Over the years, much has changed in the way I approach and execute the cutting of hair. Like many hairdressers I started off with the idea that creativity was paramount and intended it to play a large and vital role in it all. Inexperienced hairdressing tends to think like this as though the idea of a haircut is a foscillised two dementional art project, a static image. Of late, I have been working to redefine what my clients and I think about when coming in for a haircut. Instead of the idea of a haircut as an absolute, I've been getting clients to think in terms of fluidity. There is an imperfect nature to hair in that it is always changing. With the various physiological inputs and other internal and external forces, hair is in a constant state of flux. This certainty has shaped the way in which I work and contributes greatly to a type of design which positively supports those who align with this philosophy.
With the rapid approach of 10 years in my studio above Wabi Sabi, I have again reflected on the translation of the restaurants name:
An intuitive way of living that emphasises finding beauty in imperfection, and accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay.
Perhaps this was an unavaoidable eventuality of my time here, but I'm finding it quite fitting that my work has evolved to this point. Of late I've been reforming and verbalising my stance on what it is that my studio represents and aims to deliver. It is an answer and deliberate opposition to the accepted norms of what hairdressing is and conventional hair salons strive to be. To that point, I desire to have my clients think and relate to their hair in a manner which is more fluid. Through this is the opportunity to be kinder to ourselves and accepting that our true beauty and potential comes from somewhere other than atop our heads.
It's quickly becoming that time of year once again when schedules tighten and the ability to plan ahead is often rewarded. From the first blossoms till the last festive decorations are taken down and stored away, bookings will steadily become more scarce. In fact, each year I book out sooner and sooner. That said, in those final weeks, there's always cancellations as clients attempt to juggle needs and obligations. Keep in mind I do not contact clients in regards to cancellations or openings, the system is there to minimise admin and maximise efficiency.
While I will not be heading overseas in November as has become almost ritual, there will be a week early in the month where I will be stepping away from the chair in an attempt to rejuvenate for that final push. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I do not take on more clients over the holiday period. There are 25 spots available each week whether mid December or mid July. This number has been carefully calculated to ensure an enduring, sustainable practice where each and every client from 1st through 25th receives the same level of focus, attention, and detail.
Since the decision to no longer offer colouring services I'm regularly asked for referrals from clients. This can be a challenging request because if there's one area of hairdressing where things can easily result in disappointment, it's with the application of chemicals. Therefore, I do not offer a general referral. That said, I'm always happy to discuss a clients colour needs when I see them. If there is a clear situation where I can offer assistance in regard to a specific colourist or where to potentially find one, I will absolutely oblige. Even then, it's largely difficult to unequivocally recommend an individual or salon as one can never truly be sure of a colourists motivation or intentions, and if they are aligned with a clients best interests. Therein lies the trouble as many colourists operate from a place of creativity first and are less concerned about sustainability or suitability.
As to why I stopped offering colouring, the reasons are many. First there's the chemicals, and my desire to no longer breathe or engage with them. Also, multiple hour bookings in a small one-on-one studio are particularly challenging to manage. What it really was about though the realisation that by trying to do it all, I was not truly excelling at anything. Hair colouring and cutting at their highest levels are very different skill sets, and anyone who thinks they can equally excel at both are kidding themselves. Sure, one can become rather proficient at both services for a specific type of client or hair type, but for anything outside of that narrow scope, a specialist is always going to be the better option.
In the end, I will support my clients in whatever choice they make for themselves and their hair. If they want to colour, I'll advise them on smart sustainable practices and possible shade selection. If they don't colour or are wanting to phase it out completely, I'll work with them to ensure their decision serves them in the best possible way. Ultimately, I just try to use my experience to provided clients with as much information as possible so that they can have the opportunity to make a well informed decision about what is best for their needs.
