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.
Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.
At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.
But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?
Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.
But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).
Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."
As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.
- Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
- Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
- Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
- Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?
Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.
Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.
This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.
"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit
Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.
Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.
She was, and still is being, silenced.
After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."
Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."
Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.
Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.