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Female Barber: Lena Piccininni, Speaks Of Her Rise To Barbering Stardom

Lena Piccininni’s work is the epitome of modern barbering, with her versatile skills representing perfectly the way in which barbering and hairdressing are becoming more and more interconnected every day. She is also a talented makeup artist, and the versatility of these three skills mean that she is able to educate both male and female stylists in a way that they can engage with.

Aside from all that, name is an educator and ambassador for Pacino’s – an achievement that any barber would be delighted to have to their name. She’s also one of the most professional and driven people I’ve met, with a work ethic that should make her an inspiration to barbers and hairdressing alike… so let’s hear what she had to say!

 

A journey to the top

“Well, I started doing hair and makeup, and then I went through some life experiences and basically need a job – so I ended up in barbering. I realised that it’s extremely difficult for a woman to make it in a male dominated industry and I needed to make sure my skills were 100%. Sometimes I thought, I need to be better than the men in the barbershop.”

This spurted Lena on to look at educational classes, and it was here that she first met Pacino – a hugely admired celebrity barber, educator and platform artist who was impressed by Lena and able to propel her career forwards.

But while she found she was learning a lot from educators, and from watching classes, she also felt like there was an important piece missing. In particular, she felt like her fades just weren’t living up to the high standard she’d set herself:

“Because I do makeup and makeup is all about blending, I stayed saying if you have issues take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Pretend the hair is an eyelid and you’re blending the eyeshadow, it’s the same thing. You can see the same dark lines and what needs to be darker or lighter.”

As I mentioned above, Lena’s diversity is one of the things that elevates her. This has been the case since the very start of her career, when she tells me that she saw every single client as worthwhile, since she was focused on widening her client base. This is an important point for early career barbers; you can’t just chase the fades and pompadours of you want to get your name out!

It’s the same with Lena’s educational classes, where she describes her clientele as “everybody” – meaning, barbers, hairdressers and cosmetologists alike. Specifically, she tries to draw on details from each element and puts it all into her education. And, as Lena notes, as we are seeing more and more crossover between barbering and hairdressing, her style of education is exactly what a lot of people within the hair industry are looking for.

 

Humble barbering roots

I was also curious to hear more about how Lena first got into barbering – a story which is inspiring in and of itself, even if her career hadn’t reached the heights that she now enjoys:

“I was in a hair salon and they changed owners and they basically wanted to cut my pay to around half. They were paying around $5 an hour to assist on reception, clean and shampoo. At 17 I was very stubborn, so I said no way, I’m quitting. Unfortunately, then my father passed away and I had to get a job – I had to take over a mortgage, with my brother, at 17 years old. I was fresh out of high school, no money, no nothing. No clients, not really any education in hair. I couldn’t get a clientele.

Then a friend of my fathers – I feel bad now but I say thank god, he broke his shoulder – because he had a full book of clients and couldn’t cut for them. I said look, I can do this.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly given her determination, this worked out well for Lena, and from their she was able to start working in an actual barbershop, fading and learning classic barbering skills for the first time.

From this combination of luck and good judgement, it was hard work that drove Lena forwards. This is particularly evident when looking at how she came to work with Pacino, a man who has had a big influence on her career: “without him, I wouldn’t be where I am. His initial class that I attended has opened up so many doors over the past few years. From where I started, I never dreamt that I’d end up educating in so many different countries and places”.

 

Always staying classy

One of the things that impressed Pacino initially was Lena’s sense of professionalism, and desire to be considered great because of her skills and not for any other reason:

“First of all, when I was starting as a barber I wanted to make sure that anybody sitting in my chair was there because of my skills and not what I looked like.  I try to teach this to a lot of girls; sometimes I see them wearing more revealing clothing to get clientele, but that is the wrong clientele.

My clientele is very respectful to me and that’s how I like it. You want to make sure you’re barbering for the right reasons – not to meet to guys.

Thankfully, right now I don’t have any [challenges as a female barber], because I’ve worked so hard to put myself out there. When I first started, the biggest challenge was just being taken seriously. I’ve had people get out of my chair. I’ve had guys be like ‘you know what, never mind. Maybe you should just be sitting at the front desk, maybe you should be sweeping the floor. I’ve had all those comments. It just pushed me further.

So the challenge really is just getting guys to take a woman seriously in a barber shop.”

