My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer

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New Talent

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, and I really appreciate it BTW, you will know that I am all about developing new talent.

I had the luxury of watching some of Vancouver’s brightest young stars showcasing their work and themselves the other day and had some observations to share.




The following post was found by a friend on Craigslist in the “Jobs Wanted” section.
I’ll offer my rebuttals in red, but start out by saying that so much here is what is wrong with hairdressing schools and their sugar-coating of the industry.

In a weird way, I wish our salons were the way she describes. It reads like I run a very tight ship based on fear and intimidation, and there is something appealing about that (joking).

Finally, if you ask anyone, they will tell you my motto is to hire nice. We always hire nice. You can teach anyone to do hair but you can’t teach an asshole to be nice. The way she describes my staff is simply not possible unless you suck and they all decide they hate you immediately.


“DO NOT APPLY TO ANY MICHAEL LEVINE SALONS!!!!Want to be an apprentice/assistant for Space/Caramel/Any other Michael Levine salon? Go to Vancouver hairdressing academy. That’s your only way in.You will be USED to work a full 8 hour day of salon labour or more accurately, slavery, with no compensation. They are using naive students/new graduates for free labour. -Yes, you will work hard, but it is in exchange for pay. Just like a normal job. Don’t even expect to be hired. Read my story below for an idea of what your day will look like.

I saw an add on Craigslist in the spring looking for an “apprentice” at space salon. Being young and having just graduated from hair school this looked like the perfect opportunity to learn new skills and work my way up to being a stylist. After all, that’s what an apprentice is for, right? Apparently not here. -Our entire company from day one has been built by training people to do hair, often without them having attended hair school. Our entire current staff save for 1 person was our apprentice at one point.

I went in to drop off my resume to Liz, and ended up leaving it with the receptionist because she wasn’t in that day. I got a call later the same day from Liz saying she wanted to schedule an interview for the next day.

When I arrived at the salon I was greeted by Liz and led to the back to begin my interview. I was asked very few questions about my experience and instead told how there were many assistants and they were pretty much what kept the salon running. I was also told that it would be a very quick and easy process to learn the ways of the salon and become a full time stylist at Space. I was invited back for a trial day the following weekend. I was told to expect to greet clients and offer them beverages, wash clients hair, assist with blow-drys and colour mixing, and general salon maintenance such as sweeping and laundry. This was completely fine with me, knowing it was only a trial day to see how I fit within the salon.– It was fine with you because it was only your trial day? This is the entire job and will continue to be your job forever when there isn’t a client in your chair.

(ALL of the assistants at this salon graduated from or were still attending Vancouver Hairdressing Academy, and none of them remember anyone previous being from an outside school.) -Several current young staff are from other schools. Of course we prefer to hire our own though. They already understand our cutting system.

I showed up about 15 minutes before the salon opened on the day of my trial. There were about 4 assistants running around the salon trying to get everything ready, and one of them was told to give me a rundown of my tasks for that day, which all ended up being as described in the interview with the exception of a few things. I was told that I wouldn’t have anything to do with clients, except offer them drinks and get them robes. This was fine, as again, it was only a trial day. The stylists started to arrive and I was introduced to them, and then told NOT to speak to them unless they spoke to me first or asked for something. This was very off putting as I was hired to be an apprentice, and the way for apprentices to learn is by asking questions and shadowing a stylist. -Sometimes new apprentices force themselves into conversations between clients and their stylists. We had one tell a client during her colour appointment that she thought her natural colour was really nice and didn’t need a colour. Beyond that, of course you are allowed to ask stylists questions if they aren’t busy.

Over the course of the day things kept getting worse. I was shown right away how to use the booking system to check people in and book appointments and answer the phones, then told to not touch any of it or even go behind the front desk. I was given a 10 minute rundown at the beginning of the day, and was expected to work on my own and not ask any questions/talk to anyone (even other assistants), or the manager would get mad– We like to see how people work on their own during a trial day so we can evaluate their work ethic and ability to use their brain, Nobody gets mad, we just quietly evaluate you.. I wasn’t even introduced to the manager or sure if there was one working that day. Many times throughout the day I was completely lost on what to do. When I asked a question no one would look me in the eyes, and would only reply with a one word answer. I remember one situation, where all the clients were checked in, the laundry was running, the floors were clean, and no one needed assistance at the colour station. I saw an assistant folding a massive pile of laundry so I went over to help. I started folding and was instantly met with a dirty look. Instead of her telling me that there might have been something else that I could have done around the salon, she threw down the towel she was folding and loudly told me to not help and only one person can be doing a task at a time, then stormed off to the break room.– I wish this was the case. Walk in to any of our salons on a slow day and you will see several people doing tasks together, and having fun.

