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WHEN PURPOSE, PASSION AND BEAUTY COLLIDE: The truth behind the fallacy perpetuated in our industry.

I am an independent beauty educator, currently working on a new curriculum (that I plan to begin teaching in early 2017).  This morning I woke up thinking about purpose, the beauty industry and the events that have shaped my passions.  Yes, we are hairstylists and makeup artists, but we have also been given a responsibility to touch people’s lives. I sat here this morning reflecting deeply on our world today and my role in it.  There is a racial and cultural divide in this country that has definitely impacted our industry, but we don’t talk about it.  Unfortunately, we actually unknowingly perpetuate it.

Unlike most of the successful beauty professionals that I have met, I began my career in my late 20’s.  When I started beauty college I already had a 9-month old that was born premature and just weeks after school began I discovered I was pregnant with my second child.  Looking back today it was as if life was preparing me for the uphill battles I would face as I pursued a career in the glamorous world of hair and beauty.  As not to leave you confused I feel it necessary to share a little a bit about my history.

I grew up in the very culturally diverse Silicon Valley area of Northern, CA.  My best friend (42 years now) was a level 7 curly haired Caucasian girl.  My neighborhood had a mix of every race, we were like the kids in the movie “Sandlot”.  I grew up with a passion for people, comfortable around any and everybody, and with an intense passion for hair and makeup.  It was at the age of 9 that I proclaimed to my grandmother that, “I would own a hair salon in New York City one day”.  Laughing hysterically, she asked if we could put my salon in her backyard to keep me close.  As the reality of adulthood set in, I was told that a career in hair was for people that couldn’t do anything else, so I laid my pipe dreams aside for a career in the corporate world.  I was very successful in my jobs and believed I could live happily ever after in middle management.  I mean, I had arrived…I thought.  Fortunately for me I stayed home one day from work and Oprah had a show on and it was titled “Find Your Passion and Money Will Follow”.  A flame was reignited within me instantly, but how was I going to do this?  I won’t bore you with the details, but, long story short I ended up losing everything we had accumulated to become a stylist and I have never regretted my choice.

Now that you know a little more about how I grew up, I think it will make it easier for you to understand my passion for truth and desire to service clients based solely on their hair type and texture instead of their skin color or race. As I finished writing that sentence I can literally see your blank stares and hear crickets (lol).  Let me be totally transparent with you, the curriculum I am writing and writing this blog post scares the {bleep} out of me, but it is necessary and part of my purpose.

From day one in most of our beauty colleges we are taught that black hair is different and society and marketing drive this ideology into our heads even further.  Let’s just look at the images we see.  We actually have an aisle for ethnic hair.  We have shampoo, hair color and products specifically marketed to “black people”.   Let this though sink in, how does hair color, shampoo or any product know what color skin you have or what race you are?

What if I told you, that black hair, Caucasian hair, Asian hair and Jewish hair are all one in the same- that the only differences between them are the same textures, thicknesses and colors that apply to all hair? That aside from adding another mispronounce-able ingredient- shampoo found in the “ethnic” section is the same exact stuff (aside from the extra cost for changed packaging of course) Just as in the 1950’s we are stuck in a place within our industry that misleadingly tells us that all hair is not created equal and that could not be further from the truth.

Marketing and outdated mindsets have us thinking this way.  Another thought for you, have you noticed people never ask for the Jewish, Asian or Italian hair salon.   Have you ever heard a client ask you is this a black salon or a white salon?  Of course you have, we all have.  This is a true story.  I owned a salon where we serviced every hair type and texture and I had a very culturally diverse staff (on purpose).  A man that was married to a black woman walked in and asked me, “do you do black hair?”  BTW, I am black.  We laughed hysterically and his wife became a long time client of ours.  We as hair doctors must look at hair as what it really is.  It is course, medium, fine and curly, wavy, straight or overly curly.  The stereotypes and antiquated education have kept us culturally disadvantaged and locked into a 1950’s way of thinking in this area.

What is the solution you ask?  I have outlined my solution in bullets below:

We must first acknowledge the truth about our fears, prejudices, lack of understanding and miseducation.  Truth is the thing that will begin to set us free and enable us to shed our fears. We have to be OK to humbly admit there is a problem and we have to know and accept what we don’t know.


This will probably be the toughest area.  We will have to be intentional about not just technical education, but we will also need cultural and a little psychological education as well (told you this wasn’t easy).  The technical part will actually be easy, but understanding and communicating with clients that have been locked in boxes is not simple.  It can be done, I have seen it happen and it is so worth it (and lucrative).


We have to change the way we think about hair, people and our businesses.  When we do this we will become more sensitive to the needs of every person that sits in our chairs.  We will design our spaces differently.  We will speak differently.  We will become the solution.

xo. Shawn L. Brown (a.k.a. The Hair Doctor)


I know this was a long post and I truly only scratched the surface.  My passion is to be the change I want to see, share my wisdom and knowledge with the people that come to my classes and live out my life with purpose as my guide.  Thank you for taking time to read this.

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