Starting with the opening of Evergreen Beauty College in Lynnwood 25 years ago, you could say the Trieu family has strong roots in the cosmetology business.
The cosmetology school, which Mama Thi and Hoa Trieu started on 196th Street in Lynnwood in 1996, eventually relocated to Everett. Since that time, they have expanded to six locations in Washington state, including their newest school in Bellingham. Mama Thi said she named her school “Evergreen” to represent the ability to always grow.
With students driving nearly two hours each way to attend the Everett school from Whatcom County, opening a beauty school in Bellingham has always been a dream for the Trieu family, said College President Joe Trieu, a 2003 Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate.
“I remember when I used to work at the front desk. I would see the carpool of students that drive from Bellingham and Lynden clock in the morning with smiles on their faces,” Trieu said.
It is no surprise that Joe Trieu, who competed on the school’s wrestling and tennis teams, ended up in the beauty business. He grew up mopping floors at the beauty school, taking on a more active role when he was 22. During that time, he said he has come to appreciate many things about the business, like hearing the stories from his students who worked to better themselves.
“I was humbled by the stories I would hear for the love of my mom and dad,” he said. “It really made me appreciate the incredible parents I took for granted.”
Mama Thi — who lives in Edmonds — no longer runs the business’ day-to-day operations but managing the expanding school is still a family affair for the Trieu family. Her husband, Hoa, died in 2007.
Now, the family’s eldest son, Frank Trieu, serves as vice president of business development; Paul, the second eldest, acts as director of information technology and facilities; and Theresa, the eldest daughter, is the vice president of finance. As president, Joe oversees the operation of all six locations.
“The family business has forced us to go deeper and learn how to work with different personality types more effectively because you don’t just fire or quit on your siblings,” he said. “This has really humbled us and made us much more likeable human beings. I love how we have accomplished more because of each other and rise together so there is no jealousy between the siblings.”
The seed of an idea to open a sixth school in Bellingham school came during an American Association of Cosmetology School conference in Arizona. The owner of the then-Bellingham Beauty School approached the Trieu family, explaining he was looking to retire and asking if they would like to purchase the business. However, the timing wasn’t right. The Trieus had just opened a location in Bellevue and didn’t feel that they had the experience or resources. “We needed the right teachers to make this work,” Frank Trieu said. “That is the secret. We had some great graduates that expressed they would want to teach someday, but that day wasn’t now.”
Near the end of 2020, Bellingham Technical College announced that it would be closing its cosmetology program in the summer of 2021. As a result, Whatcom County students who wanted to join the beauty industry wouldn’t have an accredited option.
After launching an exploration effort, the Trieu family made the decision to expand to Bellingham. The new school is currently under construction and will be located in the city’s historic Elks Club building (also known as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks). It is set to open in October.
“I always wished we could open a school in Bellingham, but as a refugee from Vietnam with limited English, I felt I was already over my head with one school, how could I even imagine to have two schools so far away?” said Evergreen Beauty School founder Thi Trieu. “The students that attended came to us from hours away up north…I loved them dearly. They were committed, kind, with great vision and I felt a great responsibility that trust they would put into my little hands; I needed to give my best.”
According to Joe Trieu, the school’s move to Bellingham has been complicated but a long time coming. For years, employees suggested that the school expand to the area and Trieu said there was some talk of doing so but nothing came from it. When Bellingham Technical College announced it would be closing its cosmetology program, Trieu said it was time.
“It was like brushing off some old plans and starting that process again,” he said.
Though the pandemic has been a challenge, Trieu said they were able to weather it relatively unscathed when switching to teaching classes online last March. According to Trieu, the business did not have to lay off any of its employees.
“That was just a commitment we made to our staff,” he said.
To learn more about Evergreen Beauty College, visit the school’s website.
— By Cody Sexton