Blue Tit London embarks on a textured hair training mission


2020 was a time of reflection for the UK and Irish hair industry. Against a backdrop of broader cultural discussions about racial inequality, shortfalls in hairdressing training came into sharp focus. Many businesses and individuals were confronted by the fact they had a severe lack of skills and experience in cutting, colouring, styling and caring for Afro hair, meaning they were alienating swathes of potential clients.

One such salon group was Blue Tit London, whose immediate response was to undertake an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (IDC) Survey while reviewing its business set up. The owners then publicly shared a roadmap, which set out their plans and goals for improving their knowledge, representation and inclusivity across all ten of their locations. One year on, this pledge to do better and close the textured hair training gap has seen a robust education initiative put in place, with the aim of giving every single member of hairdressing staff on the Blue Tit team foundational experience in both Afro hair theory and practical services. The goal is to truly be able to welcome anyone and everyone into the salon, with the assurance that they will get the five-star service they deserve.

Digital editor Alison sat in on one of the training sessions and spoke to the group’s dedicated Afro and textured hair educator – Sharley Butcher – about the process, along with how and why you should be implementing a similar drive within your business.

Getting started

So Sharley, how did the training initiative first come about?
“I saw a job advert for an Afro hair specialist online, and that led me to going onto the Blue Tit London Instagram. There, I saw that they had posted a mission statement about hair inclusivity. This was during lockdown over the spring/summer of 2020 when what had happened to George Floyd came to light, protests were in the news and many much-needed conversations were being started.

“Blue Tit mentioned in their statement that they’d realised that they were actually not being inclusive; that due to a lack of knowledge, they could not offer the same level of service to clients with Afro and textured hair and they wanted to change that. When I read that, it just touched a nerve with me. I was like: ‘Oh, my God. That’s amazing. Someone’s admitted that, they’ve recognised that… and also, it’s about time. I want to get involved with this.’

It’s always been an issue that’s played on my mind as I’ve always worked in mainstream salons, and I’ve been the only one in the salon that can do Afro hair. There’s never been any training for the rest of stylists and I’ve also never really been able to get my hair done at work – even just a quick blow dry – because no one could ever do it. And seeing the post made me think that I’d like to be a part of solving the issue.”

How did you put it together?
“The training was put together by me, purely for Blue Tit London. But before seeing that advertisement, I’d never thought about putting myself forward or suggesting that any teams I’d worked in be trained-up.

I’d worked in big organisations before, and it was just never something that was at the forefront. It is also quite a big pressure to shoulder, going into the workplace and talking about race and inclusivity. It can be quite draining, to be honest.

But then when everything started kicking off, I think it did raise everyone’s emotions and make them feel much more passionately. I did start to sit and think to myself about how segregated the industry actually is. And that then sparked me looking for educator-type roles.

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by BLUE TIT Hair Salons (@bluetitlondon)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  A post shared by BLUE TIT Hair Salons (@bluetitlondon)

 

“When I saw the Blue Tit role, I just felt like it was a job that was made for me. In 2019, I graduated with an education studies degree, so I knew a bit about putting courses together; how to include different types of learners, how to cater for everyone’s needs, and how to keep people engaged.

In terms of the content, I knew just from my own experience as a stylist that the core focus needed to be foundational; an introduction to the structure of Afro textured hair and its unique care needs, plus differences when cutting, colouring and styling.

Ultimately, as hairdressers we all have the skills already, it’s just the preparation and approach that’s different when a client has textured hair.

Essentially, it comes down to the theory side and knowing what you have to tailor when you are servicing those clients.

Plus, at the start there’s also often the need to get over mental blocks and nervousness – not through ignorance, just due to the fact that so many people weren’t trained in college and haven’t had hands-on experience.

So I put the course together myself, and developed all the content, slides and modules. Then I had to think about what brands to bring in to support the course. I spoke to a few people that I know who have Afro hair salons and did a bit of research myself. Avalon kept coming up and it fit the bill for what we needed at Blue Tit London.”

How many sessions have you run and how many staff have you trained up so far?
“We’ve run six courses in total, and 70 members of staff have been trained so far. And they have been going really well.  Everyone has been really eager to learn, have applied themselves and approached everything with enthusiasm. Once people have received the theory tuition, they’re delivering really well in the practical sessions.”

The training itself

Blue Tit Texture Release training session

WHAT: A three day course covering the core knowledge needed to work with Afro and textured hair. Sessions are led by Sharley and taught in groups of four.

WHEN: The sessions run consecutively, with each day focusing on a different aspect of hairdressing: day one begins with styling and care, day two explores cut and colour (with separate groups for those who specialise in colour or only do cutting), and day three encompasses training in texture-release services.

WHERE: All training takes place at Blue Tit London’s Streatham salon, where Sharley works when she is not teaching. The practical elements in the workshops all take place with live models.

HOW: Sharley begins each day with a theory session, breaking down they key principles, techniques and products that the stylists will be using that day. We attended a texture release training day, which was structured as follows:

Blue Tit texture training - theory
Blue Tit texture training – backwash
Blue Tit texture training – treatment application

HOUR ONE – the service and consultation

Stylists are taught about the three variations on the texture-release service, their suitability for different clients and texture patterns, and how the products and process work on the hair on a structural level. They then work on how to communicate this new knowledge to clients, with Sharley taking the place of a client in consultation role plays.

Crucial to this is the provision of tips and language covering customer reassurance, as many clients will be anxious about what effect a treatment designed to temporarily alter their natural texture will have on hair health and appearance (or will conflate it with harsher texturiser or relaxer treatments). The first hour ends with Sharley conducting a pop-quiz on everything the stylists have learned during the session, as well as a refresher of elements from previous days’ tuition.

