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This 23-Year-Old Celeb Hairstylist Survived Homelessness & Built A Hair Empire

BOSS UP

Oftentimes, we hear fascinating stories about successful people who went from being broke to being a boss and we become so fixated on the how. How were they able to crawl out of that hole of despair? How did they make their vision come to life? How were they able to make a lot of money? While the "how" is important to know, the "why" is actually so much sweeter. For the past two years, celebrity hair artist Daniella Emilien, aka Hair By Ivy has garnered much traction in the hair industry with high profile clients such as Real Housewives of Atlanta star Marlo Hampton, Growing Up Hip Hop Atlanta star Reginae Carter, and rapper Kash Doll.

She also has a hair salon, Hair by Ivy, and her Ivy League Academy, where she teaches aspiring hair stylists tips and tricks to being a hair boss.

But prior to these prosperous two years, Ivy was 19 years old, pregnant, and living on the streets of Miami, FL.

When she found out she was expecting, she had just graduated from high school and was attending a local community college.While she was surprised yet excited about having a child, her mother struggled with the reality of her pregnancy. "I come from a Haitian and Bahamian background and when you get pregnant at a young age, it's a really bad thing in the family. My mom had a really hard time with me being pregnant and so she kicked me out," says Ivy.

For the first six months of her pregnancy, Ivy was homeless, sleeping in cars and hotel rooms. She was expecting twins, but ended up losing one of her babies in the third month due to sleeping in cars. While she did have a job, she still wasn't making enough to provide for herself, let alone her child, and being pregnant didn't necessarily make her a stand out candidate for hire. So, she continued to experience financial hardships that began to take a toll on her mentally.

She was alone and although she did have contact with her child's father, she was still doing everything by herself. "Yeah, we had contact [and] he tried to help, but I was just like, 'It's my first child, I want my mom to be there. I want the love from my mom.' He was active, he tried to take me in and do different stuff, but there were days when I talked to him and days that I didn't talk to him just because I wanted to go through the situation by myself. I was young, I didn't know any better. I needed the guidance of my mom because that's who I looked up to at that time," she explained.

As her due date drew closer, Ivy finally got what she needed when she and her mother reconnected. She was invited back home, and soon after, she gave birth to her son Mason. But while she had a safe place to lay her head, she still continued to struggle financially.

Being a new mother, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place where she couldn't work because she didn't have anyone to babysit her child and she couldn't afford a babysitter because she couldn't work. Instead of giving into her circumstances, she decided to overcome them. She began brainstorming ideas to make money right away. From there, she began recalling her childhood passion: hair.

Growing up, Ivy would always do her friends and cousins' hair, but she never thought to pursue it professionally until she found her back against the wall. After praying about it for two days, Ivy sent out a mass text letting everyone know that she was back living with her mom and that she would be offering hair services and the word traveled. "I didn't have business cards, I didn't have flyers, I didn't have Instagram, Facebook. I didn't have the type of tools that people use to market. I literally started from the bottom with nothing. I stepped out on faith," she says.

"I literally started from the bottom with nothing. I stepped out on faith."

Within a year, Ivy went back to school and got her cosmetology license. She started promoting her services on Instagram, which led to her securing the bag with her first celebrity client, Love and Hip Hop: New York star OG Nya Lee. Since then, she has worked with other Love and Hip Hop franchise stars, such as Joseline, Dream Doll, and Alexis Sky.

While building a diverse clientele of celebrities and non-celebrities, Ivy also opened her very own opulent hair salon suite and created a custom wig collection. She took things a step further by deciding to give back to the industry that changed her life, starting with creating her Ivy League Academy, a branding and marketing course for aspiring hairstylists looking to get into the hair business.

Ivy is thankful for the life she has now and she contributes it all to her son. In two years, Ivy was able to turn her life around by taking chances, keeping faith, and working diligently all because she just wanted to provide for her son. Her son became her "why" and her motivation to become and stay successful. "I appreciate everything I have now. I'm a hardworking woman. I have a lot of morals now, I don't settle for less and I don't take 'no' for an answer so those are some of the things that I cherish now because I went through that journey."

"I don't settle for less and I don't take 'no' for an answer."

At only 23 years old, Ivy has already overcome so much and she wants to use her platform to share her story with others who are experiencing tough situations where it seems there is no end in sight. "I started to grow, pray, and fall more in love with myself and build [my] confidence up so I can talk about it. I want to be an inspiration to someone who's going through what I went through and let [him or her] know that it doesn't stop or end there, that there is more life after that situation."

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Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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