Meet Sioni Reuben, who has been in hairdressing for 25 years. She qualified in London, where she is originally from. Sioni went through a family business as an apprentice and then left to work for Charles Worthington, one of the UK’s top salons.
Sioni had worked her way through their ranks and ended up being head-hunted to manage a large salon in Wimbledon. There were 26 staff members, so it was a challenge running a fully-booked salon as well as managing all the staff. Sioni taught hairdressing to apprentices during her time with Sean Hanna and came to South Africa 14 years ago. Currently Sioni is teaching aspiring stylists at the Stellenbosch Hair Academy to be internationally successful.
What are your working hours?
8am to 2pm or 3pm on the weekends and normally 8am to 6pm during the week.
What does this job entail?
Loving people, having passion, perseverance and patience. You must keep up to date with current trends, which means constant education.
What are the mundane aspects?
There really aren’t any! It’s different every day, but I suppose the cleaning of the salon and the tools are the less fun part of the job. However, it’s necessary.
What are some of the personality attributes required to manage this career?
Tolerance, understanding, compassion and having a good ear. We need to be listeners as well as excellent communicators.
What are the different aspects a person could get involved with in this career field?
Obviously the first is salon work, and after that the possibilities are endless. Spas onboard cruise liners, TV and theatre work, editorials for magazines, education, product sales and franchising.
What are some of the huge no-nos in this industry?
Definitely discussing a client’s personal business with other staff or even worse, other clients. Also for me, smoking is a huge no-no. It’s a bad habit and as a reformed smoker I hate the smell. As a stylist we cannot inflict the smell onto our clients. So best advice, just don’t start smoking.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
For me, personally, I love to travel, so I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work all over the world. I’ve worked in America, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Greece, the UK and even managed to cut hair on an overland trip down through Africa! I wouldn’t change it for the world and I’ve loved the chances I’ve been given.
Where could you find yourself in this career?
I suppose it depends on the individual, but if you’re a homebody, then owning your own ‘kitchen’ salon and being in charge of your own hours may be the way to go, but you can think big in this industry. You could have a high street salon or a chain of salons, you could develop product ranges, you could get contracted with a magazine as a ‘hair expert’ and write articles. You could go to work for a large product house either in education or product development … the sky really is the limit.
Have you worked with any celebrities?
Yes, lots! In London, Charles Worthington was the salon of choice for lots of celebrities and luckily I had the chance to work for some of them and do their hair. We were frequented by Kylie Minogue, Rod Stewart, Jodi and Jemma Kid (British models), Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman came in once or twice, Tom Hanks was also a regular when he was in London, and then lots of British TV celebrities. It was always a bit of a thrill although most of them are REALLY normal people.
What did you study to become a professional hair stylist?
Hairdressing Levels 1, 2 and 3 and then higher later on in my career. I also studied Beauty and Body Therapy first. I have since done advanced courses in hairdressing and more specifically colour, but that you can only do with experience.
Is this a very stressful career?
It can be, especially as a manager. But the climate of the day is created by you and maintained by you. If you allow stress to creep in, then all day you’ll be stressing. My philosophy is to take a breath and let it wash over you. It will all be okay in the end!
What is your best advice for dealing with a difficult client?
Listen to them, let them vent or give their full description of what they want. Clients aren’t really difficult, but they are often uneducated in what is the right or wrong way to treat their hair; it’s our job to give them the education in the correct way to achieve the best results.
What is the best way to get a foot in the door in this industry?
Ask for a chance! Also, if you are thinking about studying hairdressing, maybe ask your local salon if you could go and work a few Saturdays until you can see if you like it. I think that the perception is that hairdressers stand around all day, playing with hair. The reality is that we work hard, long hours and have to keep our businesses running on a daily basis. Even when you work for someone else you still run your own business really, it’s just in someone else’s shop.
What can I expect to earn in this career?
This depends on you and your years of experience. The starting salary is always low and you will be earning only around R3,000 per month to begin with. The scale moves steeply upwards and quite quickly though. If you work smart and not hard, you can easily earn R15,000 per month and if you’re a specialist you can look at R20,000 to R40,000 per month, but trust me, you’ll work for it. On the cruise ships you’ll start at around R10,000 to R15,000 per month, tax free and you’ll get tips too. If you work in the US you’ll also earn 15% tips on everything that you do. As a 25-year-old, I bought my first home with a big deposit and was earning more than both my mother and my older sister, but my hours were longer than both of them too.
What is the market like in terms of jobs and competition?
I’ve never, not one day, been unemployed. But I strive to make myself a desirable employee with constant education and a passion for my work. I don’t know a single salon owner who would turn down a talented stylist. Even if there isn’t space for them, they will make a plan. If you are self-motivated, hardworking, trustworthy and reliable you are always employable. The market is constantly evolving and you have to put yourself at the top of the pack.
Is there one crucial hair care tip that you would like to share with the readers?
Thermal protection. In other words, protect your hair from the heat of the styling tools like hair dryers, GHDs and tongs. It’s the one step that most people miss and it’s crucially important to maintain your hair’s moisture levels. Treat it nice, it’s your crowning glory!
Any tips for teens who may want to pursue a career as a professional hair stylist?
Try to secure a Saturday job first. You’ll get used to being around people and the pace that we work at which is often crazy. It also gets your legs and feet used to standing for 10 hours a day. Get yourself into a good training program; education is the key to all career paths. And stick with it. The first few years are tough, but keep in mind that it’s maybe two or three years of tough times to get to a lifetime of satisfaction in your chosen career.