While the year 2020 was one that many of us will be unable to forget, for Silas Tsang it was unforgettable for an entirely different reason.
Not only did the Ottawa-based hairstylist win the Contessa award for Canadian Hairstylist of the Year, but he also won a North American Hairstyling Award (NAHA) and British Hairdressing Award (BHA)—the first time ever someone has won all three in the same year.
According to Sally Brooks, who was named the 2020 British Hairdresser of the Year at BHA, thanks to her über-creative collection she created during the lockdown, she has always admired Canadian hairdressing. She took the opportunity to catch up with Tsang to chat about their inspirations, what keeps them motivated and what the future holds for these two groundbreaking artists.
Silas Tsang: What do you think about Canadian hairdressing?
Sally Brooks: Canada is definitely one of the countries that we look to for creativity. You have many amazing talented people and a different vision that is really refreshing.
Silas: You’ve challenged hairdressers with minimal budgets to compete in awards and get creative. However, many hairdressers feel that an expensive photographer is the crux of an award-winning hair collection. What are your thoughts about this, and what are your tips for those with a low photo shoot budget?
Sally: For me, awards is about quality of work and forward-thinking vision that represents the whole industry; the bigger your budget, the easier this is to achieve. With good models, good lighting and an incredible photographer, you automatically tick off some of the hurdles that you might come across. But it is a hairdressing competition and so the hair is always the hero and sometimes it is the last thing that people think about. You can’t hide hair with an incredible photographer, but a low budget shoot really does mean great models. This can be models cast from a street casting––but not your mom or sister! A low budget shoot means you have to work harder on the smaller details. Is your model photogenic? What lighting can she take? What hair will fit and what you are trying to say with your collection? It sometimes forces us to look outside the box and if you get it right, can really resonate with people. Awards are all about capturing an image that speaks to other hairdressers, so working out what you want to say and the best way to capture it is important.
Silas: How have you maintained focus and motivation at your salon, Brooks & Brooks, during this pandemic?
Sally: The more you sit down, the more you don’t want to get up. The less you do, the less you are motivated to do. So, we have worked on different projects, from online education to creating a new social media team. We haven’t overloaded our team but just given them small things to keep everyone’s brains active and in work mode. We reopen [in April] and will gradually be ramping this up so that our team is inspired and motivated, and excited to be going back to work.
Silas: What lessons or advice would you give to your younger self?
Sally: I would tell [young Sally] to be more confident––to enjoy every adventure and that it was the right thing to do to say, “yes” more than “no,” even if it took you out of your comfort zone. The more knowledge you have, the more you will achieve.
Silas: Hairdressing is an industry that is very rewarding but also very challenging. While most people see a hairstylist multiple times a year, not many people see hairdressing as a career aspiration. I remember being at your hair show in Canada years ago, and you talked about writing a book about annoying customers. Have you ever thought about writing a screenplay to inform worldwide audiences about hairdressing as a career, including the good, the bad, and the ugly? On that note, how do you deal with the struggles in hairdressing?
Sally: I would love to write a screenplay! We are very good at fluffing up hairdressing and only talking about the good bits. We have a habit of only celebrating the high achievers who have won awards and travel and do the exciting things. I believe we need to start celebrating the everyday hairdresser; the ones that keep our industry going that deal with clients on a day-to-day basis. They are the core of our industry and we do not celebrate them enough. I feel we can put pressure on the younger generation about what success is, when really success is different for everyone. It’s something I am very passionate about. Being successful is not only about winning awards, but also about being happy. To achieve anything, you have to focus on it because if you don’t, someone else will and they will do it better. It’s baby steps and suddenly all those baby steps add up and you begin to walk like an elephant––it all clicks and comes together!
Silas: How does your life routine set you apart from hairdressers who dream about your accomplishments?
Sally: I live my life with my glass half full––I listen to everything when I’m on the bus, when people are talking, I take inspiration from my day-to-day life. I surround myself with like-minded people that make me laugh and I treat people like I would like to be treated myself. Follow your own dreams and don’t watch or compare yourself with others. It’s amazing what you can achieve.
Sally Brooks: What inspires you to keep fresh and motivated to create?
Silas Tsang: The talent in the industry motivates me to differentiate myself continuously. What inspires me is seeing others create such beautiful and unique collections and wanting to emulate their success.
Sally: What is your biggest highlight and stumble in your career?
Silas: My biggest highlight was winning the Canadian Hairstylist of the Year, Northern American Hairstylist of the Year and the British Hairdressing Awards International Collection, all in 2020. In terms of being a salon owner, I think the biggest stumble was when I renovated my salon structure to be a satellite academy in 2013, only to realize that it was the wrong business decision as people were not interested in using the space.
Sally: What changes would you like to see within the industry?
Silas: Before and even more so since the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of hairdressing education has transitioned to a virtual format. However, this usually leaves the learner only watching and not doing. The current attitude with many learners is that watching makes them an expert. While I think that many things can be learned through seeing, I feel that experience can only be gained through practice. I hope to see the industry’s attitude shift back towards valuing hands-on training, once it’s safe.
Sally: What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter competitions and aspires to win awards?
Silas: Before your photo shoot, be prepared and have a vision/inspiration. It is impossible to create a collection without material, products, hair and tools, so make sure you have enough to allow for flexibility. You should have several looks prepared to shoot and a guiding vision for when you’re being spontaneous with a look.
Sally: If you were not a hairdresser, what would you have been?
Silas: I would love to know what it’d be like to have my weakness as a strength, so I would have a career that involves lots of speaking, such as a lawyer.
Sally: What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Silas: I have a really good sense of humour once you get to know me.