By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jul 17, 2023 at 12:30 PM

OnMilwaukee's The Future Is Female series is brought to you by Alverno College and features some of the most interesting, innovative and intelligent women in the city.

Alverno College, for over 135 years, has strived to educate and empower women to realize their leadership, strength of voice and potential to lead in the working world. Alverno’s support of “The Future is Female” continues to showcase and exemplify these efforts by supporting the stories of grit, resilience and strength of character of present, past and future leading women in the Milwaukee community! #AlvernoStrong

Kalen Sharp excels in numerous fields, but overall considers herself an artist. "The medium changes whether it be hair, photography or social media. But always the art remains," says Sharp.

Sharp is the owner of Kultured Kinks, a sustainable, natural hair care service that provide locs, twists and extensions. She is also a freelance social media manager and content creator.

"I have my BFA in art, but I used hair as a way to support myself through school, which was self taught. I have been doing natural hair since I was in high school, and when I got to college, I would retwist locs in my dorm room," says Sharp. "I think to really survive in the world you need a good mix of book and street smarts."

Originally from the South, Sharp now lives in Downtown Milwaukee.

"I like to consider myself a Southern Belle and I am very adamant about showcasing good 'Southern Hospitality.' Every day, everywhere I go, I make sure to smile and say, 'hey, how you doin’?'"

OnMilwaukee recently had the opportunity to chat with Sharp and ask her eight questions based on the "8 Abilities" that all students achieve with an Alverno degree: Communication, Analysis, Problem Solving, Valuing in Decision-Making, Social Interaction, Developing a Global Perspective, Aesthetic Engagement and Effective Citizenship.

1. What does active listening mean to you? Do you consider yourself a good listener, and if so, how has this helped you in your personal and professional relationships?

As a stylist, I take active listening seriously. You’re not only a hairdresser, sometimes you’re a therapist. Especially if you have an appointment that lasts a few hours – people tend to get really personal in a session. Hair is not just aesthetic, it's holistic. You want the person who is in your chair not to just feel good about their hair, but better about themselves overall. So this means actively listening and giving sound advice.

Beauty salons and barbershops have long been a place where people of color congregate and “put each other up on game." Especially when it comes to the youth. I really make sure to actually hear what they are saying because they often feel unheard. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about certain things, and so I level with them so they don’t just listen to their friends or go out and make poor choices. Listening is actually a big responsibility and people should spend more time listening, instead of waiting to speak.

2. What was the last subject you were curious about and then pursued to learn more? How did you pursue it?

I am constantly learning new things. I like to multitask, so I usually have a few projects going on at once. Being a hairstylist there are always new viral hair videos coming out and you have to learn them quickly because clients will ask for these trendy styles. I am a visual learner so often I turn to YouTube because I can watch something as many times as I need to get it.  Also with social media there is always something new coming out. So you have to stay on top of things because the algorithm responds to what’s popular as well. Instagram just came out with Threads and so I am learning about that as well. Even if I choose not to use them, it's still good to know what's going on because it affects the way social media is used by the people you want to target as your client.

3. If you can't figure something out yourself, what source or person do you turn to first? How long do you wait before you ask for help? As a woman, do you think you wait longer to reach out?

Like I said before, "YouTube University" is my first go-to. But I also have a network of mentors that I go to if I am really just stumped on something or need to run an idea by someone. But this took me a long time to get to because you need a network of people you can trust. As a woman I think I tend to overshare, and that has been detrimental in the past. People would just want my ideas so they could use them as their own, but would not actually help. In the styling world people tend to “gatekeep” information and Milwaukee has a very unique culture. Barbers and stylists go hand and hand with the nightlife here and as a result have their own “celebrity status.” If you're not well known or don’t have a large following  they may choose not to want to work with you. Now this isn't the case for everyone, but that’s why it's important to get with like-minded individuals who are investing in your success and want to see you grow.

4. What are your personal values? Who and/or what inspired them and how do these values affect your decision-making process?

