We spoke to Ashley and Christie – hairdressers and somewhat unlikely but very complementary suite-mates at Salon on 5th in Charlotte, North Carolina – about southern life, sharing space, and the rewards of being your own boss as independent artists.
Hello you two. First, how did you each get into hairdressing and to where you are today?
Christie [left]: I graduated in October of 2000, and I just started doing hair. I always played with hair and makeup as a kid; I performed my first haircut on myself when I was about seven. I used to perm and color my hair when I was in Junior High. How did I get here? My first job was as an assistant in a large salon in Charlotte. I traveled for education with Vidal-Sassoon, became certified in color, Japanese straightening and extensions. When that salon closed, I worked at a smaller salon, and then I owned my own salon for four years. It took a lot of my personal time, and I wanted more flexibility behind the chair. I wanted to enjoy the business again, so I sold it. I tried my hand at teaching at the Aveda Institute, and I really enjoyed passing on knowlege. But you know, obviously standing behind the chair pays a little better. So, I went back. I've been at Salon on Fifth since maybe, '07.
Ashley [right]: When I was little, I lived in a log cabin in the middle of the woods; and dirt was my favorite toy. I didn't have dolls, but I had Hot Wheels. Instead of hanging out with my mom, I hung out with my dad and played with power tools. I had so much hair that putting a hairbrush to my head was like being punished. So, hair was the last thing on my mind. I was afraid of it. As I got older, I gained an appreciation for makeup and beauty. I knew I wanted to do something with my hands, but I couldn't draw a stick-figure if you asked me to, so I knew art school was probably not an option. Hair became my medium, and it is technical. I liked people. At first, I assisted and worked at salons; but I always had my own ideas, education I wanted, products I wanted to use. So, after I worked at two different salons that I loved, it came down to the fact that the best boss for me is myself.
Ashley: Like Jay-Z says in his new song with Beyonce: ‘You're not a boss if you've got a boss.’
We understand that you work together, but separately.
Christie: I'm very Southern Living magazine, and Ashley is very contemporary. So, it's kind of yin/yang. She's young. I'm seasoned. I learn a lot from her, especially with cutting – and color too! She keeps me young.
How do you describe your aesthetic; is there a type of hairdressing that you gravitate toward?
Christie: Ashley is very edgy, editorial; All of her work is very photogenic. Her clients are very eclectic and have a sense of fashion. My clients are the people who work downtown, very clean-cut. Most want a precision, A-line bob. I also do a lot of really long hair. It's a little bit of flavor from every genre.
Ashley: I don't know how to describe my style. New guests come in and say, ‘Just do you.’ I like a combination of precision with keeping hair ‘flowy.’ I have a ‘sixth sense’ for reading people; when somebody sits down, I can tell which way they're going to go, and how much of the precision I can mix with the flow to fit the person and their face shape.
Christie: Ashley cuts my hair, by the way. I just had to throw that in!
When people say, ‘Do your thing,’ is that because they've found you on Instagram?
Ashley: Typically, it's Instagram. I moved out of Charlotte for a year and-a-half to a smaller town, where it is more conservative, and I wasn't doing the creative work that I wanted to do. When I moved back I decided I was going to work for myself. I wanted to be able to build, and even if I were slow, I want to feel like my clientele suits me.
I feel like everybody has their own style, and there are enough hairdressers to find one who fits you. I think that I've done a good job cultivating my social media, to show who I am and the work that I do. So, people look at the work and think, ‘This is the person that I need,’ rather than, ‘Let me call whatever place is closest with the best reviews.’ Because that doesn't always work well.
Describe your working environment.
Christie: We work in the center of downtown Charlotte above a pretty prestigious tattoo parlor in an historic building built in the 1890s called the Bagley-Mullen House, and we all have our own suites upstairs. The tattoo artists are very eclectic, obviously and fashion-forward, if you will. But the hairdressers upstairs are a mix. Some do very classic work for southern housewives and socialites who are still ‘on the scene,’ and others do very edgy work and everything in-between.