Occasionally I'm asked about the Curly Girl method or Deva Curl and my thoughts about it all. Before getting too far into things let me make the following clear. I do think ladies with curly or wavy hair should absolutely investigate them both. There's likely to be something in there which could potentially help someone who hasn't yet discovered how to manage their hair texture. That said, I absolutely don't ardently follow or insist on either method. Some of what is stated is simply incorrect and too absolutist. For certain ladies though, the information will be a revelation and its principals adhered to with great religious fervor. For others however, the methods are unrealistic and assumes everyone desires a similar aesthetic. Therein lies my issue with it all, and any hairdressers absolute unconditional adherence to its practices.
My stance has always been to educate clients on various types of practices which could or may help their situation, and then allow them to decide for themselves which is the best fit. Insisting that every client practice the same ritual is misguided, as is selling them on a specific product which is "correct" for their hair. Unfortunately, the method many curly hairdressers use in salon is aligned with that philosophy. They get stuck on being a "hairdresser" and forget that clients lack our skills and likely have different preferences at home. Consequently, their salon results are repetitively over-styled and result in that ridiculously cliched situation: the hair never looks the same as when they left. To be fair, this is largely due to a massively underwhelming and under-performing cut to begin with.
When it comes to their hair at home, many clients simply will do what is quickest and easiest, yet provides the greatest result. Do some swear by the no-poo method, microfiber towels, and picture perfect curls? Absolutely! Others want an urban, slightly frizzy voluminous head of curls and that is great too. Some shampoo every day, and others once a month. I can't overstate the following enough: It doesn't matter what a client puts on or how they choose to maintain their hair, as long as it works and makes them happy. A product can be from the supermarket, salon, health food shop, or home-made. It doesn't matter the cost or ingredients. If it's working, that's all that matters. Sure, people have opinions and some products or practices may be better than others, but it's important to remember that 'better' is entirely subjective.
It bears repeating. Any curly method one uses at home or at the salon will ultimately fail if the haircut is not designed and shaped to absolutely perform independently of it. A great haircut is the foundation starting point. Products and ritual can only do so much and are there in purely a supporting role. A cut must be high functioning. With that sorted out, a client is often motivated to work towards that which fits their time, skills, and aesthetic preference for the day.
This is the first post (of probably a few) which has less to do with the actual practice of hairdressing, but definitely contributes to my positive pursuit of it. It can probably be tagged by some as half-baked philosophy, but none the less it resonates and within that I've found the desire to get it out there.
I've found great success and contentment in pursuing paths which are largely considered the opposite of conventional thinking and or wisdom. One area in particular, is the time allotment for daily book reading. In of itself, reading is something which I always took great pleasure in as a child, but pushed aside for the preference of mouse, keyboard, screen, and a fast internet connection. That has all served me quite well, as evidenced by this very website.
Books however are an essential medium of education, information, and for some, entertainment. For many though, a book is aligned with heading to bed - allowing the words to help soothe them off to sleep after a long and productive day. When I started to regularly read again a few months back, I considered the practice of an evening read, then decided it wasn't a habit that needed to be done at that hour. I didn't want to program my brain to associate reading with sleep, or being sleepy. Instead, I've chosen the opposite. I have chosen to allocate a time when reading will springboard me into my day instead of assisting with ending it.
My morning ritual now consists of waking, grabbing a coffee, and spending half an hour or so with the current book of engagement. I've found this actually kick starts my brain in way which a phone or laptop cannot match. As reading (particularly fiction) triggers our imagination, creativity is also energised for the work day ahead. Too, by avoiding the news and media feeds first thing in the morning, there is the opportunity for positivity in my brain instead of the latest tragedy, political absurdity, or other vacuously disposable information.
