Salary: Starts at about minimum wage but can soar into the six figures, depending on skill, experience and how well hairdressers market themselves to attract and retain clients. "People who succeed tend to have more of an entrepreneurial spirit," said Michael Levine, a hairdresser and chief executive officer of the Vancouver-based Michael Levine Salon Group, which has three salons and a hairdressing school with locations in Vancouver and Surrey, B.C. "There are two ways to make money in the industry: You charge more or do more," Mr. Levine said.
Education: A high-school education plus completion of a certified hairdressing course or apprenticeship program, depending on where you live. The requirements for certification and licensing vary by each province and territory.
The role: It's not just cutting and colouring. Mr. Levine said a good hairdresser will sit down with his or her clients at the start of every appointment to discuss the cut or style they're looking for and how it fits with their lifestyle. He says clients' needs are different today than in the big-hair days of the 1980s, for example. That's why stylists need to ask clients how much or little maintenance they are prepared to do and how often they plan to get a cut or colour. "We want people to look beautiful without them having to put a whole lot of work into it," he said.
By the numbers: There are more than 91,500 hairstylists and barbers in Canada, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. About 85 per cent of them are women.
Job prospects: There's high turnover in the industry, especially among those just starting out, because the money isn't great at first, Mr. Levine said. Being successful requires skill as well as confidence, which can be expressed in how you present yourself. "You don't have to be good looking, you just have to look good," he said. And while it's unfair, he said men tend to do better in the industry because there are fewer of them, so they stand out. "A man just has to be kind of charming, and maybe cute and if you throw an accent on the guy, the sky's the limit," he said. "If you're a guy, you're a hot commodity. It's unfortunate because some of my biggest mentors are women. They had to work so hard to get to the top of the industry."
Challenges: It can can years of extremely hard work to establish yourself. Hairdressing is also part of the service industry, which means sometimes dealing with rude or angry clients. "Maybe you did screw up their hair, maybe you didn't," he said. Of the few clients who do get upset, Mr. Levine says it's often those getting the cheapest cuts. "I run hair schools and the client paying $14 for a haircut is way pickier than the client paying $150," he said.
Why they do it: Some people see hairdressing as a trade that they can take with them through life. Others see themselves as artists whose palette is human hair. Mr. Levine sees himself as a craftsperson who also offers a service. "I just want to take care of people and get paid a decent amount of money for it," he said. People happy with their hairdos often congratulate and thank their stylists, which Mr. Levine said is very rewarding. "It strokes the ego to have people tell you how amazing you are, that you've made their day or their week. It's an incredible thing."
Misconceptions: Hairdressers aren't party people who couldn't find a better way to make a living, Mr. Levine said. "That may be the case for some, but hairdressing has come a long way over the past 20 years," he says. A number of hairdressers make a good living and some have even attained celebrity status with their own product lines and businesses, similar to Mr. Levine. "I did it with a $10,000 loan and really hard work," he says. "I like the idea of proving people wrong."
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