It’s a challenge that Lena has clearly overcome, as her personal brand has grown huge, with 120,000 followers on Instagram and a star status in the USA and Latin America.  Again, a lot of this is down to the professionalism with which she conducts herself and her business, ensuring that her Instagram is purely focussed on her work without personal distractions: “Honestly, that’s what Pacino noticed – he said I’ve seen your page and you’re just working and working and working. You really want to keep unrelated things private with separate pages for work and personal life so that your brand stays completely professional.”

 

Just put yourself out there

No surprises that her advice for other barbers focusses on the strong traits that Lena has demonstrated throughout her own career, and she talks about versatility as being one of the key skills to master:

“One of the questions that barbers always ask me is how do you build a clientele and being a woman, building a clientele is particularly hard. But it’s because I was versatile. I see a lot of guys who worked at the barbershop that I worked at and they didn’t build a big clientele because they only wanted to cut certain people.

I was never scared to cut a kid, long hair, short hair. I would take anyone and make sure I was versatile, and that helped me stay busy and make money.”

This is great advice for every barber, so I hope that you’re able to use it in your own career – but I also wanted to know whether Lena had any particular advice for female barbers who want to become an ambassador, an educator or an influencer as she has:

“You’ve got to just put yourself out there. Again, my number one thing is always be classy, always be professional. Really, you’ve got to practice and you’ve got to show your work; you have to promote yourself, promote your brand, get yourself out to these shows.

I drove four hours just to come walk around and see everyone, and I’ve been to these shows so many times but I still keep putting myself out there. If you have to take a day off, take a day off and come to these shows, meet people, use Instagram.

So, I say if I can do it anyone can do it, I started from nothing. I started from being poor, from never cutting men’s hair to travelling the globe and educating. If I can do it you can do it, but you have to work hard and practice, you have to have patience because it takes time.”

 

I’m sure that Lena’s words will have inspired you to take that time and work your way up; her eclectic skills, confidence and sheer determination are certainly inspiring to me! To see more interviews with top professional barbers like Lena, please visit larrythebarberman.com, or come and find me on YouTube at barbers.tv or on Instagram as @larrythebarberman, where I am constantly putting out new videos and posts so that you can learn from some of the best in the business.

 

 

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Babyliss 4 Barbers: Educator, Sofie ( StayGold31) Tells Her Story

When I caught up with Sofie Pok  A.k.A  Staygold31 at the International Beauty Show, it was hot off the back of an incredible achievement:  being named BarberCon’s “Best Female Barber of the Year.”  All the more remarkable is this L.A.-based artist won the coveted prize after just seven years working exclusively with men’s hair.

Every barber has to fight to make it to the top, but as a minority within the industry, female barbers find an amplified struggle.  I’ve met many formidable women barbers, each one unique.  Sophie’s tale is a fascinating blend of heart, creativity and hard work.  I am delighted to share more about this delightful person, so let’s get to know Sofie!

Barbering: Something that makes you want to wake up in the morning

Sofie started as a hairdresser in Los Angeles but found the field didn’t generate the excitement and creative sparks she was seeking. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this from both men and women barbers.  I wanted to know more about what motivated her jump from one side of the hair styling industry to the other and how she  felt about the journey.

“I started doing hair about seven years ago, the first year I got into cosmetology,” she says. “Going through that first year was a little bit tough because I couldn’t find that feeling where you’re just excited to get up every day.”

“So, the second year I thought, ‘ before I give it all up, let me try men’s hair and see how that works.’ I jumped into a barbershop, “she said.  Sofie is an incredible presence, an Asian American with magnificent blondish hair and a fantastic scheme of tattoos covering most of her visible skin, many of the inspired by her Cambodian heritage.  Despite the power of her look and personality, she says entering a barber shop “was probably one of the most uncomfortable and intimidating moves I’ve done, working by myself as a female, with all guys who had way more experience.”

But Sofie had found her calling, and went for it hard. “Pretty soon it developed into a passion where it was challenging, it was fast-paced, and it made me want to go to work and keep learning. And my main focus was just to do what I could and try to make it work – because it was fun and I enjoyed it.”

Sofie was soon discovering the creativity for which she is becoming so well known, crafting exceptional haircuts. “You have to!” she said.  “We are the minority of this entire industry in just the barbering world alone, so we’ve got to cut twice as hard. That helped me separate myself from everyone else”.

