Hairdressing finds itself in a state of flux. People’s perception and expectations of work (and the workplace) are shifting, and so we must shift with them. In front of a packed-out audience in east London, Creative HEAD and JOICO assembled a panel of industry taste-shapers for The Coterie London to discuss what’s new, what’s coming next, and the opportunities we can create out of change.
Jay Birmingham, session artist
Jack Mead & Lydia Wolfe, owners, Jack & The Wolfe
Karrie Fitzmaurice, owner, Kit Studios
Georgia Freeman, Q Cut Hair & Beauty & The It List Rising Star 2022
Ky Wilson, owner, The Social
Mike O’Gorman and Lewis Stanford, founders, The Rubicon
We must be more intentional about creating spaces for students, adult learners and working professionals to build the life they truly want
In order to tackle its ongoing recruitment crisis, hairdressing must change how it sets about attracting and retaining its future workforce. “People used to strive for money, now it’s happiness,” said Georgia Freeman. “I came to hairdressing after a career change and I could not be happier. It’s inspired me to go back to Kingston Grammar School – where it was all about going to Oxford or Cambridge – to talk about hairdressing and how creative and lucrative it is.”
How we train our assistants must also change, argued Jack Mead, because the new generation have completely different expectations and must be treated differently: “I trained at a really strict salon where I regularly worked way more hours than I was contracted to do, and endured a really long commute in order to do so. Today’s youngsters won’t tolerate that. We have to treat them differently, break that cycle of making them do all the stuff we were made to do.”
Work alone doesn’t make us happy
The pandemic gave lots of hairdressers time to think and reconsider what they wanted out of their work situations – a period of reflection that led many to quit employment in order to explore freelancing and other new opportunities. And although increased earnings were behind many of those decisions, the pursuit of happiness and an improved work/life balance were also key.
“Our generation worked hard because we saw our parents working hard; for them, burn-out was something to be prized,” said Karrie Fitzmaurice. “But the new generation prioritise their health and happiness a lot more, and for that reason I predict that in the future productivity will be rewarded more highly than the traditional 9 to 5.”
We have an opportunity to make employees feel truly happy at work by making them feel energised and motivated, with a clear purpose for being there. “When I was employed, I had to use sick days and holidays to do my creative projects,” said Jay Birmingham. “Employers now are becoming more flexible about allowing their staff to pursue opportunities outside of the salon and that is far more attractive to new people coming into the industry too.”
Community: the new social contract
Community has always been important in hairdressing, but never more than now. We do not enjoy being isolated beings, we want to be social ones.
“[Our co-working space] The Rubicon was inspired by the camaraderie of working backstage at Fashion Week,” said Mike O’Gorman and Lewis Stanford. “It’s a hub where people can come and do clients, but also meet other people, create and have fun. Our commercial model is different – we supplement our income by renting out our space for events and parties – but the big driver is building a sense of community.”
“I don’t see why there should be a big divide between freelancers and salons,” said Ky Wilson, “but the truth is that freelancing is lonely and I predict that more and more people will move back to working in spaces where they can be part of a team.”
“We opened our salon a few months before lockdown, so we’ve never really known business life without being involved in nine different WhatsApp groups discussing PPE and such like,” said Lydia Wolfe. “But running a salon is a lonely business, and so we don’t see other salons as competitors, we see them as people we can share ideas and discuss challenges with.”
It’s impossible to come up with a dictionary definition for ‘hairdresser’ or ‘barber’
“The role of hairdresser used to divide itself as one-third scientist, one-third artist and one-third therapist,” said Georgia. “But now you can add ‘content creator’ to that list, and for all the right reasons. Social media is the best free marketing tool that I use. At least 10 per cent of my clients have found me via social media.”
“When I was an assistant at Nicky Clarke, people tried to tell me I had to specialise in either cutting or colouring or session work,” said Jay. “But actually, I’m living proof that you can do it all – salon work, session work, red carpet work, all of it. And that’s an important message to send to the next generation – there is so much scope in this career.”
And finally, some advice for the future…
Our thanks go to JOICO for helping us bring our final Coterie event of the year to the industry. The goody bags – containing a Secret Santa mix of their most iconic products – were pretty special too!