My Week in London with the Hob Academy Team

So, going into 2015 I’m looking at my career. I have had so many incredible opportunities and met/seen so many awesome stylists that, frankly, it’s hard to understand. Because at the end of the day I’m still just an OK hairdresser with loads of passion and a bit of potential.  I’m thinking this is the time where everything gets quiet for me and I just start working really hard so that one day, maybe I can be really awesome.

So what next?

All of my previous European training and quite a bit of my research into the dawn of haircutting pointed me towards London. I set my sights on the Hob Academy because of a recommendation from someone I admire greatly and then everything else just seemed to fall into place, as the name of the salon and their creative director, Akin Konizi, kept popping up all over the hair world’s social media.  The team boasts multiple International Trend Vision winners as well as British Hairdresser of the Year winners and many other accomplishments.

I learned a great deal on this trip, but the most important thing I learned is that after four years, six countries and hundreds of heads of hair, I think I am just beginning to understand what it will take for me to become a great hairdresser.

  
The Hob Academy is nestled near Camden Lock in a bustling, creative neighborhood, but also quite accessible to the rest of London. The interior of the salon is gorgeous and also quite minimalistic, in a way that suggests that it really is all about the hair. My first day was quite intimidating, made worse by jet lag and an unreasonable and unexplainable embarassment of my accent. But I was slotted for two days of Advanced Creative cutting and coloring and two days of Men’s Cutting and despite being a bit nervous, I was very excited to learn from some of the very best in the industry.

Now although we were focusing on Advanced Cutting, this was a great opportunity to work on my basics. I easily fall into a very loose style of cutting, which I partially attribute to my initial training…. which was me in the bathroom with old barber shears, just messing around until the end result was good (enough). Seeing the crispness of all of their lines and sections was inspiring to me, and though I always see it in classes, it meant more to me this time because I am so familiar with their work, so I know they aren’t just saying what they were told to say as educators… I know they live and breath clean part lines and perfected shapes.  And in the back of my mind I keep thinking, well, if that’s what it takes to get that result, then I suppose there’s something to it.

I received a lot of little tips to get my tension more consistent and to simply hold a direct the hair better. A lot of what I learned is in the muscles of my hands, so it is difficult to explain, but I feel like I can hold hair better now.

One of the coolest features of the class was that we had different educators every day, all of which had their own style, but they were also quite cohesive and consistent. On our second day, we were lucky enough to have Akin Konizi himself for the entire morning. His passion and knowledge of the craft was not surprising, but still quite astounding.  Darren Bain, our main teacher, had a very relaxing style of teaching, made better by his dry, meandering humor.  My other instructors included Peter Burkill, Jake Unger, Sean Nolan and Nestor Sanchez (who just happened to win International Trend Vision last year).  I was lucky to get time with each of them, and although they each had quite a different style, they also were very consistent in their approach.

Our two days of Men’s Cutting was more relaxing to me. Out of everything in the world of hair, men’s cuts are one of the most comforting to me. But don’t worry, I certainly got out of my comfort zone on the second day, when I got to do a flat top on ethnic hair. Men’s cutting is simple, but they went over many different length families and textures and watching their various sectionings really helped me out. It was also reassuring to see that a lot of their methods were similar to my own.

Below are just a few pictures including Akin in action, me with Darren and Nestor, my models from the week and Darren polishing a men’s cut.

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Before Hair: The Makings of a Texture Engineer

Before hair, I can’t think of any one thing I have ever been so focused on.  Well, with one exception.  The summer after my sophomore year of college I was awarded a Brackenridge grant from the University of Pittsburgh to create my own art installation.  So basically, I was a professional artist for three months.  I often say that this project was the most fulfilling of my life, but the mental and physical fatigue is not something to be looked over.  By the end of that summer, I was certain, beyond doubt, that I wanted to be a hair stylist.  I knew I wanted to do something visual and creative, but that I wasn’t strong enough for anything that involved long hours being alone with my art.  Richard would pick me up at the studio every day after 8-10 hour shifts and I would not want to leave, despite being hungry and dirty and barely being able to string a sentence together.  It’s hard to explain, because I loved it, I really did, it just couldn’t have been sustainable.  I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing the intricate bark textures I’d been creating all day (like when you play Tetris too much).

