Whether you’ve prepared yourself for a complete length shift or are just popping into a salon for a quick bang trim, hair change is an emotional one. We’ve all experienced the inevitable urge to scrunch, soothe or adjust our locks when walking past a mirror or an opaque window. Hair is a personal expression, which is why finding a salon that understands your vision is paramount.
The beauty industry is predominantly assumed to be female dominated. And while most hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists identify as female, the average salary for a male hairdresser is over $10,000 more than that for women.
The New York beauty scene is also often draped with intimidating luxury that excludes certain populations. With this in mind, we rounded up four stellar female-founded salons located in New York City that have cut into the cutting edge in their own ways. Each have established their brand, mastered their craft and created a welcoming environment for employees and clients alike.
9 Salons in 7 Years
Lorean Cairns says that owning a salon was never her intention until one of her own bosses suggested it. After moving to New York to be in the epicenter of hair and fashion, she couldn’t find a salon that fit her down-to-earth, cheerful style. “What I experienced was really competitive, really hierarchical. It was really toxic for me,” says Cairns. “Intimidation and exclusivity was the name of the game, at least in New York eight or nine years ago. I felt so disconnected to that idea.”
That separation helped launch the first location of Fox & Jane. In 2011, Cairns found a space in the Lower East Side and hired two stylists who worked beside herself. “Within six months you couldn’t get in with us. For me, it was all about client experience and creating a family community,” describes Cairns. “All of a sudden, we’re in Time Out New York and New York Magazine, and everyone is asking me how I came up with this concept. The concept where we’re really nice to people.”
According to Cairns, Fox & Jane started profiting right off the bat, which was important since she and her business partner, Billy Canu, were completely self-funded. “We had no investors, no funding, we scraped together $26,000 dollars between the two of us and that was everything, all we had,” explains Cairns. “We ran really lean and made sure the original business model broken even. We parlayed the profit from our first location into our second at about the nine-month mark, and we’ve done that about every nine months since.”
As a first-time business owner, she knew that putting all her profit into a second location was extremely risky, but it needed to happen. “I was so committed to what we had, and I was also so young,” says Cairns. “In the beginning, the first year, it was about how to control and respond to the volume. We were not prepared for the response that we had. We put basically everything into our next store. We had to grow, we built too small of a business and we don’t have a choice. I’d love to say some of it was planned, but it was actually meeting a need.”
The ever-expanding Fox & Jane empire now has nine locations, with a tenth on the way. Cairns has been dreaming of the West Coast, and is currently in beta for a Los Angeles location. “I’m a really organic business grower, so as long as there’s more leaders and people want to grow with me, I’ll keep going.”
A Clear Vision
Brooke Jordan Hunt and Nicci Jordan Hubert
Beginning in a closet-sized studio in Carroll Gardens, Bird House co-owners and sisters Brooke Jordan Hunt and Nicci Jordan Hubert also had to move quickly to maximize their potential. “We started with two chairs, thinking we would be a tiny operation with Brooke and one or two other stylists,” says Hubert. “But when all our stylists became consistently fully booked and our wait list grew and grew, we knew we needed to add more chairs. This happened within six months.”
In early 2015, the Bird House moved to their current Gowanus location. At first, they were self-funded, but when it came to expansion, the Jordan sisters knew they needed help. “We got a small business loan from an organization that provides funding for women and minority-owned businesses,” writes the duo over email. “Right now, we're a four-chair studio with eight stylists, and in a few months, we'll have expanded within our building and will become a 12-chair studio.”
Still a growing salon, Hunt and Hubert are thrilled about expansion, but are also grounded in what they need to accomplish in the coming years. “We are still learning how to incorporate education in our business model,” says the duo. “As of right now, we offer our stylists a yearly stipend to set up their own education based on what they feel they need and we also provide in-studio education as often as possible. It's something we're working on because it's the area we know we need the most improvement.”
And like any young, passionate business owners, at first they tried to reinvent the salon wheel by ditching stylist levels and adopting an equal pricing structure. They quickly figured out that experience is the most important factor in a salon, and abandoned the model.
