What happens when two Brooklynites set up shop in Historic Downtown Jersey City? You get Paloma — a clean, minimalist salon with boho vibes and a cool, Cali feel. Well, naturally.
Helmed by husband-and-wife team Gisella Amaya and Ken Hughes, Paloma has just as much of a hip beat as its owners. After years of working in New York—Hughes as a barber and Amaya as a hairstylist and color educator—the two set out to reshape the NJ salon experience in a contemporary way. Their vision came to fruition this past June when they opened Paloma Salon in Jersey City, right after New Jersey entered its Stage Two recovery plan.
I know from experience how easy it is to get stuck in a hair rut. You turn to the same salon, the same stylist and most of the time, the same look. If you’ve developed a wandering eye, you might pay Paloma, Jersey City’s new kid on the block, some attention. Think textured, lived-in shags or lobs and dimensional dye jobs.
The salon’s playful interior reflects its artistic, innovative approach to hair. From dusty, desert tones, Paloma is filled with tons of natural light, modern salon furniture, a book library, clean beauty products and wall hangings from local Jersey City artists. To put it simply, it’s an Instagrammable dream and a space that you wouldn’t mind spending an hour (or four) in. If you’ve ever had a color correction, you know what I’m talking about.
The goal was to make Paloma a kind of self-care haven. A place people would actually want to go to and that they could enjoy throughout the entire process. Not just at the very end. I recently spoke with Amaya who shared what it was like relocating to Jersey City, being a first-time salon owner, navigating 2020 and the hair trends she foresees for 2021.
Can you start by telling our readers a little bit about opening Paloma Salon and how you ended up in Jersey City?
I opened Paloma with my husband and before, we both were working in Brooklyn. He was a barber and I was a hairstylist and color educator at a different salon for the last nine years.
We knew we wanted to stay in the tri-state area—his family is from New Jersey and mine is from Connecticut. But we moved to Jersey City three and a half years ago and didn’t really know much about it. We instantly fell in love with the area. We were just so pleasantly surprised, it’s like a hidden gem. I’m always preaching to my friends to move here because it’s so conveniently close to everything and it has this small town, big city vibe. I love how all the businesses support each other and I love the grunginess. We felt like there weren’t that many salons in the area and it would be a great place to put our roots down.
As a first-time owner, did you want to model Paloma after the salons you’ve worked at in NYC? What makes it stand out locally?
So many people still go into the city to get their hair cut so we still wanted to offer that elevated experience, but without crossing the river. As a five-chair boutique salon, we’re not trying to squeeze as many people into here as possible. We’re very much quality over quantity.
Since a lot of our clients come in for these massive color projects—sometimes they’re here for three or four hours—we try to make it as pleasant of an experience as possible. We have a book library and offer other types of self-care as well in our retail area. We carry different candles, fragrances. Our clients love it. When COVID is over, if that ever happens, we’d love to offer a drink menu with different teas and wine.
What was the motivation behind starting your own business?
I honestly just love working, meeting new people, and the salon environment. I really wanted to create my own type of vibe for a salon. As in, if I were a client, what I would want that experience to be like. With that, our whole color palette here is very neutral, light woods with desert tones. People always come in and say how zen it is in here. It’s clean and minimal, totally opposite of the messy, kind of hectic salon I used to work in.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I know your proposed opening this spring didn’t go according to plan. How did you overcome that hurdle and what safety measures are you taking at the salon now?
We were supposed to open in April 2020 but then we eventually opened in June after the lockdown was lifted. It worked in our favor a little bit because we started off with a small staff. We can only have three stylists in here at a time and since there are only five chairs, I haven’t had to cut anyone’s hours.
The biggest change we had to make was buying all the PPE stuff. We also have an air ventilation system here that’s constantly taking all the air out, purifying it, and putting new air in. It’s comforting for all of us here to know that even if the doors are closed because it’s cold or raining, there’s still ventilation happening. I also think people have noticed that because we’re new, there’s just not a lot of clients in here at once so they feel super comfortable.
What has the reception been like from the community so far?
It’s definitely been more positive than we anticipated. Even though Jersey City is big, word gets around really fast. People that come in here are always telling their family and friends about us so it’s been a lot of word of mouth.
It was also just nice to have a rush of people come in as soon as the lockdown was over because everyone needed their hair done so desperately. It felt like a grand opening because everyone was trying to get in. I really didn’t know what our first week was going to look like so that was a nice surprise.
Paloma seems to me like the place for modern, easy-to-wear styles. What do you guys offer in terms of cut and color?
We do a lot of customizable balayage services. Whether that’s super natural and sunkissed or if you want to be platinum. We also do hair consultations through email just to see how much of an impact a client wants in one service.
We have some hair cutting specialists too that just focus on that. They do a lot of lived-in haircuts. One of them specializes in textured, shaggy looks and the other likes short haircuts and pixie or barber-style looks.
As you previously mentioned, Paloma also has an amazing array of products. Can you tell us a bit more about the brands you carry?
A lot of the products we sell are from small, boutique brands. Women-owned businesses. And the hair care line that we carry is all clean beauty, organic, natural, vegan, cruelty-free. Nowadays, clean beauty products are so widely available. As a business owner, I figured this was a way for me to help and do something good for the community and the planet. Many of our retail products are biodegradable or reusable.
Going into 2021, are there any trends you’re noticing or requested hairstyles and colors for fall/winter 2020?
I think people really just want low maintenance right now. Worst case scenario, they don’t know when the next time they’re going to be able to go to the salon. So I think we’re just trying to keep with the times by doing things that are more low maintenance but still impactful.
A lot of people lately have been asking for modern shags. Something that’s nice to air dry but is also easy to blow dry and is super wearable. Even doing fun shags with a little pop of color around the face—kind of like Dua Lipa with those chunky pops of color. And then of course during the fall we’ve been seeing a lot of richer, more brunette tones that help liven the skin.
To keep up with this Jersey City salon, check out their Instagram or visit the Paloma website to book an appointment.