In just a few weeks, the North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA) entries for 2018 will open and artists throughout North America will apply to win our industry's top accolades. While NAHA may seem glamorous, the path to becoming a winner is anything but. We spoke with six of the NAHA 2017 winners to learn what it takes to succeed and how to keep moving forward, even when the road is rocky.
The journey to success and NAHA is not linear. Let's be real: our jobs aren't easy. We work with customers every day (some nice, some difficult to work with) and have jobs that require us to be creative, even when we feel like we're losing steam. At some point, even the most confident beauty professionals find themselves questioning their career choice. For Whitney VerMeer, a ten-year industry veteran and 2017 Men's Hairstylist of the Year, sometimes it's just a matter of finding a niche. She shared:
"Before I found my niche, I had a really hard time feeling like I was on the right path. I was doing hair that I wasn't passionate about and it certainly made it difficult to feel motivated. Once I learned the science behind clipper cutting, I fell in love with the industry all over again!"
This seems to be a trend with NAHA winners. Chelsea James has been in the industry for eight years and was the 2017 Avant Garde Award winner. Chelsea offered:
"When I was young the only career I thought might be a fun was a rock star. I had no idea about hair because I had never been to a nice salon. When I learned [about the industry] I went to school soon after, and although I do question my career path often, it seems the longer I'm in the industry the less I know; this keeps me interested. I love everything. Literally. I'm interested in so many things, but the great thing about our industry is that everything I love has people with hair, so I can still participate and fill all passions inside of one craft."
As human beings, we're always looking for the "secret" ingredient to success, whether it be getting in shape or working in our dream salon. When we asked our NAHA winners what has helped them grow the most professionally, they all had a similar answer: successful beauty pros go beyond the technical and focus on their soft skills. For Makeup Artist of the Year and 17-year industry veteran Florencia Taylor, it's all about client communication. She shared:
"I have to say my honesty with clients, my passion for beauty, and my focus on what I love doing rather than what others are doing [has helped me grow the most.]"
Chelsea James also added that "Personal development classes and training, participating in other artistic mediums, and building/working on relationships in the industry" have helped her the most. She also stressed the importance of having a community, being willing to do what you're afraid of, and having excellent mentors.
Matt Swinney, the 2017 Hair Coloring Award winner who has 20 years of experience under his belt, adds to this, saying that it's about listening, but also taking criticism. What do all of the winners seem to say? That despite the hours we spend focusing on our technical technique, it's soft skills that can take great artists and transform them into industry icons.
No one is perfect, and even if you've only been in the industry for a year, you can burn out quickly. Taking the time to focus on your personal goals and finding motivation can be hard (you already need more hours in a day!) but it's crucial to your long-term success. For the 2017 NAHA winners, finding new sources of inspiration is what renews their creativity, and ultimately, helps them create award-winning work. Heggy Gonalez has been in the industry for 19 years and won the coveted 2017 Editorial Stylist of the Year award. She shared:
"I think it is so important that we constantly seek inspiration; we can’t just hope to be inspired, we have to go in search of it. I am inspired by art, music, fashion, my students, and other hairdressers all the time."
For recent beauty school grad and winner of the 2017 Student Hairstylist of the Year award, Aisling Campbell, it's about looking forward:
"[I find inspiration] in my goals. I have long and short-term goals and knowing I’m closer to making them come true is very motivating."
Sometimes the journey towards success can make us feel alone, defeated, and lost. After school, there is no set path; how do you know where to go next? We asked our 6 NAHA winners what advice they have for newly licensed professionals.
Matt offers, "Stick it out. Go meet people. Practice practice practice. When I wasn't busy behind the chair I was blowdrying hair for hours just to understand what it can do and take it to the limits."
Florencia adds: "My advice is to make sure the career you are in is really what you truly love and have a passion for, never stop learning. Find a mentor that can guide you through your path, and be patient."
Whitney shares a similar view: "If someone is struggling I would suggest to find someone who you want what they have and figure out how to add value to their life and the rest will be revealed. [...] Don't give up because you are struggling. I have been in that position numerous times in my career. Whether it be feeling uninspired, or not feeling like you are in the wrong salon: don't give up. Always push through. Connect with your peers and support each other!"
Heggy too echoes Florencia and Whitney's advice. "Success is not a straight and narrow path. If it were easy, everyone would be successful. You have to find your tribe, people who will be there for you and help you grow. Find mentors who have a career that you would like, and be realistic. I believe anyone can have the career they want, but they have to work for it."
So there you have it. With a little team support, and most importantly, faith in your abilities, a NAHA award could be in your future.
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Michelle Campbell is the Content Marketing Specialist for MiladyPro.
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