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The importance of colour and personal branding

There was a time that Sophia Hilton did NOT have yellow hair. Do you remember? Possibly not – and that’s why she knows it’s a powerful branding tool

“When I was about 21, I used to read in hair magazines about a ginger girl called Kim Rance who was in the FAME Team. I love her hair and the dresses she used to wear and no matter what industry event we were at, she was always there and I always spotted her. One day we got to know each other and I remember feeling like the coolest girl in the world when she walked over to talk to me at the L’Oréal Colour Trophy Awards. Literally, everyone in the room knew who she was. How was that possible? She was  only my age!

“Years on, we became good friends and I would tag on to her side at events. In a cringey The Devil wears Prada style, she would whisper the names of the people I should know in the industry as they would approach us to talk to her. It was around this time I asked: ‘Kim, how the hell do you have such a name in the industry already?’. She replied: ‘It’s just the orange hair, Sophia. You have to stop changing your hair.’

“Now, there was no chance of that, I loved change. Year after year, I went from black and long, to red and fringed, to short and white. Then came the summer of pastels – you name it, I did it. But I can honestly say it wasn’t until I committed to a look/shade five years later that my personal branding began to really flourish, along with my career for that matter.

“Yellow was a total accident; it’s not like I ever really liked the shade specifically. But quite honestly, I was running out of colours. Since then, I’ve heard that scientifically yellow is the colour that the eye is drawn to fastest, and that it’s often voted the world’s happiest colour. I’d like to say it was that thought out… but honestly, it was a total fluke!

“You must understand that I wholeheartedly believe your success in any industry should never be about aesthetics. And, of course, talent will or at least should prevail. But leaving a memorable impression on someone’s mind will always be important. Being remembered will make the difference when a brand is trying to think of the perfect person to help with their new shoot or stage work. When I would work abroad, they might not remember my name, but they would say: ‘Oh, I liked the yellow girl.’ Then next time they see my face in a magazine it’s ‘Oh, that yellow one is called Sophia.’

“Branding, especially colour association branding, is classed as a psychological short cut. Tesco claimed blue, probably because Sainsburys claimed orange. Coca-Cola took red and McDonalds yellow. You would recognise any of these brands not only by shape but by colour. Vivienne Westwood had to stay orange just as much as Pamela Anderson had to stay bleach blonde. There is one thing all of these ‘brands’ have in common and that is consistency.

“My consistency is actually more about what comes out of my mouth; it’s my drive to make the industry better. The constant analysing of my career to make sure my actions are not just an opportunity to boost my ego but to actually help those around me. I’m constantly striving to question and challenge the status quo of the world of hairdressing, to be socially responsible and to speak for those that can’t.

“But you know what? That’s one hell of a message to get out when you are up on stage being called ‘the yellow one.’ There might be more to me than just a colour, but being recognised is the first step to being listened to.

“In short, my style, or my choice of colour, can change; but there must always be a consistent flow that marries who I am on the inside with who I am on the outside. A thread of something that connects the old Sophia to the new Sophia, year after year.”

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