Freelance work wasn’t originally on the cards for Harriet Stokes. Her plans of moving down under to Australia were scattered to the winds thanks to Covid-19, and she was forced to hit pause and radically re-assess. So she formulated a new plan, which has seen her thriving and reaching new heights.
Fresh off her first guest artist gig for L’Oréal Professionnel Paris, leading a brilliant French Balayage Masterclass for SELF/STYLED Sunday, we caught up for a deep-dive into what she’s learned about pivoting to react to unplanned changes.
I had planned to take a complete timeout from the salon life, to travel on the way to Australia and then settle there for a year or two. I wanted to work for a salon that potentially specialised in cutting and take things in a new direction; yes, I love colour, really love colour. But my cutting had taken a backseat in London, and I wanted to refocus on that again. I hadn’t planned on going freelance in Melbourne as I wouldn’t have had a clientele, but I was really looking forward to seeing how the salons and hair industry works out there.
Covid-19 was a complete curveball, as it was for everyone, but I had to change all my plans – change literally everything. I hadn’t yet reached my final day in my old salon, and actually went into lockdown employed. This gave me space, and obviously financial security being furloughed, which meant I was able to spend time really thinking about where I wanted to go next now that everything had changed.
If I’m honest, I was actually completely burnt out going into the first lockdown. Having that down time, for the first time in 10 or 11 years of being the industry, forced me to pause and really acknowledge the effect that working so hard had had on my mental and physical health. It gave me time to think about moving forward, but also about how I could continue at a pace that was good for me. That’s how the decision to go freelance came around; I realised that I need to be more in control of my own life. I already knew that I wanted a big change, having planning to move countries, so the scariness of going freelance probably didn’t hit quite so hard.
I had lockdown to sit and think about what direction I wanted to go in. It gave me so much time to actually plan, to do proper research and come to terms with the realities of making such a big change. I officially left employment in May, so I was no longer furloughed, which enabled me to start promoting myself as a freelancer and no longer connected to a brand. Once we came out of lockdown I could hit the ground running.
I knew that I wanted to continue being an educator, but I didn’t have time to set up my freelance business with clients and set up another for education. Once I had settled into my new daily freelance life, looking after clients and getting used to the admin, I felt that I had enough head space to take on my next venture… Humankind Hair. Myself and Anneliese Hesse – my now business partner – were loosely making plans throughout 2020 but we chose to start putting those plans into action in August. We officially launched Humankind Hair in October, selling out two courses within 36 hours. Cue lockdown 2.0 – which meant we had to cancel both of those in-person courses and completely remodel our business to go online, immediately… Perfect. Thankfully this meant I was able to keep busy during that month of lockdown, and able to earn some money to keep me going.
During that time out of the salon in lockdown 2.0 I was able to continue working and trying different things. I had the opportunity to work on The Search, Little Mix’s TV show, with the HairDotCom Art Team and then I assisted James Earnshaw on a ghd campaign. Both of these events made me realise that there are other ways to make money than solely doing clients, and that I needed to have more availability in my diary moving forward to allow for other exciting opportunities.
My first introduction to L’Oréal Professionnel Paris was when I started working at my previous salon in London. I went on to audition to be part of the L’Oréal Professionnel ID Team back in 2016 and was on that team for two years, during which I learned a wealth of knowledge about hair, but also presenting skills and experience. This led to me building connections with them and getting to know the team. From there, I went on to win the L’Oréal Colour Trophy Star Award, with a prize of a year of free education, and obtained my Colour Specialist degree, where I was able to really get to know the brand inside and out.
L’Oréal Professionnel Paris has since reached out and asked me to educate for them as a guest artist for 2021, which was a really big moment for me – especially as a freelance artist. It’s so nice to know that a brand wants to work with you, but it felt like a real achievement to know that the years of hard work, working with the brand and loving their products, had led to this. It was really a good feeling.
Harriet’s work for Self/Styled Sunday’s L’Oréal Professionnel Paris Masterclass on French Balayage
We’ll be checking back in with Harriet throughout the year as she navigates her new freelance career. You can find her on Instagram here, and discover more about her education brand, Humankind Hair, here.