First, if you haven’t seen The Reset yet, go watch it right now. Seriously, right now. Until you have, you won’t understand what I’m referring to in this post. Go on. I’ll wait.
I’ve been asked (and by “asked” I mean “hounded”) for my assessment of the documentary. Here it is. I have lots of words, and not all of them are nice.
The Reset is broken into several categories. I’ll be addressing each in order.
“Beauty school right now is broken.”
-David Thurston, Salon Owner, Founder of Butterfly Circus (Encino, CA)
“If you’re going to school to be a hairdresser, you should be studying hairdressing.”
-Laura Boton, Salon owner, Stylist (Chicago, IL)
“If beauty school went the way that it should go, it should take about three months.”
-Wendy Maddox, Former stylist, Small business owner (Los Angeles, CA)
The first segment of The Reset tackles beauty education, with commentary criticizing the wide-ranging state standards and the curriculum’s focus on outdated, irrelevant information. These are statements most of us can agree with.
On the surface, Wendy Maddox’s three month time frame for cosmetology school completion may seem absurd, but I don’t believe it is, if it’s approached the right way.
A few years ago, I wrote an article for publication regarding ways we could restructure beauty education. In it, I suggested several things:
- National Standardization and Regulations: A no-brainer. Each state should have the same licensing and education requirements, and identical cosmetology regulations. Licensees should not be restricted from practicing by state borders.
- Expanding Continuing Education for License Renewal: When your license becomes due for renewal, that packet should not only cover AIDS/HIV, bacteriology, and chemical theory, but should also include the IRS’s Guide to the Cosmetology and Barbering Industry, and an FLSA handbook. We know wage theft and misclassification are rampant issues in this industry, so we should be taking steps to ensure professionals know their rights.
- Module Education: A module-based education system would allow beauty professionals to spread out their education. Certain modules would be required as a prerequisite to others, and competency in each would be determined by both written theory tests and hands-on practical exams. This would allow professionals to customize their career tracks.
To start, professionals would be required to complete 40-60 hours of “core” education, which would include employee rights, public safety, personal protection, professional behavior, and basic assistant-level skills (like shampooing).
From there, professionals could choose to take modules on natural hair care (cutting, styling, braiding), natural nail care (basic manicures and pedicures), basic esthetics (excluding chemical peels, dermabrasion, machine facials, and the use of faradic/galvanic).
After a short apprenticeship and exam, professionals who feel confident enough to do so would be able to take other modules to further expand their skills (taking modules on chemical hair services, nail enhancement technologies, or advanced esthetic techniques), or they could continue to specialize in their current roles as natural stylists, nail techs, or estheticians.
Senior licensees who oversee these apprentices would be required to ensure their competency. There would have to be a checks and balances system in place to ensure apprentices have access to a wealth of reputable senior licensees, and aren’t mistreated or used (as some are in Michigan, which licenses via apprenticeship).
To me, this system makes sense. It allows professionals to get their core education without spending tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of their time in schools that may not adequately educate them. It puts them into salons where they can learn under proper direction, and gives them time to attain competency in the basics before diving into more advanced topics. They won’t be learning concepts they won’t be using, and by spacing out their education, we’ll eliminate the epidemic of extreme student and private loan debt many professionals accrue during their time in school.
To be clear, I absolutely do not regret my education. I graduated from a private Pivot Point academy and felt very well-prepared for my career. As both a student and later as an educator, I see tremendous value in a thorough, proper education. Unfortunately, my experience was an exception. The process through which our education is delivered could definitely use radical change.
“If we could license our students. They go through our program and we qualify them…”
-Zak Mascolo, Creative Director, Americas, Toni & Guy
The problem with Zak’s solution is that it exacerbates the original problem, which is that beauty schools are operating as nothing more than diploma factories, churning out unqualified or severely underqualified graduates so they can collect grants, loans, and federal aid money. Unethical schools will abuse the privilege to license their own graduates, as nail schools did in Florida (which, for some ass-backwards reason still permits schools to administer state board examinations themselves, without the oversight of a neutral, unaffiliated proctor).
I’d love to live in a world where all beauty school owners share Toni & Guy’s commitment to providing quality education and producing spectacular graduates, but that’s definitely not our reality right now.
“The PBA have been fighting a losing battle for years because we as hairdressers don’t give them any support.”
“The only way we can change it is if we’re a unified industry. So that if it’s salon owners and school owners, manufacturers–we have the most impact of any industry and yet we haven’t come together to drive a common agenda.”
-Reuben Carranza, Board Chairman of the PBA
I completely agree that we have to be unified, but disagree that salon owners, school owners, and manufacturers have the most impact. Professionals vastly outnumber these entities, and the direct involvement of even one quarter of them in each of their respective states would make a tremendous, immediate difference, which brings me to my major complaint with The Reset.
The general theme of The Reset is that we need to work together “as a unified industry,” but the last time I checked, this “industry” didn’t revolve solely around stylists.
To exclude or fail to include professionals from all facets of the business doesn’t serve the movement. Personally, I found myself irritated by the fact that nail technicians and estheticians weren’t included in the dialogue. I’m tired of people in this business pretending they don’t exist. It’s demoralizing and marginalizing to act as if the struggles they face aren’t our struggles also, especially when the earning potential of hairdressers so far exceeds the earning potential of other professionals in the industry.