What they haven’t left behind is the clear vision and concept they began out with. “We knew we wanted to be loving, kind and connected to the emotional relationship with have with our hair,” writes Hubert. “We knew that we wanted to do excellent, skillful and beautiful hair that was aware of the trends but not beholden to them. We knew we wanted to have a team of stylists who care deeply about how their clients feel about their hair. All of those values drove us to be resilient throughout our mistake making, because we were open to learning, knowing those lessons would bring us closer to our vision.”
The Importance of Clients
Noël New York Salon & Boutique isn’t Noël Reid-Killings’ first business venture, nor is it her first salon. But the eponymous salon is the one carrying her legacy into Brooklyn and throughout the country.
When Reid-Killings attempted to open her first salon years prior in Manhattan, she says that numerous things halted the venture. “I just couldn’t do Manhattan prices. We were paying about $10,000 for 1500 square feet. It was crazy. Then we had to move, and I wasn’t expecting real estate tax, that threw me for a loop,” she says.
Reid-Killings made a name for herself in the beginning of her career by serving celebrity clients. Although she’s worked with an abundance of celebrities, she attributes working with Alicia Keys to her initial success. “Alicia was my first celebrity client who I got primarily through my agent and networking. I met with her makeup artist at the time, they were looking for someone. It launched my career.”
And although having an agent helped her book Keys, Reid-Killings clarifies that having an agent isn’t the end-all-be-all for a young stylist’s success.
The most important thing? Your skill set. “You have to take the time to hone your craft. I had to quickly learn how to adapt and to be more creative. Alicia had braids at the time, and I didn’t do braids. I would have like to have known more, and have had more skills.”
A year before opening her storefront in Brooklyn, she launched a line of clip-in hair extensions, which she uses in her salon. She strategically used her name, which had already garnered industry respect because of her celebrity clientele. She then put the profit directly into her salon. “I didn’t want to open without something behind me,” says Reid-Killings.
However, the money didn’t stretch as far as she would have liked. “I got loans, I had an investor, a young lady who is a successful producer now,” says Reid-Killings. “I had one investor and one business partner, who was pretty much a silent partner who has since left. In the beginning I was also funneling my own money into the salon, and my parents helped me take out a loan.”
While she still works in the salon, she also spends time traveling around the country to serve her VIP clients. For Reid-Killings, clients are everything. Although she has her eyes on expansion and would like to open more salons, her focus right now is on educating her staff. “Staffing is the number one challenge, definitely. We’ve turned our staff over twice. I’ve had to learn to hire for my salon. It is a small group of people, and they have to have a certain skill set,” says Reid-Killings. “I have to translate my care to the staff and it takes time to do so.”
Martha Ellen Mabry
It’s no surprise that getting you hair cut in New York tends to be pricey. Salons have to take the time to ensure that their prices are competitive within their area as well as their level of expertise. Owners also have to ensure that their employees walk away with a fair pay. Headchop, a salon located in the heart of Williamsburg, manages to stay competitive in the unforgiving market despite having recently raised their prices.
When Martha Ellen Mabry opened Headchop in 2011, she didn’t even consider her business a true salon. “It was just me, I was a one-chair wonder. It was my private studio to take my clients,” she explains.
Mabry is completely self-funded. She saved money in rent by sharing the commercial space with her partner at the time, who had a clothing line. They both worked out of the studio, filled the space with cheap furniture from Craigslist and DIY’d the rest. “I didn’t open with much money to put into it. I just knew I had enough clients to run, and then the new clients who came in would be paying for me to eat, basically.”
At first, Headchop priced services based on what Mabry had charged when she worked at a salon in SOHO. “It was a different price for men and women, and the men’s price was way lower. The seven years I’ve been open, I was struggling to close that gender gap,” says Mabry. “In the beginning, it was $30 for men and $50 for women. I didn’t want to hurt my clients or upset them be raising the price. This year, I made major changes for my business. I closed the gender gap. We informed our clients that there would be no more pricing based on gender, and everyone would be priced the same. I figured if they don’t like that, this is not the salon for them anymore.”
