My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer

Find a Mentor and Be a Mentor- Part 2

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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.

One thought on “Find a Mentor and Be a Mentor- Part 2

  1. Pingback: Just hired: Hair stylist with 78 years of experience | mrphilipjsmith

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