Until all beauty professionals are recognized, respected, and included, this industry will always be a house divided.
It’s not all doom and gloom. This portion of the documentary is entirely on point. Stylists have to maintain control of their retail. With so many companies selling out, stylists have to find new ways to compete.
In terms of marketing and salon management, the tools technology has afforded us have immense value. Salon owners who fail to recognize that value or take advantage of it do so at their own peril.
III. BUSINESS MODELS
“Hairdressers are becoming more independent, and they’re moving increasingly towards a non-commission business model.”
I completely agree with Kathy Hawken, State Representative of North Dakota. While some professionals excel independently, overall this fragmentation is not a positive for the beauty industry whatsoever.
However, I take tremendous offense to Wendy Maddox’s disdainful commentary, comparing lease salons to “somebody popping open a nail shop or something.” Seriously, what the fuck do you people have against nail technicians? Please do dismount that high horse.
You want to unite the industry? Stop dividing us into warring factions and looking down on other professionals as if they aren’t your equals.
From my perspective, the rise of booth rental can be traced along the decline of ethical salon management. If salon owners maintained their positions as leaders and talent developers, this exodus wouldn’t have happened. Instead, many salon owners are abdicating their responsibilities, forcing their employees into the position of part-owner, expecting more of them than is reasonable, or legal.
Salon professionals are having their wages stolen, aren’t being properly compensated, and are being failed by salon owners over and over and over again. While disappointing, the rise of independence is not a shock to me whatsoever.
As a manager, I’ve experienced the same frustrations Gen X and Boomer owners complain about when referencing Millennials. As a Millennial myself, I disagree that they are lazy, have short attention spans, or refuse to follow rules. A good deal of Millennials are extremely driven, industrious, and motivated.
To me, this segment of the documentary directly contradicts much of the Technology segment, where Millennials are praised for their social media prowess and innovative thinking, and reaffirms my belief that a.) people don’t sufficiently understand the immense harm of absurd discrimination and stereotyping, and b.) are finding more and more ways to divide us than unite us.
Millennials aren’t the problem. Your attitude about Millennials is the problem.
I’ve dealt with Boomer and Gen X employees who behave terribly. I’ve had to reprimand stubborn forty-year-olds for tardiness and laziness, fire fifty-year-olds for repeated dress code violations, and suffer through salary negotiations with entitled sixty-year-olds who believe they’re worth more pay simply because they’ve held a license longer than their coworkers.
Those issues certainly aren’t generational.
“It’s really up to the hairdressers to partner with like-minded brands, brands that will actually support you.”
When a salon owner makes an investment in a brand on the promise of salon exclusivity, only to find that trust violated when the product suddenly appears on drugstore and supermarket shelves, it’s absolutely devastating–not only because we’ve bought into these lines, trained our staff on them, and have heavily promoted them to our clients, but because we’ve been betrayed and sold out by an entity that promised us their support. We feel used, and we have good reason to feel that way because we have been used.
These companies enlist salon owners and professionals under the false pretense of exclusivity, having us market their products and build their brand’s credibility to ensure maximum payout when they go retail. (Long ago, I began encouraging nail salons to deviate from retail and make service their focus, since it’s just not profitable in our businesses anymore and even if we were offered exclusivity from a vendor, the sheer volume of comparable competing products on drugstore shelves makes the entire endeavor pointless.)
Unfortunately, there’s no good way to predict this or protect ourselves from it. As far as I can tell, only John Paul DeJoria has done anything to confirm his commitment to professionals. (He ensured that all JPMS products remain salon exclusive for 360 years by placing his entire interest in JPMS into a trust.)
“What’s preventing people from raising their prices is fear.”
By far, the most poignant quote from The Reset is this one from Dr. Gilda Sheppard, a sociologist and documentary filmmaker: “You will not lose a client just because of the prices; you will lose a client if your lack of self-worth is rendered onto them.” (If Dr. Sheppard had a talk show, I would watch it every damn day. I love her insight and the way she speaks.)
Wade Weigel, co-founder of Rudy’s Barbershop, absolutely killed it with his commentary also when he stated that veteran professionals don’t deserve to charge more simply because they’ve done more time. (In my book, I’ve said the same. Technical performance matters; not seniority.)
Price stagnation has been a huge problem for many salons, but this fear is completely unwarranted, and The Reset does a great job of communicating that.
“It’s not just about the hair.”
No, it’s not, but it’s also not just about product, education, emerging technologies, the rise of independence, or about deregulation. Our problems go so much deeper than that.
We do have to fight for better education and against deregulation. We have to abandon product lines that don’t value us. We have to adapt. But more than anything, we have to start taking care of each other.
Salon owners must take back their positions as leaders, innovators, educators, and guardians of the creative professionals they employ, and professionals must actively work to defend and promote our industry. That means joining the Professional Beauty Association, assisting with The Beauty Industry Working Group‘s efforts to standardize our education and licensing nationally, and including everyone in the effort.
These problems aren’t just about the hair, and they’re not just about the hairdressers.