Last year was without the doubt the most successful and also most challenging year yet. A massive swell in new clients took a comfortable, long standing 2 - 3 week wait time and extended it to an unsustainable 3 month wait. While this sort of success was personally validating for the practice I have set up here in Australia, it also brought about a lot of challenges. What would happen if I was sick and needed to miss a day?!
Without fail it seems, every few years we learn of another US based hairdresser claiming to have 'invented' a new way to cut curly hair. This time around it's called a 'Rezo Cut' and claims to be salvation for anyone wanting volume and length. As an individual who has been working with curls for over 30 years, these 'new' methods are anything but and certainly aren't necessary to achieve the things they claim to. Alas, we are now waist deep in this social media hyped era where people go to great lengths to promote themselves with the hope of driving greater success their way. Trouble is, when it comes to anything curl related, the consuming public often gets caught up in this online hype and believes that it is actually possible to 'discover' a new way to cut hair. I am writing to tell you this is all complete nonsense.
"We may need to charge more for curls that require extra attention and care."
"Super long/thick hair [will cost more] depending on the volume of hair."
These are direct quotes taken from hair salon websites here in Australia.
Let me be clear. Do not, under any circumstance, put up with pricing discrimination. As a professional who has worked with all manner of hair for 30 years, this practice is entirely unethical if not illegal. Hair type and density are genetic predispositions and should not be used to justify additional cost to the client. Ever. Period. End of story.
This post was originally written and published in Jan/Feb 2019. Six months later it was linked to on a very popular online group for women with curly hair. This created a bit of attention, including an emotionally defensive and condescending email from the manufacturer of the products that this post is all about. Thus, I made a few edits to better get my point across. Admittedly, they will probably be even less thrilled with it now.
The cosmetic industry is a multi-coloured plastic minefield of promises which ensnare us with hyperbolic marketing, alluring fragrance and preservatives. With the increasing number of companies positioning themselves with a green and ethical brand identity, we as consumers must be even more vigilant in our efforts to not be mislead. Cosmetic companies big or small, regardless of their attempts to paint themselves as unique and different, rarely are. After all, they are in the business of selling cosmetics - an industry whose sales driven needs often confuse and mislead consumers.
Exasperated she asked, "How do I fix my frizz?!" No doubt a question he'd been asked thousands of times standing behind the chair. The response he offers now has evolved almost as much as his career it seems. "What I'm going to say may or may not be what you're expecting, however more than ever the answer resonates soundly with my overall philosophy both personally and professionally."
Quite a few times I've been asked, "When did you become a curly hair specialist?" I had to stop and think. Literally one of my very first haircuts almost 30 years ago was on the fine ringletted curly hair of a co-worker. For some reason, cutting those curls dry just seemed to make sense, so I did. While absolutely inexperienced back then, I did keenly understand the challenges the texture presented as a direct result of my personal experience and frustrations. People were open to trusting me because I had curls and thus started the long road to proficiency that continues to this very day.
"Why are there no photos of your work online or on social media?! How do I know if you're any good?" I love this particular question. Many likely think the lack of photos online solely relates to a position of being squarely anti social media - something which I've been vocal about in several interviews. While that position is not at all incorrect, it contributes to only a very small, insignificant part of the overall decision. This topic resonates to the very core of my professional philosophy and consequently is a large reason for my reputation and continued success here in Australia. In fact, many of the posts on this blog if not the entire point of it existing is a demonstrative response to this.
"I just need a good haircut." This is something which has been stated countless times upon asking clients how I can help. It's a fair statement and certainly a reasonable request. It's also a fairly generalised one. Undoubtedly and in most cases, every single haircut a client had prior to sitting in my studio the attending hairdresser thought that they had in fact done a good haircut. It's more than fair to say this is exactly what every hairdresser likely thinks upon completion of their service - I did well.
Often I'm asked, “You’re so booked out, why don't you train up an apprentice?" The short answer is this: quality hairdressing isn't something which can simply be taught, certainly not within a few short years. The road to proficiency is a long one, particularly for gaining real skill with anything other than conventional, easily managed hair types. Generally speaking, most people (including a high percentage of people actually working in the industry) know little about what it takes to become a refined and mindful hairdresser. Often they think this whole cutting hair thing should be quite straight forward and don't understand why there are so many 'bad' hairdressers out there.
The official playlist of Tom Zappala Haircutting is freely available via Spotify. Aptly named Behind The Fringe, it will provide much more than an afternoon of eclectic music. Shuffle the tracks for best results.
