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Gail Sterio

Corporate Accountant

McDonald's

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  Gail Sterio
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Scissors and Science The Art of Hairdressing

Quick Profile:

Name: Sarah Cummins

Occupation: Hair Stylist and Salon Owner  

Fun Fact: Worked as a Hair Stylist in New York for four years.

“If I won ten million in the lotto I’d still keep my job” Sarah Cummins tells me. From New York to Newbridge, her qualification has taken her worldwide. A successful business woman, she has been running her own five star hair and beauty salon Eternal Flair for almost nine years.

The allure of the job is apparent from the outset. The hustle and bustle of the salon is infectious, cheery customers bounce out the door ready for the weekend and smiling staff are eager to chat. The aroma of luxury shampoo fills the air and the hum of hairdryers sets the soundtrack to our meeting.

“I always wanted to do hairdressing I think it must be in my blood; I even wrote it in my communion booklet that I wanted to be a hairdresser.” Sarah speaks passionately about her work and knows first-hand what it’s really like to climb the ladder in this business.

Having left secondary school at sixteen to pursue a career in hairdressing, Sarah undertook an eighteen month diploma course in Dublin with Robert Chambers. “When I had completed 16 months of training he asked me to come and work in his own salon on Grafton Street Lunatic Fringe. The Salon gave me a real taste for fashion shows and photo shoots. America are always crying out for European qualified stylists, after I had qualified I took the plunge and moved to New York.”

America expanded her horizons and Sarah learnt a lot about getting the most out of a salon; “making your salon a one stop shop for hair, nails and beauty is what it’s all about.” It’s clear that being qualified in both areas of the industry can be a real advantage. After a wealth of travelling Sarah settled back in her hometown and began building her business.

“My advice to students is to stay and do your Leaving Cert it’s a real benefit to have it”

Despite being an early school leaver herself, Sarah is passionate that students should complete their Leaving Cert. “There were so many subjects in school that are relevant to me now on a daily basis – Art, Science, Maths, Business Studies they all play a part in my career.”

“Art is very significant to the job, many stylists are also great artists,” Sarah explains. It’s a creative job but it’s also very technical. Science and biology are particularly important you need to learn so much about the hair follicle and the scalp not to mention the precision of mixing hair colours.

As an entrepreneur, mathematical and business skill sets are invaluable to me, I wish I had seen these subjects out longer at school but I have no regrets.”

“My training days were hard work but great fun”

Training as a hairdresser involves mastering a variety of skills from learning how to wash hair, understanding different hair types, the science of hair, colouring, cutting and blow dry techniques to name but a few. “You can’t shy away from hard work in this career,” cautions Sarah.“On a daily basis appointments for clients need to be booked in, the salon needs to be kept clean; sweeping floors, changing towels, washing utensils and that’s all before you style any hair.”

“Cutting can be what is most difficult for students to learn. I think my tutor had a bit too much confidence in me when I practised on my first client,” she recalls light heartedly.

Although the occupation may still be perceived as quite gender specific, Sarah recalls many male classmates from her days in Robert Chambers, “one guy was a butcher, he decided at the age of 26 to change career, he was amazing at cutting – truly talented.”

While it would seem there is still a gender imbalance in in the industry Sarah sees more men entering the occupation than ever before.

“Even when you’ve finished training there is still so much more to learn”

Sarah has no preference for stylists who have been trained either in private courses as she was or those who qualify through the four year apprenticeship route, however recognises differences that can occur in their training. She highly recommends a year of salon work after completing a hairdressing course; “people are not really qualified just because they’ve graduated, you need a good year of salon training too.”

In Ireland there are currently three ways to qualify as a Hairdresser:

A four year apprenticeship within a Salon - Apprentices are mentored and learn on the job through experience. They begin by learning basic shampooing, conditioning and blow dry techniques and progress onto colouring, cutting and the development of creative skills. As each year is completed the apprentice earns more money and gains new responsibilities.

Private Training Schools – Courses cater for beginner right through to advanced stylists. Students are taught in a college environment. The duration and price of these courses will vary depending on the school.

Governmental Training - The State Examination Commission provide the Junior and Senior Trade Certificates in Hairdressing certified by the Department of Education and Skills. There are a range of level 5/6 PLC courses available nationwide in a number of Further Education Colleges.

Sarah speaks of her experiences training via a private course, “we really examined the biology of the hair it was definitely more book learning than I had anticipated, learning about the science of the eye, light reflection and the dynamics behind why it is we see what we see, the job is probably a lot more technical than people think.”

If a stylist comes from a salon trained background where emphasis hasn’t been placed on the fundamental science behind hairdressing, her first port of call is always to take them right back to basics; “I remember one of the first things I did when I was training was mix colours, it was like being back in baby infants but it was very relevant, you can’t just leave your clients hair to chance!”

This ever changing occupation requires constant and continued professional development. “There’s always something to be learnt from the staff when I send them on new courses, it’s never ending.”

“It’s not all glamorous – give the job the credit it deserves”

Sarah is committed to changing the perception some people may have about hairdressing as a career choice; “When I started in the industry you definitely did it for the love, not the money.”

Although an occupation that embraces glamour, this by no means negates how incredibly hardworking you need to be to thrive in the industry; “It was an occupation that was looked down upon when I was in school and it certainly wasn’t encouraged by teachers.”

“Hairdressers are hard workers, we’re on our feet all day sometimes working double shifts getting no lunch break, that’s the reality of it. As a business owner you never switch off, when Facebook comes alive at 11 o’clock at night so do I, it’s not ideal but you have to love it.” She speaks humbly about the strong family support that contributes every day to her success along with her hardworking team of staff.

“You have to have a passion for the job – I love knowing I’ve brightened up someone’s day”

As Sarah has recently branched out into specialising more in the area of hair loss, she explains the psychological devastation clients can suffer as a result of this. “I once had a customer cry tears of joy when she saw how her hair had improved using the new products – there’s no better job satisfaction than seeing that sort of reaction from a customer.”

A longstanding relationship between a hairdresser and their client can be an utterly unique bond. “Clients divulge some of their deepest secrets when they sit in the salon chair, I’ve known some of my customers for years and we can speak about anything when they come in.” Sarah emphasises the importance of stylists developing good customer service, “You have to have the right temperament, clients can be fussy you need to expect that.”

“Having the gift of the gab really helps in this line of work”

Even with all the right qualifications and training Sarah appreciates that it still takes a certain personality type to really suit the industry. She cites good social and communication skills as being the strongest attributes a hairdresser can have, “I’ve seen stylists throughout my career with a real gift of the gab and they were never idle, most customers love to book in with someone they can chat with.”

Advertising your work is par for the course when you’re a trainee stylist. She stresses the expectation of being social media savvy for someone entering the occupation, “I expect all my staff to get pictures of their styles and creations out there on social media, it’s up to them to fill their column and build their clientele.”

Even YouTube plays a part in the job of a hair stylist. “There so much you can learn from the internet nowadays, I had a client come in with a picture of a very intricate plait I’d never seen before so I had to teach myself how to do it from a YouTube tutorial.” It’s apparent the job requires an immense amount of creativity, it’s all about quick thinking in this business.

“Words of Wisdom”

Sarah is cheery yet discerning with her advice for those considering the career; “If hairdressing is what you want to do, then follow your dream, but when you think you know it all in this business it’s time to pack your bag!”

Find more information on Eternal Flair here.

Article by: Claire Ryan