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COVER STORY: Women Who Mean Business

The inspiring stories behind some of Houston's leading entrepreneurs.

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Vanessa Barrow (left), Dylan Carnes, and Tinisha Cox (photos by Ashkan Roayaee.)

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look at three women who have their eyes placed squarely on the future. We have Dylan Carnes, who was only 24 when she founded Sinfull Bakery, her renowned vegan sweet shop. Now, she’s at the top of the food chain. We’d also like to introduce you to Tinisha Cox, the brains (and hands) behind The Hot Towel TX, a self-described “barbhershop” right here in Houston. Finally, there’s Vanessa Barrow. Dr. Barrow is the woman responsible for Sole Aesthetic, a new state-of-the-art podiatry practice in Bellaire. These women exemplify the spirit of entrepreneurship so alive in many of today’s businesswomen. Each one has a story guaranteed to inspire, uplift, and encourage you. We think you’ll find that while all of these women bring an element of fun to their work, each one means serious business.

FROM HEEL TO TOE
Dr. Vanessa Barrow, Sole Aesthetic

By Marene Gustin

Dr. Vanessa Barrow

Gone are the days when you fixed broken toes and plantar warts with duct tape. Today’s top podiatrists in New York and Los Angeles have new-age treatments for foot and ankle problems—everything from Botox injections to plasma therapy. And now those treatments are coming to Houston. At the forefront of these new-age advances is Dr. Vanessa Barrow of Sole Aesthetic in Bellaire.

“I focus on regenerative medicine and aesthetic medicine,” says Dr. Barrow, 41. “It’s the future of medicine.”

That her treatments are state-of-the-art is evident from the moment you walk into Sole Aesthetic. She not only designed the stylish one-year-old office herself, but also shot the gorgeous photographs that line the walls.

And then there’s the stylish doctor herself. “I know I don’t look like other podiatrists,” she laughs as she glances at her four-inch stiletto heels. “Most are older men in sneakers. But my practice is about fitness and fashion. As long as you take care of your feet, there’s no reason you can’t wear high heels. There’s a heel for everyone—you just have to find the brands that accommodate your foot type.”

Even if you’ve lost some of the cushion on the soles of your feet through aging, there are now injectables like dermal fillers that can restore that cushion and also strengthen the tissues in that region.

If you want to keep dancing into your golden years, here are some of Dr. Barrow’s tips to keep your feet happy and healthy. 

“First of all,” she says, “pain is not normal. Too often people think, ‘Oh, it’s just old age or I exercised too much.’ No, you need to go to a podiatrist and find out what’s causing the pain. We can probably stop it, and hopefully without surgery.” 

And one thing you might not think of is skin care for your feet.

“Keeping the skin and nails of your feet clean and in good condition is so important,” Dr. Barrow explains. She urges regular nail maintenance, but adds that if you go to a salon for a pedicure you should bring your own instruments and make sure they use tub liners. “And here in Houston, sunscreen is important during the summers. Come flip-flop weather, we’ll see sunburned feet. I once caught a stage-4 melanoma on a patient’s foot. He lost the toe, but he’s still alive.”

Dr. Barrow also warns about the lack of stability and support of flip-flops. “They are not supportive for a lot of walking,” she says. Which brings up the point of proper shoe selection and care. “Houston is becoming a more walkable city,” she says. “Flip-flops and ballet flats don’t have the support you need if you are doing a lot of walking. Choose the right shoe for your activity.” 

She also recommends exercising your feet to keep them flexible and strong. And finally, she advises a preventive visit to a foot doctor.

“Even before you have trouble, you should see a podiatrist,” Dr. Barrow says. “You may not be aware of a problem, or you may just be shrugging it off. Your primary-care physician doesn’t look at your feet when you see him once a year. People just put a sock on it or think it’s normal for feet to smell. But it’s not, and Botox injections can fix that.”

Dr. Barrow, a runner and gymnast herself, has a background in sports medicine and treatments. She really believes in biologic therapies and treatments for foot and ankle injuries.

“Steroid injections are so old-school. And yes, I do surgeries. But that’s a last resort. I prefer treatments where we get the body to heal itself. That’s the future of podiatry and medicine.”

SWEET SUCCESS
Dylan Carnes, Sinfull Bakery

By Jenny Block

Dylan Carnes

Dylan Carnes was only 24 when she got her DBA and founded Sinfull Bakery in October of 2009. “I had a DBA, two full journals of recipes, a few dollars in my pocket, my last amount of money on my food-stamp card, and two parents willing to let their daughter use their kitchen for 24 hours a day nonstop, which is exactly what I did.” Within six months of living in Houston, she became the proud parent of the first commercial vegan kolache to hit the market, getting her baby into the grocery mecca Whole Foods. 

Where Carnes began her journey will likely surprise you. The H-town native, who now lives in the Third Ward just minutes from Sinfull Bakery in Midtown, graduated from Texas State University with a degree in psychology and interpersonal communication. “I wanted to be a transpersonal psychologist specializing in wilderness therapy,” she says. But in her time off, she caught the baking bug. “I was terrible, but I didn’t care. I loved the science behind baking and the feeding-people aspect.” 

Carnes’ father is an entrepreneur as well. With no money and a big idea, he started a carpet-cleaning and stone-repair business that has now been in Houston for forty years. When Carnes’ dad told her the whole story of his business, she looked at him and said, “I want to start a vegan bakery.” She was 23 years old. “He looked at me and said, ‘Do it.’” 