While reflecting on her barbering roots with me, Sofie was still expressing amazement at her BarberCon achievement.  She says it was a total shock, not least because her only intent in going was to showcase her work.  So how did it feel to be told she’d won a huge barbering prize so suddenly?

“I was completely speechless,” she says with a smile. “To be recognized after all these years of knowing how hard it is first of all to be a barber, but then to be a female which made it extremely difficult in the beginning”.

At my prompting, Sofie shared a theory about why she was selected for the honor, telling me what she puts out is very real, never sugar-coated, and she loves connecting with others who are still coming up, offering advice, inspiration and the energy to keep going.

 

 

 The rise of female barbers

Seeing a woman cutting hair on the barbershop floor used to be rare, but the growth of the industry has gone hand-in-hand with a very welcome rise in diversity, Sofie said.

“Now,  I see growth in a lot of States where women are not afraid anymore. They are coming into this world and trying to hold their own.  It’s starting to change where people aren’t just saying, “Oh, you’re good for a girl.”  No. “You’re good, period.” And that’s what it should be.  It shouldn’t be segregated. “You’re OK for a chick.” But those little things that have pushed me to where I am now; you’ve got to find those moments that drive you even further”.

Sofie is finding ways to help people find that drive, including a YouTube channel of how-to videos: “I think it’s important to show people that you’re not just taking shortcuts and making it look nice,” she said. “I represent BaByliss for barbers, and it’s important for me to show that I’m actually using these tools to do things.”

Sofie’s message is that tools connect you to your work…and bring out your creativity.  “People want to feel like it’s real and attainable,” she said. “I want to break it down and make it easy because I know what it’s like to just be handed a pair of clippers and not really know the specs or what is out there,” she added.  “I break down tool knowledge because it’s important for us to understand why we’re using it so we can do it better.”

Sofie’s Instagram – staygold31- is home to many of these videos and I encourage barbers everywhere to follow her not just for the videos,  but for her inspirational posts and background on the BaByliss products she reps.  Picking up an ambassador role for an excellent product line is a big dream for many barbers, so I asked  how Sofie landed the job:

“A lot of companies are looking for people who can already sell themselves,” she said.” The first four or five years I’ve built my page off of things that I enjoy. You have to find what’s pure to you and that’s how you’re going to build an audience because people want to follow real people.”

She said she was initially skeptical of going into product promotion, but  BaByliss tools are a real part of who she is and what she is doing. “I took the risk and I’m so glad I did,” she smiles.

BaByliss has grown in credibility recently, and it’s great to see barbers embrace another set of tools -after all, the more diversity in your clipper collection, the more opportunities for you to provide different styles. For Sofie, this means getting up on stage and showing what these clippers can do, a role she is clearly good at and enjoys.

The final element to Sofie’s work is building her personal brand, with a range of Stay Gold apron pins for barbers.  You can check these out on Instagram right now and her new website, coming soon.

She’s also focusing on building her photographer chops. “It came with cutting hair,” she told me. “ I used to use an iPhone, but with higher quality photography you can not only put your work out there better but also study your haircuts a little more, see the details.  Overall, you create a better portfolio for yourself, and I think that’s really important as well as your presentation. .”

Sofie stresses a topic in which I believe too many barbers lack awareness: marketing and promotion. “You know you could be a good barber but if you don’t have good presentation, how are you going to get clientele, build business opportunities?” she asks. “People will notice the little details, it separates you, because of the quality that you invest in yourself”.

 

 

Reflecting on the industry

Before I let Sofie get back on stage, I wanted one final insight: her take on the state of the industry today.  I love getting reaction to this question since everyone has a unique insight. With that in mind, and to embrace the positive spirit of the IBS show, I asked Sofie what she loves about the industry:

“How much men’s hair has grown,” she said enthusiastically. “ Because a little while ago men weren’t into their hair as much, but that stigma for men who want to get their eyebrows done, that’s gone.  Now men want to look better and feel better. Men are getting their hair cut 3 or 4 times as much as women now, so the industry is coming up to the same point as female hairdressing.”

That should be a motivating message for every barber!  Hope you enjoyed getting to know another wonderful up-and-comer like Sofie, who bring so much energy and enthusiasm and have inspiring and practical insights to share.  Don’t forget to find her on Instagram as StayGold31.

To get more motivating interviews with the principal industry figures, follow me on Instagram – larrythebarberman- and then head on over to my YouTube channel at barbers.tv.

