Karen is a professional hairdresser and loctician at Modlocks in Toronto.
What is your morning routine?
One of the greatest things about being self-employed is that I can book people in when I want. My husband and I have a two-year-old and my commercial studio is attached to the house we live in; our mornings are fairly leisurely. I’m up around 8 am – I try to do 30-60 minutes of yoga, and then the nanny comes in around 10 am. I usually start taking clients at 10 am.
Tell us about your career path
In the 90’s everyone was encouraged to go into computers. As a creative person, there was immense pressure to learn graphic arts, but I’m far too social to sit behind a desk all day long. After high school, I went to school for makeup in hopes of breaking into the entertainment industry. In 1997, at a makeup trade convention, I met Emmy/Oscar-winning makeup artist Maurice Stein who shared some advice. He said, “If you get your hairdressing license, you will be more marketable”. And he was right. Not everyone needs their makeup done but (almost!) everyone needs a haircut. So he was really my inspiration to go to hair school.
Which brings me to my current occupation and career of 20 years. I am a professional hairstylist and loctician (specialist in dreadlocks). How on earth did that happen, you ask? When I was doing my hair apprenticeship in 1999, one of the hairstylists wanted to dreadlock her hair. We all helped her to start them but nobody knew what to do. It must have struck a chord with me because I very quickly became fascinated with the idea of manipulating hair in such an unconventional way. It was the opposite of everything I’d been taught to do in hair school and it sparked my creativity.
Over the years I’ve developed my own techniques to start, maintain, and repair dreadlocks for all lengths and textures of hair. I have clients who fly in to see me from around the world and I’m generally booked 6-8 weeks in advance. I also teach my techniques and have started an affiliation with my current brand, called Modlocks.
What challenges do you or women face in your industry?
I suppose it depends on who you work for and how far up the industry ladder you want to climb. I have never kept up with trends. I think trends went out with cliques in the 90’s. Everything is “in” and everything is mixed and mashed into everything else. So in terms of challenges, I knew that if I didn’t want to play the game (dressing fashionably with flawless makeup and heels) there might be limitations to my career. For example, it might be more difficult to become a platform artist, colour rep, or high-profile hairstylist to the stars.
I played my own game and it worked out very nicely for me. I keep up with the trends – without having to keep up with the trends – by association. I have many clients with dreadlocks who are in movies and TV, fashion, music etc. I never feel left out.
What advice would you give to young girls who want to be the NEXT you?
Honour your strengths and your weaknesses. A weakness is the perfect opportunity to get creative. You encounter every single person who passes you by or speaks to you for a reason. You may never know why, but life experience comes from even the smallest encounters. Be observant.
And if you are the kind of person to set intentions (life goals or achievements), set them, but don’t force them. Do great things and make great relationships, but understand that if you have to push and push and push, it might not be the right time.
How do you separate work life from your personal life?
I don’t. I’m an extraverted extravert. That’s both my strength and weakness. I have made decade-long friendships with some of my clients and they don’t assume special treatment.
What inspires you?
Other people inspire me. Creative minds, intellectual minds, academic minds. I surround myself with people who have the skills and talents that I don’t.
When you’re off the clock, what are your indulgences?
I’ve traveled to Iceland more than 20 times since 1996. In 2011 I imported my husband (it sounds nicer than sponsored). We bring our son there 3 or 4 times a year. I love to travel in general but when I do, it often turns into a work-vacation. That way I feel I can justify the time away.
I also love Lindy hop (swing dancing). Before my son was born I would go to the social dances in Toronto every Saturday night. Now my husband and I are lucky if we can find the time (or the energy!) to go dancing once every 6 months!