Since opening in April, Trap Beauty Bar has quickly grown to become one of Charlotte’s most popular salons, billing itself online as a one-stop shop for waxing, lashes, hair styling, makeup, facials and more. Now a viral video threatens to undo all that.
The video, posted June 24 and laced with profanities, has more than 2.2 million views on TikTok. It appears to show a former employee, Brielle Mcmillon, confronting the shop’s owner, demanding to know why she had been fired the previous day.
In the video’s background, another former employee, who also had been let go, can be heard raising allegations about unpaid wages.
Now, what began as an employment dispute has escalated into a fight with racial overtones and allegations of cultural appropriation – the shop’s owner, Christine Duong, is Filipino; her employees and clientele are mostly Black.
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Even Yelp, the online app that allows customers to post reviews of businesses, has gotten involved, temporarily suspending comments about Trap Beauty Bar.
“While racism has no place on Yelp and we unequivocally reject racism or discrimination in any form, all reviews on Yelp must reflect an actual first-hand consumer experience (even if that means disabling the ability for users to express points of view we might agree with),” Yelp says in message posted to Trap Beauty Bar’s Yelp page.
Duong, who was born in Spring Valley, New York,, said the controversy has damaged her business, and she denies all allegations of cultural appropriation.
Building the brand
Duong, 23, said she moved to Charlotte in May to open Trap Beauty Bar after failing to find affordable space in New York. She checked a number of available storefronts here and settled on her current location, 11855 N. Tryon St.
The shop’s interior is brightly painted – dominated by pink and white – with painted images of young, Black women with flowing hair. Its website describes Duong as a “natural born hustler” and one who “never settles” – a far cry from the “culture vulture” she has been called online.
Critics have noted, in particular, the name of her business and the trap music it plays. Some say she has used Black culture to lure Black clients and to portray the business as Black owned.
In a series of interviews with QCity Metro, Duong denied those allegations.
Duong said she grew up surrounded by Black friends and was immersed in Black culture.
“You can’t be mad that I’m a product of my environment,” she said. “It’s not my fault my parents decided to raise me there.”
Duong used the name “Trap,” she said, to reference “a bunch of females hustling and getting to the money,” a message reinforced on her website’s “About Us” page.
Duong credits the shop’s sudden popularity to her use of video reels on social media. (One Instagram video shows celebrity stylist Jonathan Wright inside the shop.) Clients also helped by posting vlogs to their own social accounts.
Then came the viral video.
“It was going pretty good and then after that day, it went downhill,” she said. “People don’t know me, so they’re gonna judge what they see on social media.”
The drama starts
Duong said the situation “escalated more than it should have.”
She alleged her former employees ambushed her the day of the video instead of coming to her privately.
“When they first came in, the camera was in my face. If a camera is in my face, what am I supposed to say?” she said.
Duong declined to discuss the firings in detail but said the former employees no longer aligned with her plans for the business.
“I know my vision. I want it to go big,” she told QCity Metro. “If I don’t feel like you really wanna go big with me, I feel like it’s okay to part ways. I’m gonna still be rooting for you at the end of the day.”
Duong said the shop has gotten a number of threatening phone calls, with some calling her racist. She said the former employees used race – “a very sensitive topic right now” – to paint the shop in a bad light.
Duong acknowledges that hers was never the public face of Trap Beauty Bar, a charge leveled by some of her critics.
“I don’t use my own picture because I don’t like taking pictures,” she said. “I just had a baby, so I don’t really feel comfortable in my image,”
Tasha, Trap Beauty Bar’s hiring manager, who declined to give her last name, said Duong, like any boss, has had to make tough decisions and has received unfair backlash following the viral video.
“All she wanted to do was just provide an opportunity for ladies to come have a good time and see the culture that she was raised up in,” Tasha said.
Tasha said it was she, not Duong, who was responsible for the firings. She said each terminated employee knows why she was fired – primarily due to constant work-related issues, Tasha said..
“They refused to change, so we made a conclusion at the time that we were just going to let them go,” she said.
Some of the former employees who spoke with QCity Metro said they believe they were fired because of a surprise visit, on June 23, from the state board of cosmetology, which found an unlicensed technician working at Trap Beauty Bar.
The state board confirmed to QCity Metro that Duong was fined $500 for employing the unlicensed worker, who was fined $250.
Kyah Barsey, an aesthetician who was fired, alleges that Duong allowed at least five unlicensed employees to work at Trap Beauty Bar. Only one was still there when the state board examiner came, she said.
Barsey denied that any of the former employees called the state board.
“That’s like snitching on your friend,” she said. “We are all there for the same reason and nobody was going to get in the way of that, especially not each other.”
A state board official confirmed to QCity Metro that the agency was tipped off about unlicensed workers, but the official declined to say who made the call.
Duong acknowledged being fined for having an unlicensed worker but denied having five. She said the state board visit had nothing to do with why employees were fired.
Taylor, a nail tech who was fired from Trap Beauty Bar, said she was “shocked” when she was told that she was fired via text message from the hiring manager. (Taylor asked QCity Metro to withhold her last name for privacy reasons.)
On the day of the state board visit, Taylor said, everything seems fine when she interacted with Duong and Tasha, but she said she felt disrespected by getting fired via text message and not face-to-face.
She alleged that Duong had a history of poor management and was slow to address issues at the shop. A broken air conditioning system, she said, went unfixed for weeks.
Taylor said her customers began complaining about the heat and “bookings got slower and slower.”
Taylor said she asked Duong several times when the air conditioner would get fixed, which she believes played a role in her firing.
“As a boss, you take care of business, have things in order and take pride in your brand,” Taylor said.
Duong denied those claims.
“The AC was broken for like one week, and it’s because my AC guy, he needed to order the part,” she said.
Brielle Mcmillion, the former employee heard yelling in the viral video, said she decided to post the clip on social media to expose the issues that she dealt with at Trap Beauty Bar. She said after the video ended, police were called to the shop to deescalate the situation.
Mcmillion said money was also an issue. She alleged that Duong, to avoid payroll taxes, had technicians work as independent contractors.
She also alleged that Duong wanted employees to charge their customers extra to use online payment apps like Cashapp, Zelle or Apple Pay.
“It was just little stuff like that when people noticed she was trying to make money but really trying to take more of our money,” Mcmillion said.
Duong denied that she told employees to charge customers extra for online payments but encouraged them to use those methods because their credit card machine charged a processing fee.
She said she never forced employees to become independent contractors but gave them the option to be either W-2 employees with 50-50 compensation or independent contractors with a 60-40 split, based on how consistent each employee felt their clientele was.
“This is a commission-based salon,” Duong said. “How much money you make is how many clients you take.”
What happens now
Mcmillion, Barsey and Taylor have each moved on to other salons.
Duong said that as a first-time business owner, she made the mistake of not doing thorough background checks.
“I never had experience with hiring people, and I never had experience with firing people. So I feel like it’s a very big learning experience,” she said.
One former customer, Timasia Davison, said she doesn’t plan to revisit the shop after checking out the recent spate of bad reviews. But another customer, Aura Mata, said “every story has two sides.”
Mata called Duong a “great business woman” who always treated her with respect.
Three days ago, a new video went up on Trap Beauty Bar’s Instagram account, this time featuring Duong herself, who “for the first & last time,’ addresses some of the allegations leveled against her and the shop – including allegations of cultural appropriation.
As of July 18, the video had been viewed more than 8,400 times.