Tell us about how you got your start in the beauty industry.
I always had an interest in beauty but didn’t know I would be a hairdresser. I was in the dance world; I was a classically trained dancer from the time I was five until my early 20’s. I had a tragedy happened—I lost my mom and began re-evaluating what I wanted to do. Because of my theatre and dance background, a big part of that was with costumes and characters. We would wear wigs and exaggerated makeup, and I think I was always intrigued by that.
I decided to go to hair school, but I knew I wouldn’t be content with just working in a salon behind the chair. I really wanted to do the things that seemed flashy and fun, like working on a set or on shoots. I got my license and at that time (in the early 2000s), stylists didn’t have Instagram; they had portfolios. I would go out and collaborate with aspiring photographers and makeup artists to create test shots that filled your portfolio. If you were lucky enough to get published, it would become your tear sheet in your portfolio.
I learned that education and working with a manufacturer was a way to elevate your visibility and give you more opportunities. I think because I had such a disciplined background, I developed a very high standard of being trained in doing things over and over again until they were perfected. Hard work and perseverance stayed with me, and opportunities kept coming because of that.
How did you gain the experience of working with all types of hair, including textured hair?
Being a woman of colour (born to immigrant parents who are multiracial), I grew up seeing a lot of different hair types within my own family. At the end of hair school, I realized you pick a salon you want to work in. And when I say you pick a salon, you make the decision if you’re going to work in a white salon or a black salon. I remember feeling perplexed about it because I wanted to have exposure to all sides of it. Since I didn’t have a lot of experience with highly textured hair—the natural hair movement is big now, but it had been bubbling up since the early 2000s—I went to work in a natural hair salon in Fort Lauderdale that had high-profile clients in entertainment. It exposed me to a lot of different things. I spent about a year there, and really started to feel like I was missing out because I wasn’t doing precision cutting or colour applications beyond dark levels or covering grey. I then decided to go into a top “white” salon. I was the first person of colour to work in the salon and spent the next 10 years there. Not only did I get to perfect all of those skills of colour and precision cutting, but I also started to integrate black and white clients. I think that’s the conundrum that a lot of salons right now are trying to figure out; how to really diversify, because when you’re talking about textured hair services, you’re talking about lengthier services and things that take a few more steps.
What has been the turning point for you in your career?
I ended up working for myself at a boutique salon for not even two years before I was presented with an opportunity by Nick Stenson, whom I’ve collaborated with on photo shoots over the years. He was being brought into JC Penney to help them re-brand to be more modern and elevated. He brought on a team and I was one of them to be a director to help write education. That was my taste of working corporately, which was unique as well and I eventually became the creative director of the salon and did that for a while, and here I am today. I joined Matrix and won five NAHAs in various categories ranging from texture to styling to editorial.
As of late, it’s been being an advocate for any sort of diversity and inclusion conversations that are happening [in the industry]. For Matrix, I trained a “Texture Squad” that was their first foray into texture hair education. I feel like my career for the past 20 years has been preparing me for this.
Why do you think there’s been a resistance by some stylists to learn more about working with textured hair? How do you address this when teaching?
It’s one word: Fear. I always thought it was weird when people would say, “Oh, I don’t know how to do that.” You chose this as your field, so why is there a drop off after wavy hair? It’s still just hair, and I think one of the things that I really try to create with classes is an environment where stylists don’t feel intimidated or afraid. Sometimes they don’t know where to start or are overwhelmed or think it’s scary and are afraid to say that, because they don’t want to be offensive. I think I created an environment where I allow them to tell me that it’s scary and we can dissect it.
It’s about demystifying these age-old concepts about styling and haircare rituals. Taking them through a journey and dispelling myths and standards that don’t work for everyone. Removing any stigmas associated with any type of rituals that are different from what you think they should be. I don’t even like to say that there’s a resistance to it and there is, but there are some hairstylists who are running towards it and are so excited.
As a multi-award-winning hairstylist, what do you most enjoy about competing in hair competitions?
They are absolutely nerve-wracking, but they are pieces of me that will live on, long after I’m gone. It’s what has given me the voice that I have today; the voice to command a room, command respect and command people to listen is a result of winning those awards. Yes, all of that was talent, hard work and pushing myself artistically. You put your heart, soul and everything into creating full-on collections and share that part of myself with people and helping inspire others that are looking to go into that genre. But the biggest and probably most fulfilling thing that having those accolades has done is stretching me as an artist and giving me the platform that I have and am immensely enjoying today.
I knew that when I was winning NAHAs, I was representing a side of the industry that gets very little recognition; to see a black face on the stage five times in five years was my way of saying, “You guys can do it, too. Let’s be like a part of the bigger pro beauty world.”
As global artistic director for Matrix, what do you most enjoy about your role?
When I decided to join Matrix and became artistic director, that was my way of saying, “Look, there’s a black girl on a main stage of a major manufacturer. Pay attention!”
I probably haven’t been as fulfilled as I’ve been in the past year or two. I worked on a product line that Matrix is launching in the fall called A Curl Can Dream. It’s a full curl line that’s been in the works for a few years. It’s perfectly in sync with the need for brands to offer diverse portfolios of products. I’m loving the education right now and looking at hair in a fully encompassed portfolio.
As a woman of colour in the beauty industry, did you experience any challenges in the industry and how did you overcome them?
My personality is more reserved and laid back. I’m a person of fewer words, but when I do speak, I know that people listen. I always handled any challenges in a way where personal integrity was always important to me. I was always trying to correct people along the way, so if I knew someone said something that was inappropriate or that didn’t sit right with me, that I was always on a mission to correct it, but in a space of educating.
I think whenever I showed up—not only being a person of colour but being a woman—I always felt the need to show up extra professionally. I always needed to be impeccable with my dress, my speech and my talent. I knew that there was always this expectation that I needed to live up to and exceed, so that in some way, shape and form that others that look like me could also have exposure to those same opportunities. I always did it in a way that was very dignified and still left people with the impression that this woman is a class act, and I always knew I needed to leave that impression because it wasn’t only my impression to leave.
What’s next for you?
I’m looking forward to continuing to partner with brands, and somewhere down the line I would love to be able to explore my own products and tools.
One of the things I’m working on right now is curriculum, as it pertains to cosmetology school level. I’m in negotiations with some of the companies that put out the content and material for stylists in school, and adding texture hair education to that.
It took me 20 years to get this place where I can actually say, “Wow, I’m able to have a voice in this movement that’s happening.” This is a shift that will be a defining moment in the beauty industry and my name will be amongst the people that were leading the charge in this conversation.