Kien Hoang founded Umbrella Salon almost 12 years ago with partners Michelle Givens and Khiem Hoang with the mission of establishing a luxurious, innovative salon that was also involved with the community.

After moving to a larger space on the corner of Market Street and Santa Clara Street almost four years ago, Umbrella has found its niche not only in downtown San Jose, but the fashion world as well. The salon has been involved with editorial shoots for magazines including Italian Vogue, Elle Vietnam, Helium, Today’s Bride, Modern Salon and Highlight Australia, and has styled for fashion shows and events like the SAP Open professional tennis tournament.

Describing himself as “born to do hair,” Kien graduated from California Cosmetology College and first starting working at JoJo’s Hair Studio. He has since done work with Bumble & Bumble and Oribe Hair Care.

Name: Kien Hoang
Age: 40
Occupation: Hair Stylist and part-owner of Umbrella Salon

How long have you lived and worked in San Jose?
I lived in San Jose for about 20 years, although I’m currently living in San Francisco. 

What do you like most about San Jose?
I think it’s technologically driven. I like the museums and downtown San Jose. Also, I like that it’s multicultural.

What brought you to San Jose?
I was born in Vietnam, but my parents worked in technology and they brought me up in the Silicon Valley.

At what point did you decide to stay in San Jose to pursue your career?
My dream has always been to work in New York City, but what has kept me here is my love for my clientele and my team.

What were some challenges you faced in starting your own business?
When we first opened, it was right at the end of the dot-com bust, so that was hard. We had to figure out how to market on a minimal budget, but also honing and building a really solid team took us years. I think that was the hardest, getting everyone on the same page and defining our vision. It’s always difficult starting off, but we persevered.

What have been some of your favorite experiences since opening Umbrella?
My favorite experience has been creating an educational team, and networking with other salons in the area has been awesome. I love the diverse clientele we get in the salon. I really loved working with the charities that we’ve been involved with, one of which was Global Investments in Women. That was in a partnership with Bill Clinton and the Queen of Jordan. I was called to blow-dry her hair.

How do you like to spend your time outside of the salon?
I’m always working. If I’m not in the salon, I’m looking at magazines and reading up on designers or I’m on the road doing a photo shoot. I just got back from New York City where I was doing New York Fashion Week. I was key stylist for Skaist Taylor at the Lincoln Center. That was huge success for me. It’s my passion; I guess I’m just always thinking about what I love doing.

Where are some of your favorite places in San Jose?
Downtown San Jose. I love the museums. I love The Blank Club and Black & Brown. Also visiting the new San Pedro Square Market. I think that’s such a great place to be. 

If you could change one thing about San Jose, what would it be?
I’d like to see more opportunities for artists to show off their work. I’d like to see more events that would help the art community grow. Also, I’d like to see more businesses in downtown San Jose. That’s why I chose to have a salon downtown.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in San Jose?
I think the most interesting person I’ve met is Daniel Garcia. He’s a photographer. He’s so humble, but he really has a vision about where he wants to take the publishing world. He wants to take aesthetics to a whole another level. I think he’s very interesting.