I keep so busy with hair that sometimes I stop seeing new things.  That’s when I look back to my other loves for inspiration.  Sculpture.  Found art.  Poetry.  Short fiction.  Music.  I wanted to share some of my old pieces from that summer.  Mainly made from duct tape, newspaper and stuff from the hardware store.  It was a sexual assault advocacy piece intertwining my love for writing, shapes and textures.  It took about 2 1/2 months to complete and then showed for a couple weeks at the William Pitt Union on campus.  Enjoy!


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Let’s Talk About Balance

A popular topic around beauty blogs and magazines is that of face shapes and determining which cuts/makeup/etc.etc.etc. is right for you.  Now, I am a little bit untraditional.  I didn’t grow up feeling like I had to look more Caucasian or like Barbie.  I felt no pressure to wear makeup or even really to style my hair, although trying to keep my skin healthy and have a good cut was important to me.  I never remember people telling me that I needed to look a particular way.

Modern style isn’t about looking a uniform way.  It isn’t about everyone having one haircut, or one of five haircuts.  People are even willing to embrace their natural texture.  And yet, sometimes the verbiage I hear when discussing face shapes in the salon is very outdated.

First off, I don’t believe in using hair to conceal.  I believe in using hair to balance.  It sounds like a meaningless linguistic difference, but really I think it denotes an important shift in mindset.  If we believe our faces behold some defect, and our mission is to disguise ourselves, that puts a limit on the joy you can get from your haircut because you feel like, “Well, I really want ______, but because of _____ I have to have _____ instead.”  Even if someone using this formulation does like their haircut, they probably would like it more if they didn’t feel like it was one of their only choices.  Besides, sometimes when the only goal is to conceal, it backfires and just points more attention towards whatever is being hidden.  The most exaggerated version of this is the extreme combover.

When we talk about balance it is all about creating harmony with the client.  And it isn’t just about face shape.  It is about individual facial features, overall body shape, size, overall style and personality.  It’s about drawing attention to the positives and working with overall (objective) shapes in order to create something visually appealing.  It isn’t about oval being good and square being bad it is about creating a cut that is holistic, that embraces the client’s individuality.  Some women look darn good with a strong jawline and whether the woman wants a strong shape or a soft shape depends more on where she is in her career and with her life than on something being “right.”  Sometimes obsessing about face shape will cause you to miss a golden opportunity in highlighting gorgeous eyes.  And you can give the perfect cut to create an illusion of slightly more height on a petite woman, but if it doesn’t fit her personality, what is the point?

It’s not about one style looking bad, it is about another looking better.

I believe that cuts and color services should be flattering, but I don’t believe in black and white rules.  I don’t believe in approaching a service with a list of things I can’t do.  I believe that as a hairstylist, my vision for my client should be both attentive to their overall aesthetic and sensitive to who they are as person and where they are in their life.  I believe that part of my job is to instill pride and comfort in one’s own body, in one’s own identity.

My Most Memorable Haircuts I

Yesterday I asked my Facebook friends about their most memorable haircuts, either given or received, and I heard back a lot of beautiful, inspiring stories. Big hearts and so much passion. Because I tend to be long winded I thought I would jot down my own response here rather than on my own status.

I follow my gut, and a lot of times it leads me to strange places that I never would’ve imagined. A prime example is probably my most memorable haircut to date, because it was so odd and made me think a lot about hair in the populations that don’t make it to the salon regularly.

A Palestinian businessman came into the salon once at the end of my shift and I stayed to cut his hair. He had tight curls and a thick accent (I think he understood me quite well, but I had some difficulty understanding certain words from him) and just wanted his hair cut in some common American style. For men, especially curly hair, I can’t say there is one style that is suited for everyone, and while in the US a businessman with curly hair would probably cut his hair quite short, but I hate getting rid of the curl if it isn’t socially mandated.

We talked a lot about Palestine and where he currently was living, Qatar, and all the sorts of ethnic food we both like and the places we have both traveled to. He talked about how in the Middle East a man would never get his hair cut by a woman. He talked about his wife back home and what a wonderful mother she was and about his children… Which brought me to why he was in Pittsburgh. One of his sons was very ill, an illness I did not fully understand, but had multiple organs failing. They had flown 16 hours with a nurse and doctor to get to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. His wife was home with the rest of the children and pregnant with another.

