Working in Style

NEXT sat down with Kristen Collins, a hairstylist and business owner in St. Petersburg, who spilled the tea on the ups and downs of doing hair.

Cosmetology and aesthetics is one of the fastest-growing career paths in Florida, with services ranging from manicures to skin treatments to massage therapy. And, of course, hair care! Just about everyone needs regular haircuts, so if you’re weighing your career options, this is a great one.

What are the requirements for being a licensed stylist?

In Florida, you have to complete 1200 hours of schooling and pass a practical exam. I went to a private cosmetology school, but you can also go through PTECH. If I had it to do over, I’d have chosen this option because it’s very affordable ($4K-5K verses $15K for private). Don’t assume that you need the highest-price, brand-name school. You learn the very same thing at vocational programs like PTECH.

How do you launch a career as a stylist?

The great thing about this industry is there is no “typical” way to level up. Sometimes luck puts you in a great position to start, and sometimes you have to start at the literal bottom. The best tip is to connect with local stylists while you’re in school. Check out Instagram and see who’s doing work that you love. Book a wash and style with them, and get a feel for being a client; it will help you with your own business. Sign on to be someone’s assistant. It may seem like you’re just sweeping floors, mixing color, shampooing, and answering phones, but the most important part is working with a stylist who truly takes you under their wing and teaches you how to run your business.

When did you decide to start Beehive Salon?

Becoming a so-called “independent contractor” is a massive step. You need to make sure your weekly income can handle your rent (either chair rental, room rental or salon rental), products and tools, taxes, and enough savings to cover your bills if you take time off. I decided to go into business for myself when I realized that my commission rate took more out of my paycheck than these expenses. Also, I wanted more creative freedom, and I had very loyal clients who trusted me enough to come with me.

What’s something you love about your job?

My favorite part actually has nothing to do with hair — it’s the relationships I have with my clients. When you and your clients have mutual trust, your appointments become a form of taking care, of giving them confidence. Hairstylists see clients through relationships and marriage/divorce, births and deaths, new jobs and lost jobs, and sometimes tragedy. We aren’t therapists, but we become a safe space for people to learn to advocate for themselves, take care of themselves and talk without judgment. And to hold that space for people is a joy. We are also the best secret-keepers in the world!

But it’s also my biggest challenge. Because I have such wonderful clients whom I adore, I end up giving so much of myself emotionally. And sometimes I don’t take care of myself properly so that I can continue to do it at the level I want.

What is something you hate about your job?

Hairdressing is a very judgmental industry that places looks and money above everything else. To counter that, you have to be an advocate — for yourself and your clients. In school, you learn about techniques and grow your skills, but in most programs, you’ll also be taught that Black hair “is unruly and needs to be tamed.” There is zero education about textured hair, and because of that, the Black community is often excluded from or feels unwelcome in a lot of salons. Many of us within the hair industry are actively working to end these racist practices and encourage stylists to learn how to cut, style, and celebrate natural hair. To be a good hairdresser you need to do all types of hair, welcome all types of people, and respect everyone enough to offer the hair service they deserve.

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