Here at VIVA GLAM Magazine, when we think of an accomplished hairstylist, the first person we think of is Ashlee Norman. This superwoman does it all! On top of creating the most beautiful modern Balayage colors styled with the trendiest blow-dried shag looks, Ashlee has created an empire for herself as a stylist. While quarantine sank many private salons and barber shops, Ashlee found herself flourishing and expanding her business during these hard times. From teaching hair around the country to launching her own online courses, Ashlee has found a strong market in teaching her hair techniques. Her looks are super modern and unique, combining a modern style with classic glam, so it’s no surprise that everyone wants to learn her secrets. She even has her own line of specialty products created to make her specific looks. We sat down with Ashlee to discuss her life in the world of hair.
Ashlee, originally you wanted to become an actress. Do you recall the moment you realized you preferred to do hair instead?
I was in high school theatre at 15 years old as a sophomore and ended up doing more hair backstage than acting on stage. That’s when I realized where my real talents lie. The most memorable moment was during the summer run of Grease. I was in charge of helping Sandy make the costume change from “Good Sandy” to “Bad Sandy” backstage in about 60 seconds. Each show, I would set her hair in classic barrel curls with hot rollers and then, as she slipped off her poodle shirt and rolled down the leather pants that were underneath, I would pull out vertical sections while spraying them with Big Sexy Hairspray. As she ran back on stage and exclaimed, “Danny!”, you could hear the audience gasp in reaction to her new look. That thrill of transformation was the moment I knew I wanted to be a hairstylist!
You pursued your bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising while you were working full time. What job were you working at that time? Were you styling hair?
Yes. I come from a college-educated family, and it was an expectation that I would get at least a bachelor’s degree. But my passion was hairstyling, and I started beauty school during my senior year of high school and graduated during my freshman year of college. I was working in a salon at 19 years old while continuing my traditional education. I married my high school sweetheart after my Sophomore year of college and decided to make my career my number one priority. I worked full time as a stylist and went to college part time at night. It took 9 years to get my bachelor’s degree at the incredibly slow pace, but it helped focus my 20’s. The thing I learned the most was probably just work ethic!
You trained in New York, a place many people dream about making it in the fashion industry in. But we have heard that the fashion industry there is very cutthroat. What was your experience working backstage during fashion week like?
I have trained extensively in New York, starting at Bumble and Bumble University, and then continued with private classes with top artists. My dream was to work backstage at fashion week. I never made it officially on a team, but one of the stylists I trained under helped me get my portfolio seen. I was added on as stand by and paid my own way cross country to stay in New York and wait to be called in on whatever shows needed extra help last minute. I was lucky to get called in the day before 4 shows my first season. The stylist that helped me get in seemed embarrassed to know me and made it clear I was barely qualified to hold her gel. For the most part, it was like I was invisible, and the other stylists looked past me. The next year, I was able to get on a friendlier team because I had done one-on-one training with the team lead. While I was there, I did one more show with the prior season’s team. This second time, I was a couple months pregnant, and the room was so stuffy I remember standing up against the wall at the lunch break trying to steady myself against the first trimester nausea. The next thing I knew, I was hit by flying food. I looked up to see who threw it, and a group of 3 male stylists were laughing at me. While I still have high respect for how hard these stylists have worked to perfect their art in such a high-pressure environment, the little to no pay, the uncompensated high costs of travel, and elitism has kept me from going back.
You have an extensive resume under your belt and a long history in educating people in all aspects of hair. Can you tell us how this began? Did this talent naturally come to you?
I started as an educator in salon as the Bumble and Bumble Network Educator. It was a liaison program where I would do teach-back classes for my salon team after training at their New York academy. The salon was a new small business, and I started their apprenticeship program at the same time as working as an NE. I think my presentation skills were natural from my theatre background, and this was the perfect stage for me. It combined my passion for entertainment and hairstyling. It wasn’t until I started to get noticed on Instagram after 8 years into the role that I became a traveling independent educator.
