My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer

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Find a Mentor and Be a Mentor- Part 2


Ted Gibson became my third big mentor as a salon owner, and he gave me a different perspective from Robert and Nick. I carried myself differently and I viewed my role as a hairstylist in a different way. And I began to command a much higher price for my services and I became even busier.

I am lucky to have spent time with these people as well as some of the most celebrated and famous stylists in the world and I take inspiration from too many to name here. But for the last several years I’ve been thinking more about the people who helped me in the beginning so I’m going to honour him here, and I will totally understand if you stop reading at this point.

I started working for a company called Axis in Vancouver in 1995, owned by a man named Foster Eastman. When I got there the company was in full swing with 2 large, beautiful and busy locations. The team of around 35 was young, cool and skilled and it was the most fashionable salon in the city, where stylists would often trying to outdress each other.

I didn’t see much of Foster as he tended to spend most of his time at a different location, still doing a couple of days a week on the floor. The manager and Artistic Director was a woman named Gina Derry. She was charismatic and a fantastic haircutter. I was instantly drawn to her. There was also an amazing team at the top of this company and I learned from many of them, including an incredible stylist with impeccable taste name Mo Mukhtar. He was kind of an asshole at times ( to be fair, I was a bit of an idiot back then) but I watched his worked and always strived to figure out why his work was incredible while most others was only great.

But it was Gina who taught me how to cut hair and who I wanted to be around and who I would do anything for. Once, at her request, I tied her shoe for her while she was foiling. Once I dropped her car off to be detailed. She was one of those people who you wanted to be in her good graces.

But I never saw much of Foster, and when I did, he was often short with me and I didn’t think he liked me much. I know I didn’t really like him.

In 1997 quite a few stylists including most of the education and creative team started to leave Axis, which now had 3 locations, and Gina was moving to Minneapolis to work full time for Aveda. Axis, like many larger salons, had experienced it’s share of staff turnover and a lot of talented people had left over the years, but this time it was different in that it was 3 of the 5 core people in the company. And there is a weird thing that sometimes happens when people leave a salon; they try to burn it down. So when those key people left a lot of other people left with them. Foster was not the best person to be around at the time.

Back then I just thought he was being a huge asshole, but I understood things later once I experienced what it feels like to be an owner and feel like your entire world is crumbling. When people you trusted and were nothing but good to for some reason try to hurt you. My own experiences have been nowhere near as dramatic and awful as what they were at Axis at the time, but I am now able to at least empathize.

I left the salon for different reasons in 1998 and opened my first salon with my soon-to-be wife Liz and I started to learn from her. I was an arrogant asshole, the typical rockstar stylist while Liz was much more caring and had deeper relationships with her clientele. She wasn’t going to marry me unless I evolved so she taught me about being nice and it might have been my most important life lesson. I’m still an asshole but much less so. I hope.

For the first year of salon ownership, my ego and lack of perspective had me looking back at my time with Axis and Foster with a less than positive opinion. And then we started hiring and training staff and I found myself trying to build the same thing I had just left.

At the time, I had viewed Gina as my biggest mentor, and I still do to a degree, but it finally occurred to me that Foster was the one who had hired her and empowered her to succeed in the role. I loved the culture of that salon and the fact that we were rebels, all unlicensed and not caring about what other salons were doing and I realized that came from the top. I loved the salons themselves, they were stunning. But all I saw was the result of a man’s hard work and dedication over the years, I didn’t see the struggle and the work he put in to get to owning the salons I was working in so I didn’t appreciate it at the time. But now I was able to see how special a company Foster had created and the work he had put in.

Liz and I ended up opening 3 salons and I think it’s because Axis had 3 salons. Foster trail-blazed the concept of an accelerated academy system and paved the way for me and others to do the same. When he started his product company, it told me that I could survive without a relationship with a major brand, and we did to much success with Product. Everything I have accomplished was because he took a chance on me and gave me my start. He trained me by hiring and training other people to train me. He put me on stages, which put me in a position to be recruited by Aveda. Which then put me in a position for a lot of other good things to happen.

