Six mentors and mentees dish on one of the most important relationships in the salon—and why it’s essential for your career.
You don’t always have to travel far and wide for the best education. Sometimes, you only have to look as far as the chair next to yours, where that senior stylist you admire works each day. Whether you’re an industry vet or a newbie on the floor, the most important relationship you can have is with your mentor or mentee. And as these mentors share, that give-and-take is anything but a one-way street.
Bridge the Generation Gap
When stylist Greg May, a salon owner for nearly 10 years, set out to intentionally mentor his apprentices—he calls them rising stars—he approached the relationship quite differently from the generation he grew up in. May was classically trained at Sassoon in what he describes as “very boot camp and army-like, where you had to gain respect and get down on your hands and knees to clean the chrome on the chair.” But with the current generation, including Jessica Sciarra—a Marvel Beauty School grad when she joined the salon in July 2011—May recognizes that the old formula won’t work.
Can You Relate?
“The younger generation is different from Gen X, and I think it’s really important for my generation to acknowledge who they are as people. With the generation coming up now, I don’t think they want the factory-based salons we saw in the 1980s. They want relationships with the stylist, where they can come to a place where they can really feel at ease and at home. We all have something to learn from each other. For example, my younger staff have taught me a lot about technology,” explains May.
Never Stop Learning
Sciarra agrees, saying, “One of the things I like about Greg is that he’s always trying to learn new things, even though he’s been doing hair for 20 years. Recently, Greg’s been really into Vern, a scissor company where people cut hair with multiple scissors. He’s watched all their videos and trained himself how to cut hair with both hands. That’s amazing. I think it’s really cool that he wants us to know the best about the tools we’re using and give us access to them.”
A high-profile stylist and co-owner, Daniel Benoît is a big believer in passing on the mastery he has acquired over the course of his stellar career. The stylists he mentors are as much part of his career as he is key in theirs. “These relationships are all about trust,” he points out. “You can never be as ‘hot’ as you think you are if you don’t take a class with someone else to better your craft. And for me it’s all about giving back. Sharing is essential if you want to succeed. On every level.”
For the mentoring relationship to be successful, he says, there has to be some give and take. And lots of it, just like any committed couple or great friendship that survives many pitfalls along the way.
In some cases, Benoît has been mentoring the same stylists for more than fifteen years. “They keep me on my toes, that’s for sure! I meet with some of them every three months. And they demand to walk away with many new tricks and techniques, ” he says. To fuel his passion for teaching, Benoît travels all over the world. His favourite spot? Sassoon, in London, where he checks in at least three times a year. “These training seminars are absolutely necessary for me to evolve in my career and, in turn, to teach those who rely on me to also advance their craft. We’re all here to better ourselves.”
Advancing Your Career
One of his current mentees, Valeria Amirova, was only a student when she heard about Benoît and Pure. She started working as an assistant right after graduating, and was almost immediately taken under Benoît’s wing. “He’s the reason why I’m still here”, she says. “We have a very intuitive communication. When we work together, I immediately get what he’s saying. A mentor is a huge plus to have in your career. Hairstyling is an art, and you need to see things from a new perspective to advance.”
When 24 year-old Lindsey Taylor applied at Zazou Salon and Spa and started an apprenticeship with Tara Main, she had no idea what she was in for. She was almost immediately put into the newly created position of personal assistant, began working on clients’ colour—in addition to programs, projects, work plans, homework, tests and a weekly four-hour learning session. “I started working with Tara every day, watching all the stylists, soaking it all in,” says Taylor. “It was difficult, but I knew I had to start at the bottom and work my way up, so I stuck it out.”
“I was tough. There were tears,” Main recalls, “I cried some too!” But Main says she now gets thanked for pushing stylists so hard to be the best they can be. “It was not an easy program, but anyone who went through it is a success, and Lindsay is an example of that.” Main’s two years’ experience as an Aveda Certified Colour Educator and Hair Cutting Educator helped her develop the program.
Mentee Becomes Mentor
“Learning from someone who’s so talented, someone who has made it so far, who’s been through everything I was about to go through, just knowing that I could get there helped me. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel’” says Taylor. “I’ve come so far now. I’m a senior stylist at Zazou, and looking at bringing on a personal assistant of my own.”
Words of Wisdom
Being voted a Favourite Hairstylist in a local paper and selected as a semi-finalist in the Avant Garde category of the Contessa Awards, Taylor offers this advice to those about to enter a mentoring relationship: “Look to work with someone you can get along with and work similarly to. Have faith because there will be bumps and lots of tears, but you can get through it, you just have to stick with it.”
For Main, the experience enriched her life immensely. “My biggest need in life is teaching, mastery and creating a platform for others to grow,” she states. “I remember the people who helped me along the way—but I remember times when I wasn’t treated well as an apprentice and that’s something I want to stop. I want apprenticeship to be looked as a mentor and mentee relationship and not where I’m the master and you’re the slave.”