HOURS TWO TO FOUR – practical experience with a model

Putting their new knowledge into practice, the hairdressers each undertake a texture release service from start to finish, under Sharley’s supervision. The client is encouraged to ask any questions they may have to make the interaction as close to a genuine appointment as possible, with Sharley assessing the stylists’ responses and guiding them where appropriate. Once the appointment finishes, Sharley once again goes over the key points and recaps areas where each stylist did well, as well as things they need to remember next time.

POST-TRAINING

Sharley assesses each stylist’s performance and produces a report to determine whether they are ready to take on clients on the shop floor, or whether they need to attend further sessions to refine their skills. On top of their own notes taken throughout the day, each stylist is sent a series of slides recapping the content covered and information formatted so it can be kept in the salon staffroom for reference.

From January 2022, Sharley will be running follow up workshops to give all those who have completed the initial training more vital practical experience, including with models with a variety of different hair texture types.

Blue Tit texture training consultation
Blue Tit texture training consultation

Moving forward

How have you found the process so far, Sharley?
“I’m really, really enjoying my role. It has been brilliant, but obviously not without its challenges. Things that can’t be helped like scheduling conflicts we’ve managed to work around, as it’s important the course is delivered as designed; across three days in a row. However, there have been two major hurdles we encountered: Covid, and sourcing models (particularly for the initial sessions). Due to the ongoing pandemic, there was a delay in being able to actually start the training, and at times, it just didn’t seem like there was going to be an end in sight! I like organisation and structure, and I had to accept that it’s not all going to go exactly the way of my plans and deadlines that I’ve got written down!

With models, we’ve had issues with some not showing up, meaning for certain sessions I’ve had to restructure and switch to working on doll heads. It’s frustrating as the more hands on experience stylists can get on live models the better, and when you’ve turned away other models only to experience a no-show from the one you booked in, it’s tough.

Blue Tit texture training – texture release treatment application

Now models are flowing through quite well, but at first, securing them was tricky as Blue Tit hadn’t been seen as somewhere that could cater for clients with Afro and textured hair. People will understandably be nervous as a result, and you have to remember that they may also have had previous bad experiences that bring additional hesitancy.

I think once they understand that they are coming into a session with an Afro and textured hair specialist it helps, and as we start talking to them in the consultation – asking them questions, giving them information, helping them with the manageability of the hair – straight away, they relax.”

We’ve actually had so many comments from the models that were like ‘Oh, my God, I’ve learned so much in this session too!” And often, that’s even before we’ve done their hair!

Do you notice a knowledge gap across different levels of staff seniority?  
“Yes. (Textured hair training) is compulsory in entry-level education level now, but we have people in our workplace or that are applying to staff openings that are experienced stylists, but they’ve not received that training. So I feel it’s going to take a long time to get everyone up to speed.

This first training initiative within Blue Tit is almost like a bandaid, something to set the wheels in motion. And the situation is obviously going to improve in the future, but it’s a process. Knowledge will take time to filter through into the salons, and needs to keep doing so. And every head of hair is different! That’s why I’m determined not to rush through the training – it’s condensed, but continual.”

What would you say to other salons thinking about up-skilling staff in Afro and textured hair?
“Do it. Personally, I feel that all these big, mainstream salons need to get a specialist in and have compulsory courses that all of their existing stylists have to take. That’s key – it can’t be an option or a one-off. Otherwise, it’s just for show and it’s going to take a very, very long time for clients with Afro textured hair to be able to just walk in to mainstream salons and feel confident that there’s going to be several stylists (at all levels) that can service them.

The training is valuable, not just because you’re able to offer services to clients with Afro hair, but because there are also countless types of strongly textured hair. Often, these hair types haven’t been encountered in entry-level training either. There are lot of European, Caucasian people with curly hair that have had traumatic experiences at the hands of hairdressers who have qualified only with the ability to deal with straight hair. And a lot of hair professionals are scared of European curly hair because they don’t know how to approach it in its natural state.

I think what Blue Tit did by publicly acknowledging the problem was powerful. Prior to that, I would have just glanced at their feed and seen that it’s not diverse, so that public admission really resonated with me and is really good starting point for anyone wanting to make a change.

Then I’d really suggest employing an Afro and textured hair specialist who will be dedicated to delivering that training for your company. Getting someone in to do a workshop just isn’t the same. The staff in attendance? They’re going to leave, and that vital knowledge will leave with them. I do feel like it needs to be a permanent post and the training must be compulsory within the company.”

If you’re serious about being inclusive and being part of the change to make hairdressing less segregated, it needs to be that if you don’t want to do the training, you can’t work for the company. It’s as simple as that.

What’s next for Blue Tit London?
I’m going to continue with the training throughout 2022, until all the stylists within the company have completed the minimum three introductory days. We’ve always got new stylists coming in, so they will all be going through the training.

I’m looking forward to launching the workshops in January, to ensure that everyone has had the necessary experience with all types of textured hair. The point is not to say ‘OK, tick! You’ve done the three day course, you can go and serve Afro and textured hair clients, no problem.’ I want to ensure – from the staff side – that everyone feels confident, no matter what texture of hair the client that walks through the door possesses.

I’m honestly really excited to see what happens in the future. Hopefully, we’ll soon see everyone else within the industry coming on board. I want it to be an actual movement.”

Throughout 2022, we’ll be checking in with a number of Blue Tit London staff (from juniors through to the art team and members of the senior team). We’ll be seeing how they’ve found the training and how it’s impacted their confidence, their column and the diversity of their clientele.
Stay tuned…


Sign up for FREE access to the Salon Smart HUB

Join the Club

Creative HEAD on Instagram

Loading...