Angel Bumpers knows exactly who Madame C.J. Walker was.

"She was the first woman millionaire, black or white," Bumpers says.

Walker was also the African-American pioneer who invented a line of hair-care products for black women, and who freed many from lives as washerwomen or maids. She made it possible for those women to make a good living as she did — helping other women be beautiful. Before her death in 1919, she also became a major contributor to black charities across the country.

And if Walker's name isn't particularly prominent in Utah, Bumpers' just might become so. As owner of Beyond Beautiful, a beauty-supply shop and salon in Salt Lake City, she seems to burn with Walker's brand of determination.

"I'm only 25 years old," Bumpers says up front. So she didn't think the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund would really lend her $10,000. And she cried when a fund official called to say that she would get the money.

Beyond Beautiful opened in March as a beauty supply shop at 25 E. Kensington (1500 South), and the salon followed in May.

"Ten thousand dollars is not a lot of money," Bumpers says. "But it bought my life back."

Bumpers grew up in Leroy, Ala., the daughter of a hairstylist.

"My mom started doing hair in 1958," she says. "She worked more than anybody should have to. I watched my mom stress, for years. She was always worried about bills."

Soon after arriving in Utah, Bumpers learned that "the jobs didn't pay much. I had to do something, fast. Even working two jobs, I was barely making my bills: house payment, health insurance."

She wrote to the U.S. Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C., which referred her to the Salt Lake Chamber's Women's Business Center. There, Nancy Mitchell helped Bumpers write her business plan, which helped her secure the microenterprise loan last fall. Now Bumpers has plenty of her own bills, of course, but she also has a sense of controlling her own destiny.

When Beyond Beautiful opened, Bumpers took to going out to clubs on Saturday night; Sundays she went to church or to the park — but not to drink, worship or play. She goes to those places carrying her cards and fliers, to spread the word about her business.

"We do corn rows for $29, and microbraids for $199 and up," she tells a visitor. That turns the heads of two other customers, who are surprised to hear of prices lower than some other Salt Lake salons.

Bumpers doesn't do hair, though. She hires braiders from Salt Lake Community College's cosmetology school or recruits stylists such as Shera Bright, a transplant from South Carolina.

Twisting a slim crochet hook, Bright weaves wavy extensions into her client's hair, using the crochet-interlock method. She makes it look easy but doesn't attribute her skill to any formal training. After about an hour and a half, she'll stand back and send this woman out with a glorious mane — and welcome two more appointments before Saturday afternoon is over. African-American women, Pacific Islanders, Latinas, whites: Bright can braid them all. Sometimes it takes a few hours; other times it's four or five days.

What is the most popular item in the beauty-supply shop? "Hair," Bumpers replies. She sells human-hair extensions as well as synthetics.

In the salon, "we don't do chemicals. Braids only," she adds. "And we'll give you a break every time you finish a row," if you need it. Bumpers offers packages that include braiding, a manicure, maybe a meal from a neighboring restaurant.

Before she moved to Salt Lake City, "everybody" told Bumpers no African-Americans lived there. "They told me the only black people here were Della Reese and Karl Malone," she says.

Then she arrived and started doing research. She learned the Beehive State is home to about 10,000 black women, 64,000 Hispanic women and 8,750 Pacific Islander women.

"That's 82,000 women of color. If I could get 1 percent of them to spend $10 a month on their hair, that's enough to keep the business going," she says.

Since opening her doors she's also seen male clients, Caucasian clients and biracial teenagers. They call her after hearing her announcements on KRCL-FM's Friday soul music shows; they drive in from Ogden and Midvale.

"After the first Saturday, some of my shelves were bare," she says. Since then she's gotten to know which colors and products her regular clients like, so she makes sure to keep those in stock. "I had no idea it would take off like this."

"All of my money goes back into my inventory," Bumpers adds. "I know I have the capability of making it or breaking it."

Now, a year after moving to Utah, she says she doesn't have much of a social life and has yet to find a place that serves Southern soul food the way she likes it. But rather than grousing about that, she plans to open her own restaurant within the next five years.

During the slower times at Beyond Beautiful, Bumpers works on her novel, "Lily Pads and Mustard Seeds: Leaping Out on Faith." Publishing it, and possibly another book, are also part of her five-year plan.

Bumpers came here because her fiance, Brandon, is originally from Draper. They met in college in Indiana, and when he was offered a position as funeral director at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park & Mortuary, they drove out here on Memorial Day weekend 2002. Someday, they would like to start a business together.


E-mail: durbani@desnews.com