Ashley: When I came in – poor Christie – I was like, ‘Hey, what if we paint these walls white? We can just add 900 plants to add color!’ So, our tiny little space looks like a jungle that I feel suits us both well. It's very small. So, when our guests are in there, we make sure that everybody feels at home in a space where they can relax.
Christie: And they do. They comment a lot on how comfortable it is in there.
So, the entire salon is a collective of independent stylists?
Ashley: It is. The whole building used to be a bed & breakfast. The four bedrooms upstairs are actually the suites now. We have the biggest one. That's why we are sharing, and it's been great. It doesn't feel like you're walking into a booth rental salon, you know? It's a lot more comfortable, and one of a kind. It's hard to find things like that around here.
Let's talk about your business and ours. How did you find Hairstory?
Christie: I had a client come in who had been using Hairstory for several years prior and she brought New Wash with her because she didn't want me to use regular shampoo on her. And I'm always open to new products. At the time, I carried two other lines, and I was looking for something different, something new and fresh and streamlined.
So, I actually called and got the sample product, and after seeing how it works on other textures, I thought, 'This is it.' So, I got rid of everything else that I had. I do a lot of Japanese straighteners, and sometimes I need their products to do the service, but I send my guests home with New Wash (Rich) because it is gentle and provides great hydration. I ordered the Hairstory Lineup, and the day that it came in, Ashley walked in and said, 'Oh my God! I used them when I was in Greensboro in my old salon, and I have to have it.' And there it was. The Hairstory suite was born, at Salon On 5th!
Ashley: I do a lot of curly hair, and my hair is naturally very coarse, and wavy and fluffy; it was the only thing that ever made my hair happy. So, I was like, "I need this."
You know, this generation wants to do everything online; my booking is online. Hairstory fits right in. The products work, and all of my curly-haired people are going to be happy, and everybody in between. It does work for everybody, if they use it the right way.
How does Hairstory support your independent businesses?
Ashley: The fact that the products work supports my business. Before I start my curly-haired girls, I will spray Undressed on half of their hair, dry. I show them what it does to re-do the curls on days between washing, and they're like, ‘What?!! Okay.’ That's gold in a bottle, you know? I'm not having to sit here and do some crazy long spiel about what's in it; and what this one does, and what that one does. I put it on my hand and on people's head, and they're like, ‘Oh dang. Yeah, okay.’
I plan to start charging hourly for my haircuts, rather than by gender. It's cool that Hairstory isn't so focused on what's right for men and what's right for women.
Christie: I like the fact that the line is very streamlined, and I feel like the styling products work on everyone. I like the structure of the Hairstory business and the online ordering. And unlike Ashley, I have a more seasoned clientele; we're kind of old school and want to touch it, see it, feel it. So, we do have a retail shelf in the salon, and a small number of the products.
I do a lot of color. I could not believe the difference with New Wash versus a sulfate-free color shampoo; it was just night and day. I did the New Wash color challenge and I put it on Instagram, because that's been a huge selling point for me; the proof is there. New Wash has opened up my schedule to be able to do more services in a shorter amount of time, because I'm not having to re-do color every single time that they come in. I have a client with a purplish tone in her hair, and I was having to pull her color through every single time. And now, we do it every third time.
The market in Charlotte is saturated for hairdressers. And now that we have Hairstory, I feel like we're in a different category, if you will. It has inspired me, too, made me step outside the box in terms of my creativity. But Hairstory has gotten me excited again. And it takes a lot for me to get excited.
Ashley: I feel like hairdressing has become very complicated and ‘all over the place.’ There's so much on the internet, on Pinterest, YouTube, videos, tutorials and DIYs, and people are trying to figure out what's best for them. There are so many different options. Hairstory is moving in the direction of simplicity. It's good for everybody. Before there were only four products, and now there are nine, but still it doesn't confuse people. Hairstory is simple, and it's all you really need to look good.