I’m planning more barber profiles soon. ‘Til then, happy clipping!

 

 

 

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Wahl Barber Of The Year 2016: Andrea Raymond’s Interview

At just 22 years of age, Andrea Raymond has done excellently to become the first female Wahl Barber of the Year. Although I’ve managed to interview a few female barbers for the Larry the Barber Man blog, it’s certainly true that they don’t get as much publicity as men in the profession… so I couldn’t miss the chance to interview Andrea and find out a little more about her career.

Now, something that I’ve heard from a lot of barbers is that they love the creative side of the trade, and for Andrea this is where it all started: she joined a hairdressing college – the same one that Paul Mac attended – looking for a creative and practical career. However, the theoretical side of hairdressing college was not enough for her, so she left after a year and went the route that is increasingly popular with young people cutting hair: an apprenticeship.

From there, her path into barbering was almost an accident, as she tells me that she started a barbering night course just to add another skill to her collection. But, like many barbers I’ve spoken to, once Andrea started barbering she couldn’t stop, finding it “more creative and more challenging”. So, starting out as a junior barber at Bladez Barbers in Cork, she worked her way up to senior barber in Lancaster Barbers, another Cork based salon where she still works today.

I hear many different stories of barbering through these interviews, and Andrea’s journey shows that making the switch from hairdresser to barber can often be a viable and inspiring career move. I also wanted to know how she made the move from day-to-day barbering in Cork to becoming Wahl Barber of the Year. As the first female winner, I think her insights could be very useful for other women looking to progress their barbering careers:

“They posted the competition on Facebook, then you just send 4 to 6 pictures and a bio about your career via email. It needs to be a nice shoot, with good images! Then they pick the finalists from a couple of hundred entries, narrowing it down through specific categories. It’s very easy to apply; I thought it would be a lot more complicated, needing professional photos and a model, but I just used pictures taken on the shop floor. It’s simple; I recommend it to everyone”.

This should be great news for any barbers with limited resources who still want to try their hands at competitions! We also talked about barbering inspiration, and for Andrea the two big names that have motivated her throughout her career are Reece and Alan Beak. As well as enjoying their work from afar, Andrea got the chance to meet the wonderful brothers – and it was their positive reaction to her work that gave her the courage to push forwards.

She also tells me how generous and friendly Paul Mac has been throughout the competition process, offering tips and tricks despite being direct competition. This is the sort of thing I always love to hear about; the barbering community coming together to offer each other support, and become friends as well as competitors.

So what was Andrea’s show-stopping cut that saw her crowned winner? “I went with a regular skin fade, nothing too fancy. The model’s hair was bleached on top but naturally dark. So with the texture on top I wanted to wanted to show the contrast of the colours, complementing the contrast of the skin against the hair. I like clean sharp lines, and put a lot of effort into each aspect … the sectioning on top, line work, the blending, everything.  So I used a plain, simple, easy structure – and it worked.”

I’m sure that a lot of barbers will also be curious to know which tools make the cut for Andrea’s toolkit. Well, here’s a quick rundown:

Two Regular Taper 2000s.

Wahl Beret Mini Clipper

Wahl Icon Clipper

Wahl Shaver

Corded Razors… as many different types as she can get her hands on!

Watch the full interview to find out more about this clipper collection, including why she prefers to use corded clippers wherever possible, and how she’s customised her kit to suit her own cutting style. We also discuss scissors, and after trying a few different models Andrea is lucky to be having some made by Dan Quartered Steels Wild – as she says, they’re “more expensive but custom made by a wonderful guy”.

Finally, I asked Andrea to share any advice for other female barbers who may be looking to follow in her footsteps. Her message was clear: stick to your own style, and don’t try to emulate somebody else. Whether you like simple, classic cuts like Andrea or something a little more extravagant, her advice stands strong: “stick to what you’re good at. Perfect your own techniques, your own skills. So just don’t try to be anywhere else and that will get you far.”

Watch the video to hear even more about Andrea’s fresh perspective on barbering, including changes she’d like to see in the industry and what she’s up to over the next 12 months as a Wahl Barber of the Year. There are plenty more inspirational and educational videos to come in the not too distant future, so keep an eye out for those too, and follow Larry the Barber Man on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Or to find out more about my work, why not get in touch – you can contact me here.

 

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