Honesty, integrity, genuineness and humility are my main personal values. I have been living on my own since I was 17 and life teaches you a lot. But the biggest thing life teaches you is to be yourself and listen to yourself because distractions and other people will lead you astray. So I try to go with my gut feeling because I tend to overthink, but my intuition is usually right. The rest is just being a good person, doing what’s right whether people are looking or not. It’s something I work on everyday because it's the small decisions that we make that ultimately lead us to who we become.

5. Technology and on-line communication/meetings/social has definitely changed over the years. Do these things help or hinder your growth – or both?

I think it’s a good mix of both. With great power comes responsibility. Technology and social media are both very powerful tools that can make or break you depending on how you use them. I have learned a lot from both and also made a lot of mistakes that I learned from. I have used social media to connect with people that I would not have met otherwise. But even if you use social media you should still make the effort to network face-to-face to create that lasting bond. Even with technology I have started learning how to use AI such as ChatGPT to help with automation, but I think it is best to use this to assist with your projects – not to plagiarize work. I think sometimes we rely too heavily on these tools on a day-to-day basis, because if Instagram is gone tomorrow, what are you going to do? I think it's good to have a balance of both.

6. Where is the farthest you've traveled and what is a thing or two you learned from the experience? And what surprised you?

Moving to Milwaukee is the farthest I have traveled since I moved up North.  Moving to a different state will definitely teach you so much. It's a culture shock for sure. And it's like you have to relearn everything about how to live. You don’t know anyone or how to get anywhere. The biggest adjustment was the driving and not being able to have a 15-minute conversation with someone random in the grocery store. We love to do that in the South for some reason.

But since I have lived in Milwaukee I have been to Chicago a few times. I was surprised because I didn't know it was so much bigger than Milwaukee. In comparison it makes our buildings and river look so small. It was nice to be exposed to something new again after adjusting to Milwaukee. Also the street art there is beautiful.   

7. What are your favorite art forms? How do you challenge yourself to actively engage in the arts?

I can’t pick a favorite. I adore them all. I love photography/videography because I am really into documentation. Memories really are priceless, because time doesn’t stand still, only pictures. I really love social media too. Content creation is definitely an art form that goes overlooked because it takes so much creativity.

Music is so important in my life. I use it to set the tone for my day. I also use it as a way to set the mood for my appointments. I am pretty apt at being able to tell what kind of music someone likes just by looking at them. And it really helps to relax someone if they are hearing something familiar. Also I am really big on discography, not just individual songs, because they tell a story. Whether it's an old '90s R&B group, neo-soul like Lauryn and Erykah, or some of the new stuff like SZA and Tems, we connect to the parts of the story that we relate to.

Lastly, I am a huge anime and manga fan. I really appreciate the artwork and creative process. If I am not working I am definitely binge watching on Crunchyroll. I am even currently considering adding cosplay to my content.

I engage in the arts every single day. Whether I am creating for someone else’s company or creating my own content, I like to tell stories through art as well. It really is a part of my lifestyle and a part of me. It comes out in different ways but it definitely is a way of life for me.

8. How do you/your work move Milwaukee forward?

As a social media manager I specifically work with local companies and small businesses in and around Milwaukee. I make sure to showcase their best qualities and also what makes them unique to the city. In my content I like to incorporate a lot of well-known landmarks that are near businesses so people recognize that it is Milwaukee.

With Kultured Kinks, I am currently in the process of rebranding to make my salon very unique to Milwaukee. Not only am I adding new products and services that embody a spectrum of curly hair types and textures, I am also transitioning my salon to a sustainable and green space so that my footprint is less and makes Milwaukee a cleaner place to live. This means using all natural ingredients in my products and sourcing locally.

I am also incorporating this into the overall interior design of the shop by using bamboo and moss as the main materials. I plan on continuing my education through Aveda’s Ayurvedic Esthetics program, but in the meantime, I am doing what I can to continue moving Milwaukee forward one style or post at a time.

Follow Kalen Sharp on Instagram here.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.