At the end of his haircut he asked me if I could cut his son’s hair. He gave me the hospital phone number and I said I could see what I could do. Long story short, a few days later, shortly before he was due to fly back to a hospital in the Middle East, I went to the Children’s Hospital and the man game down to the lobby to check me into the floor his son was on. When I got in I was a little shocked to see the five year old with a bandage wrapped completely around his abdomen. He could not talk. The father said he had been quite a talker before the illness. But he was a beautiful child… there’s just something incredible about a kid with enormous brown eyes and thick, black lashes. Gorgeous skin and rich brown hair that brushed his shoulders in the back and obscured his eyes in the front. He was watching Cars dubbed over in Arabic and rocking back and forth during the entire haircut. I reached over the bars of his bed and his father held his head still so I could cut his hair.

Kid’s cuts can be difficult, especially if the kid is strong and busy bodied like this boy. The cut was not perfect but it didn’t need to be. The fact is, five inches off and a shape cut in and the difference was remarkable. He was a beautiful boy before but after the haircut he was beginning to look healthy again. To see him play without needing to swat hair out of his face and to look at those big brown eyes without a curtain of hair in the way… It was a very profound moment for me.

Connect 2013 Part I: Reconnecting with Myself Circa 2007

I spent last week in Las Vegas training with Sebastian Professional at an event called Connect (which included Wella, Nioxin and Clairol). I have written a great deal since Connect, so expect more posts to come, some will be hair related but mostly this was a week of finding myself more as a person and an artist. The energy of Connect and all the fabulous hairdressers attending, seemed to reawaken someone who I once was. It was a similar feeling to my early college years, where art ruled my life and haircuts were done in hallways and bathrooms with my friends wearing ripped up garbage bags as capes. It was electric. It was just the regression I needed, because it is so easy to lose yourself in the day to day and so hard to be on your A game if you aren’t being completely true to yourself, at least for me.

In college you could mostly find me holed up in a corner making crude sculptures or writing on my windows. Most people knew me like this:

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Or this:

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Above I am explicating trash/treasure from a scummy park with the intention of making found art. I remember every RA in the dorm telling me that the nasty shopping cart I hauled out of a hillside was not allowed in, and yet it got to my room and stayed there. For whatever reason people have always just let me get away with things, little and big. I guess because I am small, quiet and have a nice smile? I don’t know.

It is interesting to look at my old work and see how I have always been most obsessed with texture.

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When working on this tree project I could not close my eyes without seeing bark patterns. I nearly went crazy, working 8+ hour days creating the texture out of newspaper and duct tape.

It is so strange, how coming together with the Sebastian team didn’t just inspire me to do hair, it had me writing on napkins again, re-reading my favorite poems, yearning for international travel and reminiscing over the different places my art has taken me in the past.

One of the things I love about Sebastian is that it has a strong culture, a strong identity, and the hair styles emanate from that. Over the course of the last few months I have been re-immersing myself in all of the things I used to enjoy, making time for concerts and writing and the occasional painting. It is invigorating and truly just what I needed. Starting out as a hair stylist I always felt the need to fit a certain mold, and I struggled and found myself generally unhappy. The Sebastian culture, however, is one I feel completely welcome within and I feel the importance of being in tune with the artist I am.

Let’s Talk About Attitude and Getting Paid (More)

Hello lovely readers! Today’s post is especially for the hairdressers, but some of this will also be helpful to the makeup artists, estheticians, and even the freelance photographers, models, wardrobe stylists, etc. Particularly those new in the industry.

Let’s talk about money. We all need it to live, and yet, amongst creative people there is a tendency to be ashamed of this fact. Sometimes I see an internal struggle within them, like it is immoral to charge what they feel on another level is the right amount to charge. I don’t claim to not have these feelings. But I recognize them and understand that if I say, “That will be $115 today,” like I am embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid, people will obviously feed off that energy and feel like it is too much. You can’t talk about money with an apologetic tone or else people feel like you might not be worth it. Which is never the feeling you want people to have. If you say, “That will be $150 today,” in a decisive, confident tone, people will generally be fine. Sure, there are some cheap clients out there who always feel like they are getting slighted, but you can’t treat everyone like that, or people who weren’t otherwise cheap and distrustful might start to act that way.

I am not saying overcharge. I am just saying, don’t undercut yourself or the other professionals around you, as that devalues the hard work we put into this industry.

My mother lives in a small coastal town in Oregon and the market for cutting hair is quite different. She pays $15 including tip for her haircut for a very experienced hairdresser with a substantial clientele. There is not reason for her not to raise her haircut from $2 every couple of years. The only reasons I can think of are fear of losing clients or making them upset or being doubtful that it would make a big difference. Who is really going to be that upset over $2? Not many people, and some who grumble will still come back anyway. You might love a small handful, but you would probably still be making more money and working less. Also, people will tip more.

