My mother is a retired hairdresser. During her career of thirty-plus years she styled tens of thousands of heads, from teaching hairstyling in the Philippines to eventually running her own salon in Canada.
As her son, I’ve been treated to many different but socially acceptable hairstyles growing up. I’ve had perms, streaks, I even had Dragonball Z hair at one point.
It’s a luxury I’ve grown up with, and friends have also enjoyed the perk of free haircuts from time to time.
When I moved away from my hometown, I was left to fend for myself, and it took a while to find the right stylist.
Listening to all the stories my mother gained along the way – from racism, to legal threats, to personal connections that last a lifetime – I fully appreciate the designer/client relationship that is hairdressing, and sitting in her chair has taught me more than just how to be picky.
Styling Hair is Hard
Being a hairdresser is a difficult profession. It’s hard to stand on your feet all day and make people beautiful. It’s a service that most people take for granted, and it typically doesn’t pay well.
But given how commodotized it is, there is still opportunity for differentiation among service. Some stylists are clearly better than others, and they become invaluable to their clients. That’s why they’re always booked.
There’s a human bond that materializes during a successful hairdo. This bond begins when you – the client – look at yourself in the mirror, your stylist standing proudly behind you with another, smaller mirror. This two-way bond is made permanent when the customer receives a passing compliment the next day. Eventually, the stylist and customer learn each other.
Styling hair is a good analog for design services. Besides tattoos, it’s one of the only designer-of-you/client relationships that exist in modern everyday life. Unless you’re an expert, it’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t.
It’s also really hard to cut your own hair. And the flowbee never really took off.
A good Hairdresser is a good salesman
Like any subset of design, a haircut doesn’t sell itself. Not everyone can be the Zohan.
Selling is a big part of the job. If the customer doesn’t understand why a hairdo is right, it’s wrong.
The value has to be communicated to you, or else your insecurities will get the better of you. You have to be convinced before you walk out the door, or the stylist is risking you not coming back.
It’s also important that you feel comfortable throughout the process, so they hide the details along the way that stress you out. If the stylist accidentally takes a chunk of your hair in the back, they don’t blurt out, “oops.” They fix it by blending in the surrounding hair and sell you the result. You never realise they made a mistake, and it doesn’t matter, because they’re the experts.
You trust them. It’s part of the service.
A good hairdresser leads the client
Being at a salon is a luxurious experience. That’s why good hairdressers have to present both themselves and their finished work to a high-level. They exist to make life easier, to lead people to happiness through beauty.
Sometimes a client will know exactly what they want. Sometimes, they have no idea.
Sometimes, they walk in with a picture of Rachel from Friends and expect to leave looking like Jennifer Anniston. It’s up to the stylist to expertly reel back their expectations into reality.
Now that my head is generally out of my mother’s care, when I’m sitting in that salon chair looking at myself in the mirror, it’s not easy for me to know what a successful change is going to look like, or how it will be managed long-term.
At times, I might sound like a picky person, but I just want to give good them good feedback before they continue. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad client. While some clients are truly bad, most of the droll feedback seen on Clients from Hell is the result of bad designers who can’t steer a client.
It’s not about me picking apart what the hairdresser did wrong, or trying to convince them I’ll look good with a pink mohawk (I would). It’s about them interpreting my feedback and educating me before the clippers come out. Both the hairstylist and the client just want to be happy. We’re all human after all.
Over the years in my career, my mother’s craft has influenced me more than I could have ever known back when I was that Asian kid with a perm in elementary school.
Most of all, she encouraged me to be creative and to embrace change. Life goes on. Sometimes, what’s done is done.
The new you is the best you.