I started my hair career in 2006, as my high school job in a small town in Alberta. I was in cosmetology and a friend of mine worked at a salon in our town. She was cutting my hair one day and told her boss I wanted to apply. After bringing my dad in as my hair model for the interview (and having to be shown how to use clippers around the ear), I got the job. I graduated high school, got a scholarship for hair school and graduated with honours in 2009. I started to work at a family salon and continued my learning with techniques and building a clientele (before instagram, I know!). This is actually where I first started teaching, presenting Redken product knowledge classes for the staff. I also started the salon facebook page, which I honestly think was my first flicker of wanting to grow things, which has now turned into “Let’s see how far we can take this!”.
In 2011 I moved to Ontario, my family had already moved here and I was really missing them. New province (that felt like a new country, even the grocery brands are different?!), new job. The next couple years were a bit of a blur. I found it hard to acclimate, and going through multiple jobs with challenging owners, including a lawsuit, was hard to say the least. I questioned my place in the industry.
My experience in hair salons as someone who cared about the environment, my own health and more natural options was conflicting. I was the one that would convince a salon to start recycling, and bring in the “more natural” hair care lines. When I parted ways with my third salon in 2 years, I searched “cruelty free salon” and landed on a place called Green Beauty in Toronto. The next two years were massively pivotal in the person I am today, and in the business that Hair Holistic is.
I experienced a salon that aligned with my values and was incredibly successful. This was 2014 so, I can pretty confidently say we were the only place in Toronto with the concept of a “clean” hair salon. We did filming, got media training and had more demand than we could handle in the hair salon. I saw what a well run salon could do, and how much the industry needed it. And truly, my health had never been better. I stopped experiencing rashes on my arms, and I don’t know that I got sick the whole time I worked there. I became a Co-Director, and thoroughly enjoyed supporting staff and teaching. Green Beauty closed at the end of 2015, and I decided to head back into a standard salon, without clean products, since there wasn’t really another option.
Around the same time, it was discovered that I had reactive lymph nodes in my neck, and after a couple inconclusive biopsies, it was recommended that I have a small surgery to explore further. I was told it would be a minor surgery, and only one lymph node would be removed for testing. I spoke with the surgeon after, who said everything went well and I headed home, feeling good and ready to heal.
About 4 days post op, my incision was hurting quite a bit, swollen, and my neck was severely stiff. I called the surgeon's office to be seen, but the receptionist refused: “redness and swelling are normal after surgery”. The swelling had gotten so severe so I went to my family doctor, whose first words were: “I want to apologize, he did a completely different surgery than I prepped you for.”. My surgeon, without my knowledge or consent, removed every lymph node he could find on the right side of my neck. And now I had a massive infection.
So, exactly a week from the first surgery, I went into a second emergency surgery to remove the infection. That night I stayed at the hospital for observation and wound packing the next morning. My incision was to stay open for a couple weeks, healing from the inside out so that it didn’t seal any leftover infection in. Medical staff would remove the gauze inside my neck every couple days, and to this day I still am working through the trauma of the excruciating pain I experienced through this.
Before my wound had healed, I was back at work, with a bandage covering my neck. I was a commission stylist who didn’t qualify for any leave and had bills to pay. Over the next couple months I would experience losing my hair in chunks, and severe fatigue, symptoms of the shock my body had gone through. But the biopsy came back negative for cancer, great news.
Struggling to Breathe
By December 2016 I was starting to feel like I was getting my body back. The holidays are my favourite and I was gearing up for a busy season in the salon, until I started to feel short of breath one day. Perfumes generally have that effect on me so I remember stepping out from the salon to get some fresh air. A few days later, and it had gotten worse, and I began to be concerned. I was resting, when I started to cough and then, the feeling of my throat closing. I had never experienced anything like this before, and scared for my life, called 911. I was barely able to speak my address, but 13 mins later the paramedics arrived. They told me I had the flu, and that was an asthma attack, but that my chest sounded completely normal. One joked to me, “You’re a hairstylist? What would you do with this bald head?”, while I struggled to pull oxygen into my lungs.
Over the next 24 hours, I would go to Emerg twice, be given the incorrect information on medication dosing and xrays, and have three breathing crises’. The third I had to overdose on Ventolin to stop it and I can honestly say I wasn’t sure if I would come through it. I was exhausted, terrified and angry that the medical system had failed me so consistently. I took some Nyquil to stop the coughing, and collapsed into bed. I woke up 12 hours later, when my fever broke.