Above all, people want to see confidence in their hairdresser. As I said before, I am still new at all this and this does not come easy, but it has always been important to me to examine the most successful people I meet and see what makes them different.

As beauty professionals we need to have pride for our work and truly believe it is worth what we are asking. If we don’t believe that to be the case, we need to find what is missing and add it into our services. If it means more education, get more education. If it means a more thorough consultation, spend more time! Even go Vidal Sassoon style and take voice lessons if you think that will make a better, more luxurious experience for the client.

Now, my last point is one very important to me! It is related to not speaking with an apologetic tone about money. Don’t talk to clients about your money problems! Never, never, never! On some clients it will make them tip better or feel less bad about paying more, but you never want the client to feel like you are unreliable, like your mind is on other things than their hair, that they are paying because you need it not because the service is worth it. Clients will feel that their hair doesn’t look as good, even if that is not remotely true! They will look for excuses to go to someone else. They will feel like a burden. And most importantly, they will not feel recharged!

People don’t want to give money to someone who needs it. They want to give it to someone who deserves it. They are paying for experiences and for compliments.

Why Short(er) Hair Actually is More Flattering on a Lot of People

So, a lot of the celebrities this year have inspired women to consider going shorter with their hair. Yet, most women in my chair just sigh and say, “If I had the perfect oval face shape,” or “If I lost twenty pounds,” and on and on. The bottom line is that women are afraid of no longer looking feminine because in other ways they don’t feel like they match up to the feminine ideal.

I am an advocate of shorter hair on women so I am just thrilled about Karlie Kloss, Anne Hathaway and other celebrity stunners that have gone significantly shorter. In the case that having a feminine ideal is unavoidable, which it seems to be for most of our society, at least these ladies are rounding out that image, because let’s face it, most of us can’t get that Victoria Secret hair. Even most of the Angels can’t without the help of extensions and celebrity stylists working magic.

One thing that just kills me as a hairdresser is to see women hanging on to hair way past their shoulder blades when it is only five strands at the bottom, damaged to hell and back and laying limp. I don’t let anyone leave my chair like this, but I see it all the time in public. No one could possibly take a step back and think, “This hair cut is extremely flattering on me.”

This year, the trends are shoulders and above. Of course, really long hair is always in when it is gorgeous long hair, but I try to get the average client to clavicle length if their locks are less than ephemeral. The reason for this is because it frames the face and décolleté better and you have more freedom with layers. It is easier to get a balanced shape and for most clients they are able to do more with the styling.

Bobs (anything between the shoulder and the jawline) are wonderful on so many more women than realize it. They can add so much body to limp hair and they are also wonderful because they grow out well and you can change them in a lot of subtle ways without having long grow out phases. Longer bobs can still be styled in most of the same ways you can style longer hair, such as curling and things like that. You can’t do as much with updos, but I don’t really understand why people want to punish themselves day to day so that they can have an updo once every three years. It seems like it might have to do with fairy tale fantasies? I don’t know. All I know is, I would rather look fabulous every day than a couple times per decade.

A lot of women are insistent that they could never do anything above the jawline but I am here to tell you that you are probably wrong. If there are any issues with the cheek/jaw area long hair my be making the issue worse by visually dragging it down. Shorter hair can’t hide anything but it can de-emphasize areas by drawing attention upwards, lifting, and bringing focus to the eyes. That is truly what I love most about short hairstyles. They are always customized to really compliment a face and draw attention to the eyes, which is almost always the most unique and expressive part of a woman.

A lot of women look incredible with long hair. Some could with a lot of styling, but never style it (and who can blame them?). I love seeing long braids and cascading waves, but when i see people just letting hair hang and collect damage, my spine aches. Some just probably weren’t meant to have repunzel hair. And that is ok! I just hate to hear people say they can’t do something and blame their bones, their weight, society or anything else! You can do what you want and look spectacular and I am just here to help.

Dressing for New Clients

I always try to dress professional, yet artsy and expressive, when going into work. But some days, when I know I have a new client in my book that will be difficult to impress (such can be gathered by how they interact with the receptionist), it is especially difficult to hit the right note.

To dress mature, yet youthful.
To wear clothes that fit without looking too thin.
To be trendy, yet approachable.
To have enough visual interest to intrigue the client without giving them the need to say, “it must look very conservative!” over and over again. (The end result tends to be too conservative for their taste.)
To show the side of myself that they want to see.
To be cool, yet timeless. To be progressive but not too far ahead.

