How did you get your start in the hair industry?
My aunt owns a hair salon in my hometown. I’ve always loved to work, so as soon as I was the legal age to work, I got a job. After a year, she asked me to work at her front desk. I did general admin tasks including their merchandising and booking appointments. It solidified that when I graduated high school, I was going to go to hair school. Right after high school I did an eight and a half month Hair Design program and started working right away. I was really lucky that what I wanted to do ended up being something that I was actually able to do, and it was the right move.
Congratulations on winning Atlantic Hairstylist of the Year! How does it feel to win this award for the second year in a row?
It feels surreal! We all enter to win and to feel the thrill of it, but it almost feels like more pressure when you have something to lose and you’re defending the title. I’ve entered so many competitions so many times and you definitely don’t get to win as often as you enter. It’s just so validating and so exciting every single time. I feel so grateful because I know what it’s like to put in all of the work and not have it recognized in that way. I think it’s important to go into it with, “What will make me feel proud of this collection?” and have something to be proud of because it can’t always be about the win.
Does your winning collection have a name?
Yes, Future Festival.
What was the inspiration behind this collection?
I think the music industry is one of the last to really get back to the same capacity it had been before COVID. Large outdoor music festivals are one thing that are really being missed and craved by people. I think people miss it for the music, but also for the fashion and the outlet that people use those festivals for. Tons of people just go to dress up really wild and express themselves, so that was what I had in mind with the concept.
This was your second shoot that you shot during the pandemic. What was that like?
Last year I had it in February, about two weeks before we got shut down. This year I had it planned for May but then our province went into lockdown and it had to be cancelled. It’s so defeating because you’ve already invested so much time, so much money and just mental and emotional energy into creating your concept, purchasing the wardrobe, and organizing dates with your photographer, makeup artists, and models. To have it shut down is devastating. I felt a little bit lost and defeated. Then when the borders opened up between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (because my photographer is from another province), I had this urge of “I’m going to do it again!” It was an emotional rollercoaster.
Did anything happen during the shoot that stood out to you? A memorable moment?
Going into the date of the shoot, they did hype up the restrictions again between our borders. Luckily, my partner does logistics for a living and has been doing a lot of COVID protocols for events. We ended up having to register the photoshoot as an event and get all of the protocols approved by Public Health. We had all of these protocols we needed to follow on the shoot day to make sure that everyone was safe. It was such a wild morning because until my photographer crossed the border, we really didn’t know if it was going to happen or not. I don’t think I slept the night before and we were crossing our fingers, but it just added an element of joy and satisfaction to the whole day. I felt so lucky to be able to do it.
What do you like most about entering competitions like the Contessas?
I love connecting with other stylists that vibe on that same competitive realm. Being able to go through the entire process of having the idea based on something we crave to create, and then figuring out how to execute it, (what works as far as wardrobe, makeup, concept, lighting, background, and the category that you want to focus on), and then actually seeing it come to life is really special. It’s amazing that we get to do that and then celebrate everyone else’s process, too.
Do you think winning helps your career?
Yes, I think it does for sure. Clients love to hear about it. When you go through the process you always learn a lot. You’re humbled as you go through the process because not everything you try works.
I work for Goldwell as a freelance educator, so networking with other stylists in that way is great. I think it demonstrates your commitment and passion, so then other stylists want to take your programs and want to hear what you have to share with them based on your experiences. I, along with Michelle Pargee, teach a program about how to create competition photoshoot entries. It certainly helps feel like that content is more relevant when we’re doing it ourselves.
What advice do you have for anyone who is thinking about entering the Contessas, especially those from small towns/provinces who may feel intimidated?
I’m in a super rural area and I think it’s just about finding a mentor or mentors that reflect what you feel is your version of success—whether it’s the type of styles or colour they create, the type of photography or even just the type of mentor they are—that you would love to become someday. Finding someone that can help beat down the path for you and can ask questions to is huge. For example, Michelle Pargee has other people’s genuine interest at heart, and I think that’s huge. You can beat down your own path, too, but it can be such a beautiful journey when you have someone you can turn to for support and advice. It’s a really emotional process when you’re creating something and then putting it out there to be judged and seen by your peers, so I think mentorship is huge.
Create something that’s really authentic that you can feel really proud of because there will be more times that you don’t win, so you have to find a way to feel really proud of your work regardless. Celebrate the times that you win but it can’t be solely about that, so just create something that’s really meaningful and authentic to you, and that you can feel good about. As cheesy as it sounds, if you do that, you’ll always feel like a winner. Any time that you stumble and it doesn’t work, squeeze every lesson out of that experience for the next time.
Who are your mentors in the industry?
Michelle Pargee has always been a huge mentor to me as well as Rodica Hristu, another Goldwell artist who’s always been massively supportive of me when I was a younger stylist and just dipping my toe in competition and education. They are powerhouse women who want to lift up young stylists and do it, not for their own gain at all, just because they want stylists to enjoy their success. And anything they have to share, they will.
What does this win mean to you?
Hopefully I can continue down the path that I’m on—continuing to grow, compete and certainly to mentor others. I’ve been so gifted with amazing mentors so that’s something really important to me; that I’m able to help and to uplift stylists who are interested in taking the same path.
Do you have any goals that you could share with us?
I want to win the Colourist. That’s the category I’m coming after. Colour is what lights my fire. I love formulas, the chemistry of it and creating different placements and different effects. So, the colour categories are what I have my eye on.
What has this year been like for you?
The whole year has been a rollercoaster. My team in my salon that I own is the strongest it’s ever been. This is our seventh year in business and I’m so proud and so grateful for my staff. My team is strong and solid, and that’s been a huge gift for me. They were massively supportive and massively inspired so that’s been a highlight. Being able to actually execute this photo shoot has been a highlight. Everything is still so unpredictable, so there’s definitely been highs and lows, but I certainly feel like we’ve been luckier than a lot of places. I’m just so grateful for the team in my salon and the team that helped me execute the shoot.
Name/Nom: Chelsea Sutherland
Category/Catégorie: Atlantic Hairstylist | Styliste Provinces Atlantiques
Salon: Chelsea Laine Salon and Colour Bar, New Glasgow, NS
Makeup/Maquillage: Elle Munster
Photos: Denis Duquette