Obviously, you have passed down a lot of knowledge to your students. Is there anything you have learned from teaching? Did conducting classes teach you something you may not have known before?
Teaching, if done well, is an extremely humbling experience. The thing I have learned is that my purpose is to serve my students, not to be glorified. My job is to listen and offer solutions. But even more than that, it is to give them encouragement and hope – help them affirm their worth and potential. I am there to lift them up, not to be lifted up- which is all the more rewarding! When I reach the end of my life, I want to see that I had walked alongside my colleagues, not stepped on them.
After being an educator for different companies for several years, you decided to go independent. Was there a specific niche you wanted to teach? Did you create a program as an independent or was it similar to what you were teaching before?
When I started to get noticed on Instagram in 2014, it was for open air painting (Balayage) which was a growing color trend. I would post models who I used to teach classes for my salon staff, and one day, a stylist commented- asking if I would ever teach a class outside my salon. In December of 2014, I taught my first independent class to 6 students. By 2015, I was newly pregnant and began traveling to teach all over the US! It was interesting to “blow-up” at the same time my body was “blowing-up”, and I taught my last 2 classes at 36 weeks in Vegas in August! Then, when my first born was 5 months old, I got back on the road with him and my mother-in-law, who served as my traveling nanny. Building my young family at the same time as my new traveling education career was extremely challenging, but I have no regrets, as it has also brought joy at the same time as financial stability!
Besides hair techniques, you also teach the business and marketing side of the industry. In your online course, Elements of the Image, you even teach photography, lighting, camera type, model selection, and all other elements of hair marketing. It seems like you have a very broad knowledge of all aspects of marketing for hair. How did you accumulate these skills throughout your experiences?
My classes are not limited to hair techniques only. It is important that I help coach stylists on how to manage their business and increase their brand value. We have discussions about pricing, consultation, work/life balance, Instagram marketing, ect in all my in-person classes. Now, I have the online class that gives all the knowledge I have accumulated for creating great brand imagery. Some of it I have learned working with photographers on many photoshoots before becoming a traveling educator and the rest is just from the experience of building my Instagram over the last 6 years.
Was there one experience you have had that has taught you the most?
One of the hardest things I had to do, which happened about 3 years ago, was to go out on my own. The salon I had built the education program with from the day they opened was owned by my hairstylist I went to since I was 14 years old and my first “Hair Hero”. After working there and helping build the team for 11 years, I was turned down for business partnership. At the time, it was a hard decision for me to leave and focus on my own brand, but looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I realized that the affirmation I was looking for from someone I thought was my mentor, was inside me all along. It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking to others to give us our “big break” when really all we need to do is discover ourselves!
Ashlee, you are extremely business savvy. Besides having your own consultation and formulation swatch card, you also sell your own brand of hair tools for professionals. Which product would you say is the most popular among other hair stylists?
When I started teaching independent classes, I noticed that the tools I was teaching with to achieve these modern looks were not easily available on the market, so I started to create a kit of tools that went along with my techniques. As new techniques developed, naturally, new tools were required. My custom natural level finder is great for consultation and formulation and is my most popular product right now because, unless you buy a very expensive color book from a brand, you cannot get one; it is not sold separately. Really, I just pay attention to the needs of my students and fill the gaps in the market.
What would you like to add to your collection of products next?
The next thing I will be launching is a styling product line. I am very picky about my styling products since it determines the finished look and what you see in my brand imagery. I want to start with the 3 products I cannot live without and use on every model. I am excited because I can wholesale it to part-time working moms who rent small salon studios like myself and need good products to retail to their clients. Most high-end brands have very large minimum orders that make it impossible for the independent stylist to afford and store. My long-term goal is to reward my top sales stylists with continuing education or mentorship!
From stylist to businesswoman to entrepreneur, Ashlee Norman really does do it all. Be sure to follow her achievements on Instagram at @ashleenormanhair and on her website at www.ashleenormanhair.com.
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