Foster is a true original and was my biggest inspiration and mentor, it just took me a while to figure it out. I’ve had a couple of conversations with him over the years, and I think maybe he is cool with me. And I like to think that maybe he’s a little proud. We all want our “parents” to be proud of us.

Sometimes our reality is tainted by emotion and our inability to empathize. I had to walk in a man’s shoes to understand how incredible he was and the amazing impact he has had on an entire city of hairdressers and salon owners. They say you have to go away in order to be appreciated, I myself get a lot of love in the USA and not as much at home, so I think it’s important that we honour the people who took us in when we were nothing and had nothing to offer but maybe a bit of potential. The people who put us on the path and allowed us to see possibilities we maybe hadn’t considered. And if you haven’t, maybe go find that person and thank them.


Find a Mentor and Be a Mentor- Part 1

I’m breaking this up into 2 parts because it will be too long, and part 2 is going to require some real thought to express the gratitude I feel.

I used to get really annoyed when people would ask me to get together for a drink because they wanted to “just pick my brain.” Then I heard myself saying it to Anna Pacitto in a Toronto hotel lobby last year and I cringed as the words left my mouth.

The reason this can get annoying to the people who hear it is because they are generally very busy kicking ass and there isn’t much in it for them to spend an evening telling someone over cocktails what they already likely know. Unless it’s a future business contact, you are friends, or the person wants to learn something from you, it’s just not a good use of a busy person’s time. The relationship has to go both ways.

But it got me thinking about the people who influenced me on my path to success so I thought it would be time to name names.

In the early 2000s, I used to hang around on a popular message board and would see the name Robert Cromeans everywhere. I had no idea who he was so when I saw his team was doing a show at a show in Vegas, my wife and I went down to see him. And he absolutely blew us away. I left that show with a CD set called The Art of Making Money, and I listened to it almost constantly. Robert Cromeans became my first real mentor as a salon owner, and his CD gave me some of the tools and the confidence to push my business to places I had only dreamed of.

I had met Nick Arrojo a few years before when we were both working with Aveda but I hadn’t really spent much time with him. His current business was just about to open and mine was booming, so it wasn’t until a few years later that I made Nick into my next mentor. I had liked his personality and consultation style on What Not To Wear My so my wife and I flew to New York to take a two-day class at Nick’s growing salon. The session was called Up Close With Nick, and it helped me take things to the next level. Nick was much more business focussed than I was and it made me see things with a more controlled and purpose-filled eye. And we opened our second location.

Ted Gibson was another former Aveda guy and I had paid attention as his name started to grow outside of the Aveda world. We knew back in the 90s he was special, and now he was in New York, had Angelina’s endorsement and was becoming the next big name and his salon was taking off. So my team and I flew to New York for an IBS show where Ted and his team were presenting. I wanted to get closer so I paid extra and took a hands-on with Ted and his husband Jason Backe.

Now understand this; I almost never take classes to learn hair. I take classes to pay attention to how the person speaks and their mannerisms. And this was no different. I am a good hairdresser and I have strong core ideas, so I’m only looking for little tips and tricks, not to change the way I work. But there were two women who actually left the class when they discovered that there wouldn’t be any colour education. I shook my head, and if they had paid attention to who Ted became later, I hope they regretted leaving and learned something. This was well before What Not To Wear but it wasn’t as if Ted wasn’t already a big name.

I learned an extremely valuable lesson from Ted when his model came in 40 minutes late, with a coffee and no real apology. That one exchange changed the way I think completely and was more than worth the cost of the trip and class. I also name dropped some people from my Aveda years and connected with Ted and Jason, enough so that they came to my salon in Vancouver to talk to my team, as well as had dinner with me.

Part 2 coming soon…