the rise and rise of the beauty pro
Finally, it seems the stigma around careers in beauty therapy is changing.
Bam Brows, via Instagram
In 2019, beauty therapy is no joke. In fact, our increasing obsession with haircuts, facials, nail appointments and brow treatments make up a big portion of the £6.2billion the beauty industry turns over every year, with salons alone employing over 270,000 people nationwide. A new generation of clever entrepreneurs have turned their beauty skills into incredibly successful businesses, amassing gigantic client bases, media acclaim and a hell of a lot of money in the process.
But there used to be a real snobbishness and stigma around working in beauty. It’s summed up pretty well in this Twitter thread. With a huge chunk of money to be made in the world of beauty, laughing at those who sign up to BTECs or NVQs at the age of 18 feels increasingly futile. But many of the beauty pros making it big right now will admit they’ve had to overcome this to get to where they are now.
“When I first started my business, some friends would say, ‘you’re not going to do that forever though, are you?’” remembers Ashade Cole, founder of Slash Beauty. “I think some people thought beauty therapy was beneath me, because I was very academic at school, and they kind of looked down on beauty as a career.”
For Chanice Sienna, founder of BAM Brows, she realised that she had internalised the stigma herself. “My mum always said I’d be really good at beauty. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily offended, but it did feel weird to me. I just didn’t see myself ever going into that world.” Even after launching her own salon, hiring a team of fellow therapists and amassing a dedicated client base, Chanice still found herself trying to justify her career choice. “When anyone asked me what I did, I felt like I always had to add in that I own my own business. It was as though you couldn’t just be a beautician.”
According to Sharmadean Reid, founder of WAH nails and treatment booking platform Beautystack, this stigma hasn’t completely dissipated, even if more people are wising up to the opportunities beauty can present. “We constantly hear joke-y comments about ‘BTEC Hair and Beauty’ and have to battle against a wider perception that beauty careers in particular are frivolous and easy,” she says. “It’s no coincidence that these stigmas are targeted at industries that are largely considered to be ‘women’s work’. It’s very much a gendered issue."
“So many beauty therapists have gone on to create successful businesses operating out of multiple salons with appointment schedules almost impossible to get on to. The industry is growing at an incredible pace. Where it was once seen as fashion’s little sister, I think the tables are turning. Girls on our app are making thousands per month -- people have no choice but to take it seriously,” Sharmadean adds.
So what’s changed? “I feel like the life of a freelancer is appealing,” Chanice reckons. “Our generation is looking for a more flexible lifestyle and a better work/life balance, and jobs in beauty therapy can help with that.”
According to Millie Kendall, CEO of the British Beauty Council, the change of heart has in part been driven by the rise of social media. “The qualifications haven’t moved on much, but access to people seeing your work has,” she explains. “Once upon a time, if you did a make-up course you would probably have to start your career as an assistant to a leading make-up artist in fashion, TV or film and those jobs were hard to get. In most cases, after training you would work behind the counter for a brand. Nowadays, those shop girls can forge an enviable career and gain a following and credibility by showcasing their work publicly.” Not only is that bringing these therapists more success, but it’s spurring on others to consider a career in this area.
However, Sharmadean says it’s more than just getting your name out there. “A lot of our pros attend events, listen to podcasts and research their industry, because they’re all so determined to make something for themselves.” It’s one thing to be able to thread brows like there’s no tomorrow, or paint nails like they’re mini works of art, but to find success in beauty therapy, you also need to hone skills in branding, marketing, social media and finance, too.
Ashade believes the prospect of money is drawing people to beauty, but she isn’t sure everyone is fully aware of what it takes to run a business. “There’s a big buzz around being in beauty, and how fun it is. It can be a rewarding career, and very lucrative, but it’s very physically and emotionally exhausting, too,” she says. “Customers come for a treatment, but also something else -- a connection, to speak to somebody. By the end of your day, sometimes you need therapy yourself!”
Changing the perceptions around beauty therapy are at the core of the Beautystack concept. “The beauty professional industry props up the beauty industry as a whole,” Sharmadean explains. “The world would be an incredibly different place if all beauty professionals from barbers to manicurists stopped operating. Make-up tutorials by influencers are up there with the most watched content on social media, but there is still this odd disdain for a girl who chooses to study beauty. We hope to change that.”
The British Beauty Council also aims to change things, by focussing on three main areas, “Raising the reputation of the beauty industry by enhancing education both within our industry and with regards to consumer information and awareness, and also investing in innovation, and this is by developing and supporting new talent and also within the tech world,” Millie tells i-D. The overall goal: to raise the respect of the beauty industry.
As the industry undergoes seismic shifts, Chanice and Ashade have some final words of wisdom for those thinking about studying beauty therapy: “There’s stigmas in all industries, but if you enjoy what you do and do it well, then it doesn’t matter. It’s not about impressing people,” says Chanice, while Ashade is keen to stress that, “There’s no such thing as a get rich quick plan. It won’t happen overnight, but consistency, passion and striving for something will always pay off.”