MIAMI — When Simone Hylton was growing up in Jamaica, she was always working on one of her friends' hair. She was a natural; the designs just came to her. So, when she went off to college at Virginia State University to study psychology, she already knew her heart wasn't in it.

“I always loved working with people and I always had a knack for doing hair. I just wasn't cut out for college," Hylton said in an interview at the grand opening of Natural Trend Setters Hair Salon held recently on the campus of Florida Memorial University, 15800 NW 42nd Ave., Miami Gardens.

She decided to go into the hair care business – a decision that did not sit well with her parents, she recalled. "They hit the roof," she said. But they came around to supporting her when she enrolled in Long Island Beauty School in New York.

While at that school, Hylton said, she discovered the need for alternative styles and products for African- Americans’ hair. "In school, when we got to the black segment of the program, it was all about chemicals — straighteners and such — to smooth out kinky black hair,” she recalled. “I didn't understand why there was nothing to teach us about caring for natural black hair using natural products. That's when I got into the natural alternative to hairstyling."

When Hylton and her elder sister Yanique, also known as Trudy, moved to South Florida several years ago, they saw more of a need to specialize in natural hairstyles because of the humidity. "I saw that many of the women didn't know there is an option," she said.

Hylton, 40, said when Yanique, 42, saw her determination, she joined her move to go into the hair care industry. And, 14 years ago, the sisters opened their first salon in Tamarac, located in Broward County.

“I am a hair care professional,” Hylton said. “I do it all, including the chemically assisted straighteners. But I offer the option of natural products and I teach women to take care of themselves by recommending natural herbs. When we get older, we need a supplement to keep our hair healthy.”

Hylton, a single mom of three children ages 20, 17 and 14, is the kind of person who “eats, sleeps and drinks” hair, said Meredith Hicks-Capleton, a spokeswoman for the Natural Trend Setters Salon.

“But the salon is not about hair only. The sisters also do fashions and, here on the campus the emphasis is on teaching young African-American women how to groom themselves,” Hicks-Capleton said.

Besides hair care, Yanique is also a fashion designer. She is a graduate of Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y., with a degree in psychology. She moved to Fort Lauderdale to be near her sister. After her first paycheck as a mental health technician, she said, “I discovered my tolerance just wasn't there. I decided to leave the profession and go into business with my sister.”

Yanique describes Hylton as “the artist” while she handles the business side of the salon. “I learned salon management so that we could take the business to another level, by branding our name as Natural Trendsetters,” she said.

Yanique became the salon director, which means she oversees daily operations and works with an executive team to make sure their network of salons — now totaling three — are always working at their highest level. She later trained under her sister to become a natural hair stylist. 

The Florida Memorial site is the third for the business — there is another in Delray Beach — and it offers haircuts, manicures and pedicures, with a fashion/style team on site. Wedding planning and fashion shows and “anything else in the fashion industry” are also offered, Yanique said.

Perhaps the best role model for the sisters’ love of natural hair is their father, Winston Hylton, 71. “I always saw how healthy my father's hair was and it was natural,” Simone Hylton said.

Winston Hylton, whose long white locks hang down his back, said his children have never seen his hair done differently. “My kids have been exposed to natural hair for a long time,” he said. And, yes, it is true he was upset when Simone dropped out of college to do hair. “You fight hard for your kids to go to college. But after her second year, she came up with this idea and wanted to leave college. We had to support it,” he said.

Winston Hylton, whose wife is in Jamaica running their bottled spring water business, said he helped his daughters set up their first salon and he was present for the grand opening of the Florida Memorial location.

Asked if he is proud of his daughters, he smiled, nodded and said, “Yes.”

Photo: Simone Hylton