For the second instalment of our ‘Boss Babes’ series, we spoke with former academy student and current business owner, Libby Whaley. Libby studied at Servilles Academy in 2002 and later worked (and then owned) Servilles Ponsonby. Now, Libby is her own boss after founding the luscious Epsilon Hair in Mt Maunganui.
I have been hairdressing for 18 years. I knew I wanted to be a hairdresser from age 14 when I had an awesome salon experience and wanted to make other people feel how I felt at that moment! At 18 I moved from Tauranga to Auckland to study at Servilles Academy as I knew it was the best in NZ for hairdressing training. I was lucky enough to be offered a job at their Ponsonby salon as soon as I graduated, and stayed there for 15 years, including owning it for the last 6 years of that time.
I moved back to Mt Maunganui in 2017 to open my dream salon, Epsilon Hair, after years of health struggles including endometriosis and dermatitis. I was committed to offering a high end salon experience to clients and employees alike that was free from parabens and sulphates, which are two things that exacerbate skin issues and endocrine disorders, without compromising the quality of the products chosen. We choose to use colour and retail products from Kevin Murphy, Eleven and Davines as those brands are not only low tox, but are all committed to improving our environment. We are also a Sustainable Salon, which is an initiative introduced to NZ 2 years ago by an Australian couple where all waste is sorted in salon and 90% is able to be recycled or reused as opposed to ending up in landfill.
In my time in Auckland I was fortunate to work on many Fashion Weeks, NZ’s Next Top Model, and magazine shoots as well as being able to go to seminars by some of the world’s top hairdressers thanks to Servilles often facilitating world class industry events. But at the end of the day my true love is making a connection with clients and now I focus on being in salon and working with my team and our clientele to make everyone that comes to Epsilon feel like a superstar every time they leave the salon – and hopefully when they are doing their hair at home too!!
I have owned a salon for the last 9 years and it is so rewarding to have a business that you love. It is bloody hard work too!! I know that my skills lie in being a great hairdresser and leading by example and I find it hard sometimes to prioritise “business” work like admin that is crucial to a successful business. Having a great accountant, website coordinator and software is PRICELESS when it comes to knowing where you stand financially each month, as well as making it easy for clients to get in touch with you and make bookings so that you go into a fully booked day without having to spend time manning reception.
Hairdressing is about making people feel great. It doesn’t matter if you don’t love what a client wants, as long as you give heartfelt professional advice and make them feel like a rockstar you will be successful. Trends come and go but one thing I have learnt moving from a big city to a smaller beachy town is that people want to be pampered and trust that you are listening to what they want, instead of pushing the latest trend or the retail product that is on incentive that week. We are still deep in the balayage trend here as it is so flattering to most hair types and face shapes without being too high maintenance.
I have always felt grateful that the career I chose cannot be replaced by technology. People will always need their hair cut and coloured! I do find that I spend my hour with clients chatting away like a friend, or sometimes a therapist, and no app or robot will ever be able to replicate that service. We are fortunate to live in an age where we can connect with hairdressers all over the world in an instant with chat groups, and get inspiration through social media with minimal effort. Our clients can reach us in so many mediums – in person, on Instagram, on the phone or email – and they are our best advertisement so keeping communication open and friendly is of the utmost importance. People can and do share their experiences with thousands of people at the click of a button and this is our biggest blessing.
For anyone starting out I would say – train at the best place you can, surround yourself with workmates that encourage you to rise up with them and love your clients so that they love you. Then you will always be busy, regardless of whether you are wanting styling and session work, travel, a fully booked work column in a salon, or a business of your own.
If you’re considering a career in hairdressing or your next step in studying, take a look at our NZ Certificate in Hairdressing – Salon Support (Level 3) programme. Looking to up-skill your existing hairdressing abilities? Check out our Level 4 programme – NZ Certificate in Hairdressing – Emerging Stylist. We’re enrolling now for 24th September (Salon Support) and 15th October (Emerging Stylist), so take the opportunity now and apply today!
Keep an eye out for our next ‘Boss Babe’ article, here on our blog and our Instagram and Facebook pages.