There are a lot of women searching for information on hairdressers in Melbourne who know something about the Curly Girl method or Deva Curl. I'm regularly asked during sessions about both methods and my thoughts about them. Before getting too far into things let me make the following clear. I do think ladies with curly or wavy hair should 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 do not ardently follow or insist on either method. Some of it is simply incorrect and most of it way too absolutist, regimented and time consuming for the busy working woman and or mother. For certain ladies though, the information will be a revelation and its principals adhered to with great religious fervour. For others however, the methods are entirely unrealistic and assume everyone desires a similarly finished aesthetic. Therein lies my precise issue with it all and any hairdressers absolute unconditional adherence to its practices.
The decision to not sell retail is a well considered and thoroughly researched one. With 30 years of listening, one of the most annoying aspects of the client experience at a conventional salon is being sold products at the culmination of a service. This is fact. There are numerous psychological studies which directly explain why there is specific resentment surrounding this practice. It largely comes down to the following.
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.
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.
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.
Part three of three. Regardless of skill, intention or 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.
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.
Part one of three. Effective and honest communication is the essential ingredient to every successful relationship we have in our lives, whether personal or professional. Neglected or broken-down communication is largely the reason we as humans find ourselves in challenging situations with those we regularly engage with or care about. The effects of poor communication are unfortunately demonstrated quite profoundly and painfully at the hair salon. Most women relate to their appearance, particularly their hair, with a profound psychological and emotional connection. Therefore, it is absolutely vital for a hairdresser to develop and maintain quality communication skills in order to establish and promote a productive client relationship.
The three main themes I focus on professionally are communication, transparency, and satisfaction. They are all somewhat related and ultimate work together to form the basis of how I strive for success. In the coming weeks I will address each in an attempt to further define and develop this thing that I do. Too, there may be other posts in the works which come about as a result of conversations and insights gained through experiences in the studio. They may or may not be directly related to hairdressing but effectively serve to push life forward in what I see to be a positive direction.
There are A LOT of women searching Google with the hope of discovering someone who can properly cut curly and or wavy hair. These women shudder at the idea of heading into a conventional salon, and for good reason. They have grown tired heading home with either tears or triangle. They long for someone who won't just attempt to manage or tame their hair, but rather shape it into something flattering, functional, and stylish.
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.
The decision to focus on being a haircutting specialist came down to why I chose to be a hairdresser at all. Quite simply, it was the enjoyment that came from making people happy. As years have ticked by, it has became abundantly clear the women who consistently have the most difficult and frustrating experience visiting a salon are those with curly, wavy, thick, or otherwise challenging hair. The kind of hair which leads one to search Google (curly hairdresser Melbourne) trying and find someone who can successfully work with it. As one whose job it is to help create happiness, working primarily with those who have had a tough time being happy seemed to be the best use of the skills and experience I have acquired. As I too have challenging hair, learning early on the importance of a good cut was paramount to success early in my career and paved the way for where I've largely ended up today. Becoming a specialist hairdresser has relied heavily on putting in the time, investing in personal development and having the right intentions along the way. Intentions which support happy clients and career longevity.
There are many things the salon industry promotes which are often nothing more than an attempt to monetise a woman's desire to look and feel good. The idea that hair should be cut every 6 weeks is one salon recommendation which is completely ridiculous. If a hairdresser cannot design and execute a cut which can support the growth which occurs in just 6 weeks, they simply aren't very skilled or are attempting to have a client come in frequently purely for financial gain. With all but the very very shortest of cuts, designing with growth in mind alleviates the need for such regular maintenance. Too, with a longer interval between cuts, a client has the opportunity for greater control over changes in style.
Actively questioning and deconstructing what we do is a crucial part of personal and professional development. Often this can mean having to sort through contradictions and concepts that were picked up and adhered to long ago. Professionally, one that comes up with regularity is face shape and it's relation to hairstyle selection. It often begins with an individual feeling as though because of 'x', they can't or shouldn't have 'y'. This falls into an area of absolutes that I'm quite firmly against.
It's no secret that I loathe social media. It contributes little to society and has been shown to have a multitude of negative effects both in culture and individual lives. That said, I have been pondering how to possibly engage in a way which would actually contribute something positive and useful rather than blithely serving up vacuous self promotion. What there is to work with is the experience and perspective of an almost 30 year career and how that relates to full-time private practice. Many in my chair have listened to (or politely endured) numerous rants over the years and thus, this blog will attempt to flesh out those concepts with considered reflection and analysis. I'll aim to cover a few common topics with hope that those who have questions will benefit. Also, it will provide an avenue for something I enjoy...writing! All up it will likely just be a highly opinionated reference about the industry, society, life and how I attempt to operate within it to make people happy and live better lives.