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© 2020 by Brodie Richards.

  • Brodie Richards

Taking Care of Hairdressers

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

"Ask a woman about her hair, and she just might tell you the story of her life."

I remember two fairly common instructions growing up - wash your neck and comb you hair. It was my mother who insisted that I remember to wash my neck. The demand to comb my hair came from my grandma. She was obsessed with it - and she was quite particular. It needed to be a comb, not a brush. She desperately wanted me to train my hair to go a certain direction and thought that only a comb would work. She would give very precise instructions about wetting my hair and combing it over and over in one direction. She was clear; once was not enough. I had to be very deliberate and methodical. It always felt like a silly practice. Why did I care what direction my hair went?

My story is likely very typical. We are taught by our parents very early on in life about the connection between hair and personal grooming. It starts with a conversation about cleanliness, but we also learn that it signifies much more for our parents. This is evident in how important it is that we have our hair done for photo day, or church, or the latest family wedding. Hair is a signifier to the world - it tells the world this child is taken care of well. When parents bring their children to the salon the often attempt to explain the mangled mess of hair as though they expect an inquisition from the stylists. And the horror if we find lice.

Hair is also one of the earliest instances were children attempt to assert freedom and independence from their parents. Growing their hair long, cutting it short, or styling it differently are all forms of self-expression and self-discovery. Within the often comic tug of war between parent and child, a sense of identity is silently (and loudly) being debated, and the right to self-determination is being waged by the child. My son grew his hair out for a year - he called it a sway - it looked ridiculous but he loved it. Brandy was horrified. It is twice as hard being a mom and hairdresser - omg! - people will think I don't care about you and I am an awful stylist.

We learn at a very young age that what we do with our hair invites a reaction from others - both in good ways and in bad ways. Hair is noticed. It has the power to get us compliments from others. It also has the power to get us ridiculed and ostracized.

By the time we are teenagers, we know that hair can get a different sort of reaction - a more political reaction. We can use our hair to confront our culture's norms and test the boundaries of self-expression. Hair gets tangled up in the messy world of gender politics - pun intended!

One thing is certain about hair - we learn it matters. We learn that the choices we make with our hair and how we care for it will shape our identity - our self- and it will convey to the world a statement about who we are, the world we live in and how we wish to be perceived. For that reason, we believe hair-care is really self-care.

This confrontation between hair and identity is never over. It follows us throughout our life as we attempt to determine for ourselves how we wish the world to see us. We visit hair salons in search of assistance in this practice of identity formation. We appeal to them to help us look professional, or sexy, or younger, or trendy.

"Hair matters because it's always around, framing our faces, growing in, falling out, getting frizzy, changing colors - in short demanding our attention: Comb me! Wash me! Relax me! Color me! It's always there, conveying messages about who we are and what we want. Invite me to the prom! Love me! Hire me! Sleep with me! Don't even thinking about sleeping with me! Take me seriously! Marry me! Mistake me -please!- for a much younger woman!"

We cannot manage this confrontation alone. We need hairdressers we can trust and who can share this journey with us. For this reason, we have always viewed the hair salon as a critical ethical space for clients. We do not just cut hair - we provide clients with opportunities for self-care and self-formation.

The best way to ensure it lives up to this ideal - of being a supportive ethical space for clients - is to make sure that we take great care or hairdressers.

Over the years, we have gained a lot of clarity on this issue. When we first purchased the salon we knew we wanted to do some things different. Brandy was frustrated that as a stylist asking for time off was so difficult. I was angry that owners had played games with stat pay and other employment rules. So we gave ourselves the task of doing it better. This started small - following the rules of employment and a little common sense.

With each new step, our vision became a little more clear. Take better care of hairdressers.

We eliminated commissions in 2014 and started to pay the staff a guaranteed salary. We started that salary higher than their current income from commissions, so each stylist got a raise. They got more than a raise however. Salary gives them piece of mind about their pay. No more peaks and valleys that commission created for them. Sure the super busy weeks were great, but the anxiety during slow periods was crushing. It improved teamwork, as nobody gained more than others from what services were booked. They work as a team because they are paid as a team. Covering a sick teammate, or a maternity leave, does not diminish the income of their co-workers.

Salary meant we could pay for sick days, and days spent away at education. Its a guaranteed income - regardless of the hours worked or clients served. Salary means flexibility for our pay structures. We can add bonuses. We can add raises. We can add side projects and new revenue streams and the stylists can share in the creation of corporate wealth is open, transparent, and built to support them.

In the years following the elimination of commissions more changes have started in steady waves. We stopped benchmarking retail sales, productivity and other metrics. Hairdressers did not join the industry because of a love of setting revenue targets and meeting them. They love take caring of people and metrics can get in the way of that job. We started to take a serious look at how we could make sure we cared more about the quality of the connection with clients over the quantity of connections.

We curtailed double-booking. I won't say eliminated because it still happens on occasion, but it is the exception, not the norm. We don't ask hairdressers to squeeze clients in and we don't compromise time standards to do the job right for each client.

Our next project is health benefits. We want to make that a standard for all our employees.

Taking care of hairdressers to us, means being generous and kind but it also means building systems to give them freedom, autonomy and the right to self-determination - over their career, their clients and their goals.

We believe hair is self-care. It is caring for clients and helping them discover ways to take care of their own needs. It is caring for the stylists and making sure the work they do is fulfilling, safe, and life-affirming.