This all fits into a practice of analysing the habits we have bonded to and considering if they support and benefit our lives in the most positive or productive way possible. If not, it behooves oneself to make an adjustment if that is at all possible. While not everyone has the same ability, time or means, many do have at least some choice when it comes to waking up and taking those first steps into the light. I've been trying to not use the word 'mindful' as it is quickly approaching the state of overuse in conversation that the word 'triggered' has. Instead, I'll go with 'awareness'. It seems like a good idea in this era of obsessive screen staring that we should try as regularly as we can to be aware of what it is we are doing, and if it is serving us all, individually, and collectively in the best possible way.
Many of us desire a product, service, or even tablet which can provide us with exactly what we want, precisely when we want it. We regularly go to see various professionals with the hope that they can offer us the necessary cure-all for whatever our situational needs may be. For hairdressers a question which is asked regularly is "what specific product [or brand] would be best for my hair?" The question presented is a fair one. A client is asking for advice or guidance from someone they view as a professional. Unfortunately, the answer I provide usually isn't one they were hoping for.
In the daunting minefield of hair cosmetics, the landscape is littered with an abundance of redundant offerings which like to promise salvation, yet more times than not deliver bottled disappointment. These colorful plastic investments then huddle together like orphaned children in an exiled product purgatory located under the basin sink - too expensive to throw out, yet not near good enough to be accepted into the main performance troupe.
It may seem odd but the correct answer to the question above is: I have no idea.
Really. I have no idea which brand or product will perform the way a client needs it to - the way they themselves will style (or not style) their hair at home with their time allotment, skill, and effort. I have no idea if even the scent of a product will compliment everything else in their daily ritual. Performance and satisfaction is completely subjective. There is no definitive means for an individual, professional or not, to say unequivocally that any one product will work for someone else. This is fact. Unfortunately, most hairdressers attempt to up-sell products like a snake oil charlatan, particularly if they are working in a conventional hair salon. They have no idea (or don't care) that this practice is at the top of the list of things women hate about going to a salon.
What a responsible hairdresser should offer is information and education on the types of products that could work or might work for an individual. As frustrating as that may be, there is no way to know with 100% certainty till ones gets the product home and uses in their environment if it will work. When it comes to hair cosmetics, it is absolutely a trial and error scenario, particularly for ladies with curly, wavy or fine hair*. I know this product truth is likely overwhelming and frustrating to hear. If it makes things easier, most clients struggle with hair products because their haircut is severely under performing. A really good cut takes much of the pressure off of a product's need to perform. This is the real root of the problem (pun intended).
As for whether expensive salon products are worth it isn't for me or any other hairdresser to say. It is a case by case situation. What I tell my clients is this. If it they like a certain product, if it works and makes them happy, I do not care where it was purchased or how much it cost. More than ever in fact, I have clients who are making their own products at home or using things purchased from health food shops. I encourage and support all of this enthusiastically.
In the end, I use my experience in this industry to honesty educate my clients so that they are well informed. A well informed client is much better positioned to head into the necessary trial and error practice of finding a product which can offer them the results they are after. Make no mistake, a great haircut is where it all starts though. It provides the visual and emotional motivation most clients have been needing to help them on their way.
*Specifically for those with curly hair, there is a lot information out there regarding things like microfiber towels, sulfates and silicone. My stance is this: to each their own. I am firmly against the adherence to any particular ritual as a 'one size fits all' policy. Such an approach reeks of religious fervour. While many of the methods and practices absolutely work and are a triumph for some clients, there are plenty of others who will simply act on that which gives them the best result with the least amount of effort. As stated earlier, a good hairdresser will simply educate clients on various options and let them discover and decide what is best for them. It bears repeating, a great haircut should provide the shape and texture which can support both effortlessness and effort.
I believe that a great haircut is one which can grow out really well over and extended period of time (months not weeks). As covered in the last post, a great cut should always encourage the shape and texture to naturally fall into place, looking great with minimal effort from a client. Unfortunately, most hairdressers tend to perform a cut which only looks good if styled with professional skills, products, and effort. This type of design is largely driven by a hairdressers creativity first and foremost. They are often strongly influenced by the Vidal Sassoon era. For many hairdressers today Vidal Sassoon was and still is, their savior, their Steve Jobs. He is the inspirational benchmark for the sharp, precision creative hairdressing they practice. I disagree with all that, vehemently. For his time, Sassoon was absolutely relevant and a visionary. He left behind a legacy. Ironically, what renders his creative direction obsolete are the very individuals who his work specifically relied on, women.