You are expected to be a slave to the stylists. They have none of their own equipment at their station except for the basics like scissors, combs and brushes, and a blow-dryer.-So everything except for irons? Everything else (irons) they ask for and you have to run across the salon to get and bring to them that instant. At the beginning of the day you set up their station for them, leaving towels and make sure everything is clean. After every client, you have to go back and put everything back in place, take the laundry away, and make sure everything is spotless– You “have to?” How cruel and unusual. You also have to sweep up any hair you see on the floor during the clients service to keep the place looking “professional”, but they also tell you to stay out of the stylists way and to not go near them when they are with a client -Yes, this means don’t sweep their feet while they are working. It’s annoying. Many times I was snapped at by stylists who were two chairs away from where I was sweeping because I was too close, and then I would be snapped at by assistants for not cleaning the floor.-I’m picturing my stylists, while with a client, yelling “too close!” or “No eye contact!” every time an assistant gets within 10 feet of them. Awesome. 

Everything you do that day will be wrong. They way you sweep will be wrong. They way you fold towels will be wrong. The way you greet clients and take their coats will be wrong. I came from a very high class, well known school, and the way I did things still wasn’t up to their standards even with the constant snarky remarks from the other assistants.– We have systems for doing things, not sure about sweeping though. You must have been using the wrong end of the broom if we had to correct you on it.

I can’t even call this an apprenticeship. I can’t call the assistants “apprentices” because there’s no way they are learning in that environment. The icing on the cake at the end of my terrible day was getting to scrub down the toilets with no gloves and using towels that would later be used on clients hair! -We have rags for cleaning and towels for clients. And toilet brushes as well. Did you ask for gloves?

At the end of the day I was exhausted and had my spirits absolutely crushed. I figured it was hard because it was a training day (said by one of the assistants) and when I got hired (also said) I would already know how to do everything and it would be much easier.

I went home with high hopes because when it came down to it I still really wanted the job. -WHY??? Two days went by with no calls so I phoned the salon and it went straight to voicemail. I called back later and the same thing happened so I left a message saying who I was and to call me back. A whole day went by and I still didn’t hear anything. It was almost like they were ignoring me, which I’m positive they were.-Or we were closed?

If you want to work an 8 hour day, with no pay, no one to talk to, and do tough labour with no promise of a job, then be my guest– of course we pay you. And a trial day is a test she obviously didn’t pass.. I can’t say that everyones experience will be as bad as mine, but from what I’ve heard from other people there is no good outcome from applying to this salon.-Except for all the awards, support, the on-going education and the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the industry and to work in cool salons.

Thanks for reading and always do background searches and talk to people before being used by a salon that could care less about you!”

Look, I will never say our salons are the best place to work or are fun all the time. There are definitely days that suck and there are times when people are unhappy. And we absolutely have a hard time staying staffed at the entry level.

But we have put many people on incredible career paths and have helped many stylists realize their dreams through hairdressing. But the one thing I have seen is that very few people who crapped out with us ever went on to be a success. In our company, nobody is above anything. And other hair schools should teach this attitude.

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“Would you take advice from someone who can’t pay their own rent and who’s business is failing?”

It was a Facebook status that was read by hundreds and hundreds about a person left unnamed, a jab thrown at a very famous owner and platform artist who apparently was not doing so well in his business lately. We all knew who the subject was.

I am very protective of the people that have the courage to try to build something great in any business but especially the hair business because I know how hard it is. There is an incredible amount of competition and talent fighting for the same market, and for someone to be able to rise above what the other 99% of salon owners are ever able to carve out for themselves is incredible in itself. It’s fucking tough out there.

I have just a few things I consider when I think about who I look up to in the hair business. The main one is if you built your business by hiring people with a book, a choice every salon owner makes at some point. For me, it’s important that someone is furthering the industry by developing talent. It’s a process of giving back while building culture and identity. And the salon owners that do this can look in the mirror and feel good about themselves for not hurting another business in any way than by competing for clients. Most salon owners are competing for established staff instead, and it’s often under-handed.

So back to the question. Yes, I would happily take advice from someone who was struggling, because they generally know what put them in that bad position and they have tried many different ideas on their path as an owner. I could fill a book with all the reasons I have struggled or the poor choices I have made. In fact, the things that worked would be a very short list. But for those of us who have a bit of scale, our poor choices get noticed more. And often we are gossiped about, whispered about and the industry rumour mill gleefully grinds on. Just like in the salon, dead people often bitch about busy people. And salon owners who lack courage bitch about those who do if they are in the same city.

Our business is nothing like any other, and it can’t be built by a theory or a mathematical equation. We are in the people business and nothing happens if you don’t have happy people pushing themselves to greater things every day. I’ve seen business “experts” talk about numbers and commissions that are so low they are laughable, that would never work in the real world. But the experts are usually people with nothing actually on the line every day in the business.

As I wrote earlier, this business is hard, maybe the hardest. Nothing is really learned from successes, it’s mostly learned from failures. And I’d much rather learn from people who have fallen and gotten back up than someone who has never truly stood up in the first place.

A short video of a mainstage presentation we did at the ABA last year.