CAMDEN — Following her dreams, not only has Ashli Fowler been able to open her own business (Mane + Company), but she has found herself in a position to give back.

Fowler, who is from Washington, has always wanted to do hair. However, becoming a mother at a young age, she put pursuing that profession aside.

In 2019, when her youngest began kindergarten, she had the opportunity to finally pursue her dream and enrolled in the Aveda Institute of Augusta.

During the COVID-19 pandemic however, she found herself in a position of needing to make a sacrifice on the journey to finishing her schooling. As a mother of four, Fowler was faced with what many parents had to juggle during the early stages of the pandemic, remote classes.

With three children using Zoom for their schooling and one having special needs, which required physical and occupational therapies on Zoom, adding in her own schooling online was too much. She took a leave of absence from Aveda.

Fowler said it was stressful and she did not want to take the leave for more than a few days out of a fear of never going back.

“The people, both students and staff, that I’d met there are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” she said.

She added it was all of them who made it easy for her to go back when the time came. She said they were supportive of her and saw something in her that she did not even see in herself.

“Never in my life have I started and finished something. I need to do this. Even if I never touch a strand of hair in my life, I need to finish it,” she said.

She added that she needed to know what she was capable of.

After finishing school, Fowler first worked as a commissioned stylist, then as a booth renter at Salty Waves Salon in Rockland.

Ashli Fowler, owner of Mane + Co. in Camden. Photo by Holly Vanorse Spicer

“The idea was to open a kind of Salon Suites in Rockland,” she said.

She found a space and started setting to work opening up, leaving Salty Waves.

Then, she found out the building she was going to use was not to code for the plumbing.

“I had already left my salon, so I was left scrambling,” she said.

Luck was on her side, however. Fowler was able to find a booth rental at Creative Images in Thomaston.

While working at Creative Images, she found a space in Camden, but it was, she felt, almost out of her budget.

In a conversation with a friend, Brittany Fogg, who was in school to become an esthetician, the Camden space came up. After Fogg expressed an interest in going into the space with her, Fowler inquired to see if it was still available.

Once she had it secured, she set to work behind the scenes after hours getting the space, which would be called Mane + Company, up and running.

Fowler worked in the space for 10 weeks solo while she waited for Fogg to finish her esthetician’s schooling. Once Fogg joined her, Fowler’s sister, Rachael Pease, came on board as a nail tech.

Brittaney Williams, a client of Fowler’s, and also a stylist at an area salon joined the trio in the space, taking the second stylist’s chair.

Now, with a full service salon, Fowler has plans to continue growing.

I think we’ve almost outgrown this space already, we’re looking for a new space,” she said.

Feeling that Camden is what has helped them grow, she wants to stay in the Camden area.

Camden has pretty much grown us. I don’t think I could have handpicked a better location. Staying in this area is super important,” she added.

In August, Fowler held a “back to school” event at the salon. She said the idea came to her when thinking about how her 11-year-old daughter enjoys coming into the salon and having her hair and nails done.

She began to think about ways they could incorporate that, while also using it as a building tool for the business and get people in the doors, especially since they do not have strong visibility from the road.

“We do sit back from the road a little bit,” she said of the location.

“We could get people in the door, have a super fun event, while also giving back to an organization that is close to my heart,” she said.

During the “back to school” event, Fowler said mothers were asking when their event was. From there bloomed an event held in September just for moms.

Going forward, she said she plans to hold events monthly that will help them grow, as well as give back to the community.

“It’s super important to me,” she said.

Fowler and a client at Mane + Co. Photo by Holly Vanorse Spicer

One of the ways Fowler wants to give back is by supporting New Hope Midcoast, based in Rockland. She said that it is an organization that she holds close, and that helped her get through a difficult period of her life.

When Fowler began her hairstylist schooling, she said she left an abusive relationship. In leaving that relationship, she left behind a home.

“During the first five months of school, I was homeless with my three kids, living with a friend,” she said.

New Hope helped her secure housing, she added.

“It has always been this idea of mine that if I’m ever successful, that I would give back to New Hope,” she said.

In addition to raising donations through events, Fowler also plans to donate gift cards each month for services to New Hope. The goal is to help those going to job or housing interviews, or to just help someone feel good about themselves.

During the month of November, Fowler said the salon is going to provide a turkey and encourage clients to bring in sides to donate in exchange for a discount to their scheduled service.

“I want to create a community of people, not just me, or us, that gets involved,” she said.

“I feel like I’ve been at almost every point in life, high, and low,” she added.

“Being a teen mom at 16, an abusive relationship, divorce, I was a teen mother, homelessness, and all this stuff, to now at this point where I have the means to give back,” she said.

She said that she is thankful, adding that she did not obtain all that she has now by herself, but with the support of the community around her.

“My mom always says to me, be humble and remember where you came from, and I don’t want to lose sight of that,” she said.

Fowler’s next steps involve her oldest daughter, Hannah.

“When she was 15 or 16 she said it would be so cool if we went to hair school and did hair together,” she said.

Fowler added that Hannah made a lot of sacrifices while she attended Aveda.

“She got the kids on and off the bus and sometimes made them dinner. She left the soccer team so that she could be home with them,” she said.

Now that she is licensed, once she has worked for a few years, Fowler said she will be able to take on Hannah as an apprentice.

“She won’t have to go to school, and she can make money without accruing a $25,000 student loan bill,” Fowler explained.

“It’s my way of saying thank you to her,” she added.

The road to get to achieve her goals, and help others may have been rough, but the payoff for Fowler has been fruitful.

Mane + Company took first place in the New Business Category, and second place for Salon in the Knox County Best of the Best. Fowler herself nabbed the Best Beautician, with Pease taking the best Nail Tech, and Fogg the best Esthetician.

“I walk in here sometimes and wonder how did this happen? It doesn’t feel like this is mine, or ours. I’m grateful, and I’m just amazed at how everything lined up the way it’s supposed to be,” Fowler said.

She added that it solidifies that this is where she is meant to be.