Think back to women's lives in the 60's and 70's compared to now and you'll begin to understand why those design concepts are no longer relevant, and in fact foolish. Women's lives today are jam packed with a multitude of commitments, obligations, and varying degrees of stress. Each day carefully calculated to extract maximum efficiency in order to achieve a balance between work, leisure, and family. For many, having a haircut which requires time and adept styling skills simply isn't an option. In fact, it's an annoyance. (It's these poorly designed cuts that many have resorting to flat ironing to a burnt oblivion each and every morning.) Poorly considered precision haircuts are particularly the bane of any woman with curly, wavy, or otherwise challenging hair. These ladies, more than anyone else demand a hair cut which is textured, loose, and carefree. A precision cut for them is infuriating and leads inevitably to either tied back or triangle.
Contemporary hairdressing must be designed to precisely support the lifestyle and aesthetic needs a woman has. Too, they must support a maintenance schedule a client is willing and able to keep. Any hairdresser who consistently leads with their creative foot first and fails to consider the individual and their lifestyle is naively misguided. Instead of blind adherence to an icon of the past, a hairdresser must take notice of the current landscape and design accordingly. In this modern era, the hairdressing industry as a whole would be well served to operate more often as mindful practitioners than creative artists.
Without a doubt one of the most common complaints women have after a visit to the hairdresser is, "my hair never looked as good as it did when I left the salon." This exact sentiment has been echoed repeatedly in every city I've worked in across the globe. After hearing the same thing over and over again, a committed hairdresser should always aim to dissect and resolve the issue. The following opinions on the matter actively influence the philosophy I adhere to within my practice today. The main influencing factor behind this topic will be covered in the next post.
Hairdressers will typically operate from a place of their skill set and vision, not their clients. To this point, they see their objective as to have everyone leave the salon looking polished to an Instagram finish. While this does suit and support a lot of clients, it simultaneously doesn't serve an equal if not greater number of individuals. An over blown, over styled look doesn't suit ladies who desire a natural look and spend little time honing their aesthetic at home themselves. Many simply don't own blow dryers and need a cut which is high performing on its own. This is where the issue beings. Hairdresser often lack supportive and refined cutting skills which can enable a design to perform on its own with minimal (or no) engagement from a client. Their stance is "if a client wants the cut to look right, they will need to style it as I do." It's all too easy to see the problem here. These hairdressers see themselves largely as "artists" and not as a considerate facilitator to help each client achieve what they are after within the parameters of their skills, time, and day to day aesthetic.
Good hairdressing strongly considers a clients existing routine (and skill set) and meets them on a level which can absolutely be duplicated at home. It serves no purpose (unless specifically stated otherwise) to over style a clients hair in a way either they aren't comfortable with, or lack the ability (or desire) to do themselves at home. A client who comes in for a haircut is seeking just that, a haircut. One which they themselves can manage, with their skill, time, and desires. A haircut which can grow out well, and make them feel beautiful. To a woman who prefers a natural aesthetic, an over achieving blow wave, and sometimes - any blow wave, is entirely unproductive and inconsequential on the day. The haircut has missed the target entirely if a client isn't ever able to have it perform outside of the salon visit. To support this, a hairdresser must develop both strong cutting and communication skills. Both of these must be performed to a much higher level than any blow dry skills. Trouble is most salons are primarily concerned with the finish. They feel every client represents the salon and needs to look perfect in their eyes. This is entirely misguided. Clients don't represent a salon. Hairdressers should use their skills to reflect their client's needs on an individual basis. They should always integrate with a client and not default to round brushes and irons.