My goal is always to appear 27.

What’s Next Awards Part II

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Here is a backstage photo of my model and me

The day of the show I began working on my model shortly before 9AM. I was pacing like a mad woman… going into the weekend I was just proud of getting to the finals and meeting lots of interesting people (and potential role models), but by competition day I was fired up with one singular vision, to win the spread in American Salon.

Starting off, I was hesitant about my design, since it was impressive in more subtle, technical ways and I wasn’t sure how it would read from afar. I knew the judges would spend time up close and I took the gamble that they wouldn’t downgrade me just because the look wasn’t quite as “runway” as all the others. My piece was extremely meticulous and I am the sort of person who uses every minute. I could’ve prepped in two hours or in ten hours and since we had ten hours I spent every minute possible really perfecting every detail. Seven or eight hours in I started feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with my piece. Still, I worked continually until the show began.

It was pretty incredible to see the show. It was very inspiring to see top artists from Sebastian’s Design Team do looks inspired by the same cities we were creating looks for (Berlin, Shanghai, São Paulo, and San Francisco). At the end of it all, I was in disbelief when Carole announced me the winner of the New Talent category. I stumbled up to the front of the stage, and was greeted by hugs and kisses from the Sebastian team. Before I had a chance to let the moment sink in there was confetti and a procession off stage and then off to the black carpet and the inspiration wall to take lots and lots of pictures.

Here I am with the judges and Daniel Lozada, the Professional category winner!

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Chit-chat in the Hair Salon

One of the beauties of working in hair is that almost everyone in our modern American society goes to someone to get their hair done. There are countless options in terms of type of salon and varying price points, even different charities and organizations that provide free haircuts to those in dire need. I became a hair dresser because I am interested in all kinds of people and the different relationships people have with their hair at different times in their life and throughout different cross sections of society. Recently I stumbled on a few different blogs where people cite reasons they don’t like to get their hair cut. One of the big ones, which I will address today, is that some people seem to hate talking to hair stylists. As a hairdresser with a lot to say, this makes me very sad. Making lists always cheers me up.

Reasons People Don’t Want to Talk to their Hair Stylist

They are introverted or just don’t care for talking. I can certainly relate to this one. I was never much of a talker with my stylist, mostly because I found the craft so interesting that I enjoyed watching the cut. But I was never made to feel uncomfortable with my quiet nature and I still enjoyed my hairdresser. Salons are very welcoming and open environments and I would encourage all you shy people out there to allow yourself to open up. No one is forcing you, but it can be kind of fun. And if you can’t connect with your hairdresser–you should at least be able to talk openly about hair if nothing else–maybe it is time to find a new one.

They assume they won’t have anything in common with someone who cuts hair. This is probably the point that makes me the saddest. I often wish people could come from a place of assuming similarities instead of differences. Hairdressers are not all the same and it isn’t fair to go into a salon and assume that you will have a bad experience. Really, this goes for numerous other situations… Condescension not only offends others but also makes you miss out on what could be a good experience. Look at your hairdresser as an artist and an entrepreneur, not as someone who didn’t need a four year degree. I admit there are some real duds out there (and a higher percent of duds if you are going somewhere absurdly inexpensive), but some of the brightest and most ambitious people I know are hair stylists.

They are self-conscious or insecure about their appearance. I actually think this is one of the biggest issues, and often goes hand in hand with the issue above. Some people think they are not the sort of person who should be in a salon, which leads to condescension because people conclude that the salon is a shallow and insubstantial place. They see themselves in the mirror, dripping wet and parted in strange places or with their hair smeared in color and up like a troll doll, and they hideous. Even just the act of looking in the mirror for long periods of time is distressing to some. Honestly, I am not the type to look in the mirror much and I get how it can be freaky, but that’s all the more reason to talk to your hairdresser! We are there to make you feel beautiful, or at the very least, comfortable in your own hair! For more on this sentiment read my post about how the beauty industry is for everyone.

They are in a hurry or otherwise stressed out. When people are on their way somewhere or their mind is elsewhere they feel like having a light, pleasant conversation will somehow make all of their problems worse. Most hairdressers can still cut quite efficiently when talking, as long as it isn’t something they are overly enthusiastic about, and honestly, usually just chilling out for fifteen minutes will only help a stressful situation.

They feel like if they don’t pay close attention the hairdresser will make a mistake. Staring at us with the death glare doesn’t really help. Once again, we are trained to talk and cut.