It's good to have options. In the salon world, there are those teams where stylists specialize in either cutting or coloring and then there are salons where every stylist performs both services. The good news is that when a stylist launches into the world of professional beauty, they have already had education in both disciplines...and it is up to them, as they move forward, to decide--do I hone in on one or two special skills OR do I stay sharp in all?
We interviewed some industry veterans on their choices and the 'whys' behind them.
For most of his career, David John (@davidjohnla) did both cut and color but chose to do color when he joined the team at Sally Hershberger Los Angeles, where the team is compartmentalized.
“I was trained at Vidal Sassoon and their salons are departmentalized, and you are encouraged to make a decision and choose one or the other,” he explains. “I was being recruited, and pushed to choose, but I wanted to do both because I didn’t feel I was stronger in one than the other. I chose a salon to apprentice where they taught me both, with a bit more emphasis on cutting. Then, I moved to Fred Segal for 16 years, and I liked doing both and having total creative control over someone’s look. The problem with doing just color, is that you might do a great color but you have to pass your client along to someone else to finish the look. Color isn’t an exact science and you can’t time everyone’s service; sometimes it takes longer to get light enough or to get the tone right and I’m such a stickler for time and I don’t like to make anyone wait.
“Now, what I LOVE about specializing is that you hone your craft. You’re devoting that much more time in your apprenticeship to learning mainly cut or mainly color, and then when you’re on the floor, you are learning even more and becoming really good at it. That’s the whole philosophy behind it.
I chose color over cutting when I came to Sally Hershberger because I could book more money for my time doing color and because I don’t love blow drying.”
We asked Lauren Moser (@laurenmoser) to weigh-in on this debate, as Moser is a stylist who started to specialize in texture as she discovered her passion for it. Moser is a winner of the North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA) and runs the Hair Lab Detroit Barber School with partner, Rodrick Samuels.
“When entering the beauty industry, the opportunities are endless. We are molded by those that teach us, and it’s easy to follow their lead and excel in whatever areas they are strongest. Every professional’s journey is different and personal. When I began 22 years ago, I opted to gain my education and training through an apprenticeship in my city’s busiest salon. At this salon, they specialized and kept everything separate. There were stylists that did color, and there were stylists that did cutting. When I began, one of the colorists was going on maternity leave so they quickly trained me to fill in for her while she was gone. I loved it. Color came naturally to me. I did this for years and was totally fulfilled.
“As I moved on from that salon and went to work in other environments, I was expected to do everything. Cutting still made me uncomfortable and I was not as confident, but I was committed to being great and found my stride. I would often practice cutting on my sister who has very curly hair and began to fall in love with cutting and styling textured hair. I didn’t scare me like it did other stylists, and I was able to develop my own curly cutting style and methods, and that’s when everything changed for me.
“As curly trends started to dominate, my services were very in demand and my career really took off. While I still offered color services and straight hair cutting, the curly clients began to dominate my days behind the chair because there just weren’t many stylists that actually knew how to cut and style curly hair. As the word of mouth spread, I began to have clients coming from all over my state to get their curls coiffed by me because, after a lifetime of bad haircuts, they were willing to do anything to find a good service. What I love the most about my specialty is having the opportunity to become someone’s hair hero, and also the chance to truly master this part of my craft.”
And how would Moser advise someone coming up in the industry—to specialize or not?
“By specializing, it allows you to focus on mastering that service. I’m grateful for the path my career took because I specialized in different things at different times which allowed me to build confidence in all areas of hairdressing over time. The constant growth and challenge is what kept me motivated and engaged for over two decades.
“I believe that specializing is great for most, but that it is equally important to understand all services so that you can be a well rounded professional and don’t become stagnant over the years. Specializing can really help you grow your books if it is marketed correctly, so that you can attract your target market.
“I think the thing to avoid is picking a specialty just to say they have one; it should be a lot deeper than that. It should be something that you are passionate about, and in an area that you can make a difference in. For example, don’t be a cutting specialist, be a curly cutting master, or a pixie cut artist. Don’t specialize in color, specialize in blondes, or expertly blended balayage. These are specific services in which clients often leave the salon unhappy.
“By really focusing in on one service that can be your signature, you are able to create a name for yourself by doing a specific service better than those around you. In a highly competitive market that one thing that sets you apart may just be the keys to your ultimate success. You, like me, may enter the industry having no idea what your ‘thing’ is and that’s ok. My best advice is to take every opportunity that comes your way let your experiences lead you to greatness.”
Carlos Valenzuela speaks from experience. A leader in the world of professional beauty, he has taught thousands of students, empowering them to become lifelong, successful hairdressers. He has shared his wisdom in a regular series of blogs with MODERNSALON.com. Here are Carlos' thoughts on specializing:
“Specialization: The more your specialty, the more loyal your clientele and the longer the wait to build a lucrative clientele. Hairdressers who specialize usually work with other stylists who do not offer that service—like the case of a colorist who does all the color for someone who only cuts hair. Specialization works best in commission salons who are departmental—some only cut, others only color, etc. Most stylists start out as a jack/jane-of-all-traits because they want to be available for any walk-in business. Eventually, we gravitate to two, maybe three, popular services. But, there are salon pros (very few) who do hair, skin and nails—how they manage, I don’t know.
“I think it’s best to go deep on key popular skills (cut/color/style; cut/updos; ethnic hair/retexturizing) because it takes time to really gain expertise. One of my mentors always says it takes 1,000 haircuts to understand haircutting. When you repeat a skill over and over, you gain expertise, get consistent great results and consequently charge top dollar.”
Even though E. Trevelle Baker (@vellcuts) originally specialized (he is a Master Barber for CHI), he is now expanding his skills to include more focus on color.
“Early in my career my practice, as a barber, was very specialized to the trade. Although the practical fundamentals of barbering are various, I would still consider it to be specialized. Over the last 25 years, my skills set has grown into other aspects of the hair industry. Yet it wasn’t until the later half of my career when I began to focus on other techniques of shear cutting and color.
“I would advise anyone looking to pursue a career in barbering or cosmetology to learn as much as you can at the starting block. Become a hairstylist, neutral in your practice, and versed in it all.”
Another Vidal Sassoon-trained stylist, Emma Carafotes sees clients in an intimate, three-chair salon in Montrose, CA. She did not choose to specialize, and she has a brisk business and devoted clientele. Carafotes sums it up perfectly when she says that it basically comes down to a personal and professional choice.
“When I went to beauty school, I wanted to do everything so after graduating, I went to a salon where I could do it all,” she says. “But some people don’t want to choose and that’s ok. You just have to do what you’re good at—there’s no right or wrong.”