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Last updated: October 01, 2021

Pekela Riley & Michelle O’Connor On Making The List: 100 Most Influential Black Voices In Beauty

Ulta Beauty Pro Team Michelle O'Connor and Pekela Riley on the MUSE 100
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100 Most Influential Black Voices In Beauty: What You Need To Know 

What’s it like to be named to the first MUSE 100 list, Ulta Beauty’s celebration of 100 inspiring Black voices in beauty? Pekela Riley (@pekelariley) and Michelle O’Connor (@michelleoconnorbeauty), two esteemed hair artists, industry leaders, beauty influencers and members of the Ulta Beauty Pro Team, share their thoughts and personal visions of diversity, equity and inclusion forward.


Working individually as leaders, educators and advocates, Pekela and Michelle have elevated texture artistry and dialogue to encourage stylists to embrace the ability to beautifully serve all guests. As part of the Pro Team, their reach and voice extend throughout and beyond the non-stop education offered at 1,250 Salon at Ulta Beauty locations.


“I’ve always sought to have a platform to speak on inclusion and diversity within the industry—not solely as a textured hair artist, but as a credible expert across hair types,” said Michelle.

michelle o'connor ulta beauty muse 100
Michelle O’Connor’s feature on the MUSE 100 website.


“My personal passion has been to address the pain points and drive what I believe is now the most inclusive breakthrough era of restoration of dignities, truth and education within our industry,” Pekela said on Instagram. “Texture is not novelty or new…it’s everything that we truly are.” 


pekela riley ulta beauty MUSE 100
Pekela Riley’s feature on the MUSE 100 website.


“They inspire us, help hold us accountable and shape the professional beauty conversation and experience for our stylists and guests, said Ulta Beauty Sr. VP of Store and Services Operations and Pro Team founder Nick Stenson. “We are thrilled their voices and initiatives are going to be amplified even further, and we celebrate and congratulate Pekela and Michelle for this well-deserved MUSE 100 honor.”


Related: See who made the first Ulta Beauty MUSE 100 list


Q: What does this honor—to be part of the first-ever MUSE 100 in the Hair Raisers category—mean to you?

PEKELA: It’s such an honor to be recognized among so many beauty pioneers and thought leaders I respect. And it’s always meaningful to be a part of platforms that edify Black contribution, especially when so many people and entities knowingly and unknowingly erase them. My first reaction was gratitude. It’s an incredible feeling to be seen in the truest sense.


MICHELLE: My first reaction was shock. When I looked at all the honorees, I was so grateful to be among the caliber of talent that is being recognized. I absolutely love this tribute and the gesture. Ulta Beauty continues to prove that they are leading the diversity and inclusion conversation with action! 


Q: You are in great company—who else from the MUSE 100 are particularly inspiring to you?

MICHELLE: Pekela Riley, of course, with her presence, artistry, and entrepreneurship.  


PEKELA: Celebrity natural hairstylist and beauty speaker Felicia Leatherwood and author, speaker and podcast host Luvvie Ajayi.


Q: Any previous connections or collaborations from the MUSE 100?

PEKELA: It’s pretty cool to see so many people who I’ve personally worked with over the years be honored. I’ve crafted or partnered with at least a quarter of them in some way. It’s proof that I’ve always been surrounded by greatness! That’s a gift in itself.


MICHELLE: I’ve collaborated with celebrity hairstylist and educator Vernon Francois. We were both presenters for a Kerastase event. He is a formidable talent who brings international perspective to the conversation. He’s been quite vocal about promoting love of self and love of textured hair. From the articles he consults on to the celebration of texture on celebrities, there is an ongoing dialogue I respect so much.


Q: It is a very inspiring group. Anyone else you’d especially love to meet or collaborate with, given the chance?

MICHELLE: That’s hard, there are so many phenomenal Black creatives who I admire, but immediately I’d say I’d love to collaborate with fashion hairstylist Lacy Redway.


PEKELA: Aja Robinson, global sales director of Fenty. I’d love to even have lunch with Aja. She has become one of beauty’s leading brands, shaped by her commitment to inclusivity. With her work, she’s creating a new benchmark of diversity for other beauty brands to live up to.


pekela riley and michelle o'connor ulta beauty pro team
Pekela and Michelle behind the scenes at a photo shoot. Instagram via @michelleoconnorbeauty.


Q: What message do you want stylists in the professional beauty community to take away from the MUSE 100 experience?

PEKELA: Find and stay true to your purpose. It’s deeper than hairstyles, it’s about leaving the industry better than we found it.


MICHELLE: Take a look at the faces trying to make a difference. Get to know the professionals from many sectors of the beauty space who have been given this new platform by Ulta Beauty—a brand that’s walking the walk as well as talking the talk! 


Q: What’s next? How will you continue bringing the idea of MUSE to life?

PEKELA: My vision includes deeper ownership, arbitration and fairness within the beauty space for Black creatives. I am going to allocate the MUSE resources and award to further those goals with industry initiatives that nurture that vision.


MICHELLE: I will keep lending my voice where it’s needed, remain visible and say the hard things, in order to inspire continued equity. The $10,000 grant will serve as a catalyst to pursue and grow ventures from seeds that were planted long ago.  

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