These days time is a great commodity. Busy lives means needing time (and money) spent in the salon to yield results which support a lifestyle. Ladies have tools at home to coif their hair when needed on the weekends or for special occasions. What they want is a cut that actually looks amazing on the days they don't have the time (or desire) to put in the effort. Hairdressing should always strive to meet this goal and by doing so, a client will be rewarded with an experience which brings enjoyment for days, weeks, and months ahead.
Part three of three. Regardless of skill, intentions, and communication, things will not always result in every single client being completely happy. Life is easy when we get a win, but no one wins all the time. The greatest lesson in life both personally and professionally is to accept that this will happen. In fact, it is a necessary part of development. While early in life we often fear failure or mistake, with time we learn these opportunities serve as an essential key to growth. We must relish these opportunities to learn and use them for forward momentum. Through the last two posts I laid out the key principals of my practice, communication and transparency. It is with this final topic, satisfaction, that the three are tied together.
Satisfaction can be achieved when both the client and hairdresser are able to feel content with their choices and results. This is made possible only through solid communication and transparent practices. With these in tact, both the client and hairdresser are empowered (and encouraged) to respond when things don't turn out perhaps exactly as they were hoping. Ultimately for the client this means they will have a much greater chance of achieving what they are after. For a hairdresser they have the opportunity to make adjustments, offer recommendation, or provide compensation - all which support positive growth.
Hairdressing only achieves a win if both parties are happy and fulfilled. Sometimes relationships can take time to develop in a manner which both individuals can feel supported and content. It's important along the way for each individual to communicate effectively. A hairdresser who believes in an ethical transparent practice provides the opportunity for their client to find satisfaction at every stage of the journey.
Part two of three. Hairdressing, particularly within the conventional salon environment, is an industry geared largely for the monetisation of a woman's beauty needs. Under the guise of being a professional, up-selling and product pushing via emotional manipulation is key to meeting the bottom line. For a traditional salon owner these principals are often the foundation of their business model. Creativity is wielded as a less than subtle means of distraction. This approach does not, by default, serve or benefit a clients best interests and is therefore unethical.
Throughout 25 years working as a hairdresser, the complaints I've heard concerning these practices has been identical regardless of the city and country I've worked in. Countless times over, women have shared identical stories where a hairdresser or other salon staff member has attempted to use emotional manipulation to sell a service or product, often both. Together with less than favourable results for the service they initially went in for, its no wonder so many women have developed an acute fear of and apprehension regarding hairdressers and the salon environment. To be fair, this reality and experience is not shared among all women. Many are content with the traditional offerings, and these women certainly have a multitude of choice when it comes to heading into a salon to spend money. Trouble is, the traditional salon tactics and practices are definitely not a perfect fit for everyone.
There is an increasing number of women who have become keenly aware of the salon game and are no longer willing to play along. These women have needs and desires the traditional model simply does not support, at all. Unsurprisingly, these ladies often have a texture of hair (curly, wavy, thin, fine, etc) which is considered challenging to live with and cut well. Others though simply hate being made to feel inadequate for their choice of not wanting to engage with chemical services or expensive retail products. To them, the entire salon environment is one they dread going to. These ladies wish to be treated with respect and have their specific needs met and supported without judgement. They want a hairdresser who will help them with an aesthetic which presents a realistic, sustainable, and manageable result.
Transparency as a hairdresser means meeting a woman's beauty needs and desires on a level which support her best interests, not the other way around. With that, a hairdresser should only ever serve interests that are sustainable long term, support hair texture both in design and in health, while providing a maintenance schedule which a client agrees to and can live with. Alternatively, if through consultancy a hairdresser feels as though they are not the best match for a client's needs, this too should be stated. This is all achievable with professional integrity, ethics, and effective communication. Hairdressing which is transparent facilitates the type of mutual respect which can foster a lasting and trusting relationship.