Destinee Steele combined her passion and experience in theatre, along with a master’s in wig and makeup design, to craft the career of her dreams as a business owner. In early 2020, as the theatre industry shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Steele used the unforeseen challenge as a catalyst to carve her own path to success through the founding of The Beauty Menagerie, a handmade, ready-to-wear wig company that caters to people living with hairloss. Steele also serves as a justice, equity, diversion and inclusion, or JEDI, trainer at NETworks on Tour and is a founding member of the Black Hair and Makeup United.
What inspired you to become a business owner and create your own handmade wig company?
I have always wanted to be in charge. I was born with a lot of Leo energy. When the pandemic abruptly shut the theatre industry down in early 2020, no one could have known how long we would be out of work. Because of the uncertainty and how that made me feel, I started an LLC a month after the shut down. I knew I had a skill that I could use to help others but also I desired to build a legacy. I had never had the time or ability to solely focus on a new business. Although there were many times I second guessed opening a business during the pandemic, I thought about Madam C.J. Walker becoming the first self-made millionaire during an outbreak of the Bird Flu. That was one of the things that kept me going.
What did UWF teach you that has helped you launch a successful career in the theatre industry?
I attended UWF the two final years of my undergraduate career and I rarely left the Performing Arts Center. It was there where I learned what a small and mighty crew could do. The theatre department had many actors at the time and significantly less technicians but everyone would pitch in where they could. I happened to have a cosmetology license when I started the theatre program and there were times where I would design/style hair for a production I was also acting in. UWF showed me that when you are doing what you love sometimes you will end up surprising yourself at what you can accomplish. There are days where I’m still surprising myself and I hope that never changes.
What is your favorite memory from UWF?
This isn’t fair! I have so many favorite memories at UWF. I met my best friend there, we met (her now) husband there, I met a group of fellow spoken word poets, and there are so many other life changing moments that took place at UWF. One of my all time favorite memories was the first time seeing a probate for a fraternity. The immersion of culture in that moment stopped me in my tracks. Growing up in Panama City, and choosing theatre since 6th grade, I was rarely surrounded by black people. Oftentimes I would be one of few if not the only person of color in the room. That fact had never bothered me because that was all I was used to but when I arrived at UWF and saw the Divine 9 fraternities and sororities unapologetically exemplifying excellence, intelligence, unity, and philanthropy in such large numbers, I was blown away. I still get chills when I think about it.