AUSTIN — In the early 1990s, beautician Markeva Barnes-Baxter once turned her sister's head into a UFO.
The design won a hair styling competition and Barnes-Baxter has since created a world of fantasy out of her love for doing hair.
“I’m getting older, but I’m still jazzy and funky and can hang with the best of them,” said Barnes-Baxter, 43, a native of the Austin neighborhood and owner of the Hair Biz Beauty Salon.
Barnes-Baxter, who has been a hair stylist since 1988, was the second-place finisher in the fantasy category at the Proud Lady Beauty Show earlier this year. The show was part of a three-day event celebrating the African-American beauty industry, and the work of minority barbers and beauticians nationwide.
Her prize was $500 and a 3-foot trophy with a gold-plated, winged figurine atop the first level, and “2nd” mounted in gold lettering on its wooden frame.
“I really wanted that trophy because to have a trophy showing at your hair salon, that says a lot,” she said.
Fantasy style competitions allow professional stylists to be as creative as their abilities allow, said Geri Jones, executive director of the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute, the organization that hosts the event. Each show has seven to 12 entrants in the fantasy category, and each entrant creates a hair design and a corresponding theme that models perform to music for three minutes in front of judges and the audience.
“Markeva's level of creativity is exceptional,” Jones said. “She puts her heart and soul into her work, and the end result is excellence.”
Barnes-Baxter’s second-place “butterfly” hairstyle took three months to create for Proud Lady, in part, she said, because of time spent helping her 18-year-old son with his studies as he prepared to graduate from Providence-St. Mel High School. The design was a crested headdress covered in handmade butterflies and gold ribbons, with three to four feet of purple and deep-sky-blue-dyed tresses of hair.
She found a model in North Lawndale resident Ramanda Caldwell, whom she had to physically steady to help support the flowing hairpiece.
“She took care of me,” said Caldwell, 22. “She was very supportive.”
Barnes-Baxter opened Hair Biz, 5307 W. Chicago Ave., right around the time she won her first style competition, and flourished in numerous style shows until taking a break in 2003 following her husband’s stroke.
While his health remains a priority, Barnes-Baxter said she had no plans to retire from competing and was "excited for the next hair show," the date of which has not yet been determined. She also hopes to lead her own crew of creative stylists one day and teach others how to bring their fantasies to life.
She works at the shop with her sister, Michelle, and both women tend to a steady flow of customers as business has picked up since her successful Proud Lady finish.
Barnes-Baxter said she often saw rival beauticians drive by slowly and peer into the windows to see what’s cooking in the shop, but she kept her trade secrets close to the vest.
“I’m never going to tell anybody what I use,” she said. “Can’t show them what’s in your kitchen.”