Mabry says that her clients were very welcoming of her new pricing policies; $70-80 for a full cut and wash, depending on length and density. “I think our pricing is still extremely amazing for the area. Williamsburg is a hot place to be. But more than that, I think the work really keeps people coming back. We care about people’s hair,” she says.
We are living in a time when women are rising to new heights which means they are regularly being confronted with the fear of being "too much". For women in business this is pervasive and costly.
A few ways women can be perceived as "too much" are:
Speaking up about their successes and achievements.
Sharing one too many photos of their cute kids.
Telling one too many people about that date night.
Looking a little too good in that swimsuit.
These can lead to being publicly attacked on social media or privately slandered which in turn leads to women dimming their light and walking on egg shells in hopes of avoiding conflict and judgement.
The minute a woman feels it's unsafe to shine she will begin to overthink, worry, and fear how she shows up in the world.
Forgetting to announce the book is done and the interview is live.
Choosing to focus on what's still on the to-do list rather than what's been checked off.
Many female entrepreneurs are subconsciously altering their behavior in an attempt to not attract too much attention to themselves, rather than focusing on allowing authenticity and magnetism to attract their ideal clients and community.
Women are afraid of being criticized, ostracized, and abandoned by other women for simply being who they are. This leads to quite the quantum when being who you are is simplest way to accelerate the growth of your business.
New research shows men are far more comfortable with self promotion than women are. Researchers found that men rate their own performance 33 percent higher than equally performing women. What we know is that self promotion pays off and this is where women are missing the boat.
The world needs more women to step into leadership roles and no longer be intimidated about creating six and seven figure careers.
Here are five ways to release the fear of being "too much":
1. Approve of yourself.
While it feels good to receive outside validation it will never be enough if you don't first appreciate yourself. The key to having a healthy support system is to make sure you are part of it. Being your biggest critic is what your mother's generation did. It's now time to be your biggest cheerleader. Becoming aware of self talk will reveal what belief is ready to be re-wired. Create a simply mantra that affirms how incredible capable you are.
2. Connect deeply to those you serve.
One powerful way to shift out of people pleasing behavior is to get clear on who actually matters to the wellbeing and success of your life and business. Leadership is not about being the most popular, instead it's a decision to be brave for those who can't be. Take a few minutes each day to visualize and meditate on those your business serves and supports. See your future clients moving toward you every time you choose to stand in your power and use your authentic voice.
3. Remember the legacy you wish to leave.
Having your life purpose and legacy in writing is one of the most transformational exercises you can do. Reading this often will keep you focused on what matters. Knowing what you wish to leave in the hearts of those you love most is incredibly grounding. You didn't come here to keep your mouth shut, dilute your truth, or dim your light-you came here to make a difference.
4. Forgive those who have been unsupportive in the past.
The past has a way of informing the future in a negative way when there is unresolved pain. Take a few minutes to get quiet and ask yourself who you have unforgiveness towards or maybe their name came to mind as you read this article. Listening to a forgiveness meditation or writing a letter to the person you are ready to forgive are both simple and effective ways to process and heal.
5. Be part a community of bright, successful women.
Meaningful relationships with others who have similar aspirations is what will keep you out of isolation and playing small. These connections can happen in a networking group, online community or a local Meetup. Thriving in every area of life is depend on you knowing where you belong and being celebrated there. Don't wait to be invited, go actively seek out people and places that support your dreams and desires.
6. Accept you can have it all.
Women have been fed a lie for generations that says, you can have love or money. Decide you can have it all and allow it to flow to you. You can have a successful career and an amazing mother. You can balance motherhood and loving marriage. Don't let anyone write the rules for you. This is the time to create the life you desire on your terms.
7. Celebrate everything!
The fastest way to leave the haters in the dust is to celebrate everything! At the end of each day lay in bed and recall the best moments. At the end of each week, publicly acknowledge and celebrate what's good in your life. Once a month, have a celebration dinner and share it with those who have helped you in the journey. If there's something good happening, talk about it with everyone who will listen!
May you be a woman who chooses to shine so that others may be reminded of all they can be and do.