From that day forward, Carnes’ dad was her biggest fan and sidekick. “He would come save me at 4:00 in the morning when I was desperately trying to package hundreds of items I had spent all day making for orders. He would also do the farmers market with me. I couldn’t have survived that time without him.”

Before starting her business, Carnes worked at a bakery in Portland, Oregon, where she learned everything she could about baking and the business of baking. “I instantly knew wholesale bakery was the way to go. I just love feeding people. The creative part of making recipes and the response from my customers is what keeps me engaged.” 

Because Carnes is vegan, so are all of her Sinfull Bakery recipes. “I feel if you are going to indulge in the sinfulness of delicious sweet food, it should be made with organic and wholesome ingredients so your body doesn’t have to process more than it needs to just to enjoy the food.”   

Sinfull Bakery now sells to over 120 stores in seven different states. “We are famous for our two-pound Texas-sized cinnamon rolls.” Two of their other most popular items are the Everything Bars and the Coconut Dream Bars, which can be found all across Houston. “And they are our main products sold in other states as well,” Carnes says. Still to this day, though, kolaches are Carnes’ favorite thing to bake because she gets to experiment and create new savory recipes every week.  

Since the very first day Carnes put out her bakery idea, she says she’s gotten nothing but praise. “Most of my customers are not vegan, which says something about the product. The vegan community in Houston has supported me and this dream since day one. I took a risk and pushed my traditional career path to start a vegan bakery in a very meat-loving city, when at the time there were no other vegan bakeries. Houston was ready.”

Carnes says her favorite thing about being an entrepreneur is having the chance to create opportunities for other people in her life. “I also love that I get to choose the path I want my business to take.”

Over the years, Carnes has been committed to giving back and sharing her success. She has donated (mostly baked goods, naturally) to different LGBTQ events and various charities.. One of Carnes’ goals for 2019 is to be more involved. “I would love for more LGBT organizations to reach out to Sinfull Bakery for donations.” She also hopes to partner more with Julie Mabry at Pearl Bar. “She inspires me daily to do more for our community.”

So is the rocky road to entrepreneurial success worth traveling? Carnes certainly thinks so. “Running a business is no easy feat, but I don’t imagine my life any other way.” Her advice to those considering taking the entrepreneurial leap is simple: “Don’t give up. You’ve got this!”

HAIR APPARENT
Tunisia Cox, The Hot Towel TX

By Jenny Block

Tinisha Cox

Sometimes when things are looking bad, it leads to something really good. West Coast native Tinisha Cox (or Nish, as her friends call her) had been working as an accounts-payable clerk for years when she started feeling like her job wasn’t so secure anymore. “As destiny would have it, I used to cut my friends’ and family’s hair for fun,” Cox says. So in 2001, she enrolled in barber school at Jay’s Technical Institute on the southwest side of Houston. Fast-forward to 2017, when the Katy resident opened The Hot Towel TX, her very own “barbhershop” in the Galleria area.  

When Cox was in school, she found herself really focusing on hot-towel grooming. But over time, she says she strayed away from hot towels because she became such a busy barber. “Once I decided to open a shop, I said, ‘Why not go back to what made you?’” Hence the name The Hot Towel TX. 

Hot-towel service, of course, is just some of what Cox offers. They also do haircuts, facials, color services, shampoo services, hair restoration, weaves, locks and lock maintenance, as well as scalp manipulations. Women, men, and children are all welcome, Cox says. 

The challenge inherent in cutting hair is what drew her to the work, Cox explains. What keeps her engaged are the transformations she creates. “It gives me a special pride to see the smiles on my clients’ faces when they leave my chair.” 

Cox says she opened a space of her own because she wanted to have the ability to control her environment. “I wanted a space where it would be empowering and uplifting for those who work there, and for those who patronize it. Just a relaxing space. I knew that I could do it because of the type of person that I am.” 

She was certainly right. Cox says the response to The Hot Towel Tx has been amazing, including top marks on Google and Yelp. “I have an awesome team of lady ‘barbhers,’” Cox says. 

Cox has a large LGBTQ client base and loves to volunteer inside and outside the community. “I’ve done charity work around Houston and parts of Nevada. During Hurricane Katrina, I spent two days at the George R. Brown Convention Center giving free haircuts to Katrina survivors.” For five years, she offered free haircuts to men and children in a special-needs group home, and now she’s partnering with the Houston Public Library’s Groomed for Literacy program, where she encourages literacy to the kids who sit in her chair.

“For two consecutive years,” Cox adds, “I’ve done back-to-school haircuts for several Alief schools. I’ve also partnered with a group to create Barbers and Blankets, where we go out during the Christmas holidays to pass out blankets to the homeless population in Houston. I believe in giving back to anyone in need.”

The best part about being an entrepreneur is controlling your own destiny, Cox explains. For others who want to do the same, Cox says the key is to stick to your dreams. “Don’t let others’ opinions deter you from your purpose. Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. You’ll get a lot of doors closed in your face. But if you stay consistent, you’ll be exactly where you’re destined to be.” She’s a success in every sense of the word, and it all came from a love of cutting hair, a desire to help, and the motto Cox says she always lives by: “PUSH! Purposely Unbreakable, Stand Humbly.”

This article appears in the March 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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