To heal, I was told to take steroids for my lungs, and rest. I was very weak from the ordeal and so scared about triggering another attack. Walking down the hallway to the bathroom was a big deal. I distracted myself by watching every season of Friends. It holds a very special place in my heart.
A new beginning
Going back into the salon was challenging to say the least. The sound of hairspray would send my heart racing, and the smell of perfumes or the ammonia would mean taking my inhaler immediately. I knew that this was so unsustainable, but I was so conflicted. I had always loved hair, and I really didn’t want to leave the industry. I looked at switching careers but I didn’t want to go back to school. So, I decided I would create what I needed. Worst case, I can say I tried everything right? Famous last words. ;) I spoke with my employer and he agreed to let me go independent and rent a chair. I could use any products I wanted, and I could control my schedule so that I could heal properly. So, April 1, 2017 at 9am, with shaking hands, I took my first payment.
I spent the spring and summer on the learning curve of a new (wee) business, and taking care of my health. I was still plagued with breathing issues, fatigue, infections, brain fog and many other health problems, when I met my naturopath. He helped my body detox itself from the decade of working in toxic salons, medications, anesthesia and just general life. Things were looking up, and business was going really well. I was busy, really enjoying running my own thing, and had extra work with events, media presentations and editorial photoshoots (the holistic hairstylist was in demand).
I started to look for my own commercial space. Working as a chair renter was great, but I was still at the mercy of whatever the other stylists were using and I could feel it in my body. Some nights I would have to lie down for a couple hours after work to get the pressure out of my chest, and I had a couple lymph node scares if I was exposed to too many toxins. I hired an assistant at the beginning of 2019, the business was so in demand and I needed help. That was a huge moment. The last attempt at a career I loved was actually thriving.
A new space
From finding the studio space on Bloor West in Toronto, to opening our doors to the first client, it took 10 months. Unsurprisingly if you know me, the renovation was complete in 6 weeks, largely because of the work my dad and I put into the space. I worked full time, managed the business and my assistant, designed, project managed and took on being the general contractor the fall of November 2019. I was working 100 hours a week and exhausted, but oh my god did it feel amazing. I was building the dream. I was creating my safe space to do what I loved. November 21, 2019 the studio was open to the rest of the world.
Life has been a blur for the last two years... I was still putting finishing touches on the studio in February 2020 when we had our opening party. A live local musician, local art on the walls, zero waste food and beverages (I’m still so proud of this) and an amazing crowd to enjoy the night.
The pandemic, and silver linings
In March 2020, I joined many small businesses in shutting our doors early to do our part to protect the community against COVID-19. I immediately began building an online store (again, “let’s just try it and see if it works”), and within a week we had a rough e-commerce platform. I borrowed a car to deliver orders and offered pickup at the studio. I wrote emails, and signed petitions to advocate for a fair playing field in closures, and support for front line workers. I managed the first networking group for hairstylists in Ontario which experienced growth of over 700% in 2020-2021.
Out of the 2 years we have been open, we have been allowed to operate just 13 months. Don’t get me wrong, it has been an unbelievable initiation into bricks and mortar business, but what I have tried to focus on are the silver linings. And believe me, there are a lot. I have expanded our virtual offerings with an e-commerce destination that I’m incredibly proud of, had fun being a guest on some interviews, expanded my consulting services and became an Innersense Educator. I have gotten better at public speaking and presenting, and pushed the limits of my comfort zone. As hard as it's been I really feel that the business is in a better place, and I'm excited for a future where we can really see the full potential.
The business I started to be a space safe, free from toxins for myself, is constantly evolving and now is a safe space for many (we are four now!). I am determined to make the world a better place, even simply by buying a shampoo. I'm incredibly proud to say that we are:
Inclusive to all people, with non gendered pricing, and experience with all hair textures.
Sustainable by reducing our waste by 99% through a partnership with Green Circle Salons, reduction of single use products, and composting.
Creating positive change, by donating 1% of all sales, both from our online store as well as any service in the studio.
And so much more!
Looking to the future
When I think about what the future will hold for Hair Holistic, I feel like the opportunities are endless (and that is so exciting). I see the need for more professional education in the clean beauty space and I will be stepping more into that. I want to ensure that everyone has knowledge and the access to healthier haircare, and I want to change the industry to that it is safer for stylists. And, as usual, I am simply open to what comes my way.
The list of people I have to thank for being here today is endless. My family, friends, clients and my community on social media have ALL played a part in where we are today.
The support I’ve received from our community still astounds me, and if you’re here reading this, that means you. So let me take a moment to truly say thank you. You are the reason I have kept going, and you are making a positive change in the world.
Let’s do this.