my hand eight months ago. I was working at a pet food store, and we made raw dog food. I was grinding meat, and my hand got caught in the meat grinder. So, I was out of work, and then a week after, my dad had to go into the hospital because he got some kind of infection...and he had to have surgery, which put my mom out of work trying to take care of both of us.”
White said everything in her life came crashing down at once, and a week before losing her hand, her grandfather passed away. She wanted to start school as soon as possible, but unfortunately, since she hadn’t been working for months and because her family hadn’t been working, there was no way for her to go back to school.
“Julie was the first person I met, and I asked her, ‘do you think there is going to be anything that I will struggle with?’ And she said, ‘No if you set your mind to it, you can do it.’ Everybody has been super supportive, and nobody here has told me I can’t.”
While taking a spray tanning class, White said she was using her prosthetic, and the instructor came by and told her, “You are going to be great, you are going to be amazing, don’t let this hold you back.”
“So, I am not letting it hold me back, I am going to conquer my fears,” White said.
Keira Hippman, 19, is the other student receiving a full-ride scholarship, and she said she originally wanted to go into nursing, but after realizing that wasn’t right for her, she felt lost. Hippman said she is fortunate to receive a scholarship because she wouldn’t be able to attend school without it.
“I don’t work or anything, and my mom is a single mom who has to take care of my siblings,” she said. “I am super thankful.”
Services offered at Dermacademy include Norvell spray tans ($25), micro-dermabrasion ($55), lash extensions ($59), permanent lash lift ($49), airbrush make up ($25), leg wax ($25), brow wax ($8), and brow tint ($7). More information can be found on the website or by calling (336) 515-3373.