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How to Become a Hairstylist – Q&A Session with Kasia Fortuna
READING TIME: 15 MINUTES
How to Become a Hairstylist – Q&A Session with Kasia Fortuna
Kasia Fortuna is one of Europe’s most coveted Bridal and event hairstylists. With over a decade of industry experience, her passion for hair has seen her work with the likes of Dove and BVLGARI, as well as styling the hair for weddings worldwide. Working in both the wedding and fashion industries allows her to develop her craft to the highest level, keeping up to date with industry trends and ensuring each client is styled with the upmost skill.
Kasia is passionate about helping the next generation of hairstylists navigate this challenging industry and achieve excellence in hairstyling. Together with esteemed makeup artist Kristina Gasperas, she imparts her knowledge of the industry to aspiring hairstylists and makeup artists worldwide. The Online Academy is an online e-learning platform designed to teach every element to building successful businesses in these highly competitive industries. Many aspiring hairstylists wonder what the best route into a successful career is.
We sat down with Kasia herself to chat about how she became a hairstylist and her experience in the industry. Read on for our conversation and her top tips on how to become a hairstylist and grow a successful business.
Q&a With Hair Stylist Kasia Fortuna
Let’s start at the beginning. What made you choose to go into hairdressing?
I think I was always good at it. When I was still at school, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who was very good at painting and sewing. I think the creative side came from her. I knew that whatever I would be doing in life would involve working with my hands, something creative. I never considered hairdressing as a career; I sort of fell into it. When I first came to London, I was 18. I'm originally from Poland. A friend of mine was getting married in London and her hairdresser cancelled on her last minute. She asked me if I could style her hair for her wedding. I was scared, but I did it and I loved it. She looked amazing! I'm not the boss. I know that. I know how grateful people are. I love that immediate transformation.
Originally, I thought maybe I wanted to do makeup too. So, I did a makeup and hairstyling course. It turns out that I was rubbish at makeup! My teacher said, why don't you do hairdressing? I did the NVQ level two. And that's how it started.
So, from there, how did you start gaining hairstyling experience?
I've never worked in a salon. I basically jumped into working as a freelancer. I did various other courses but not official credentials. I decided that if I want to make a career out of it, I was going to try different aspects of styling. For the first two months I was doing photo shoots as unpaid work with anybody that could have me. I worked on photo shoots, fashion photo shoots, commercial publishers, music videos, TV sets. And from there I started to get to know people and they remembered me.
At the time there was a website where photographers, makeup artists and hair stylists could meet and do test shoots to gain experience, get to know people and build a portfolio. I was also building confidence as every single day I was working with somebody new. Eventually I got my own fashion show, and I became a stylist. It was all about knocking on the door and asking people: ‘We did something a couple of months ago. Do you remember me?’ And doors will open from there.
So, it seems like it was very much focused on relationship building and seeking out the opportunities yourself. You have to be a real go-getter.
Exactly. You can't just wait for work to come to you. You have to build your portfolio, talk to people, meet with different people, work with different makeup artists… I suppose I'm not the typical hairdresser route.
I guess there’s so many different routes into hairstyling. Some people go down the school route, gain the qualifications and get work experience from there. But it’s very much self-motivated even once you’ve got the qualifications. You said a lot of it was unpaid work, how were you managing getting an income while doing work experience?
When I first came to London, I did a lot of various jobs. When I decided to do the NVQ, I was still working as a receptionist in a conference venue. I just asked them if they would allow me to go part time. So, I was doing college in the evening and working in the day. And that's how I supported myself. After six months of unpaid work experience, I started to get paid work. At the beginning it was literally three /four hundred pounds a month, just to sustain myself. But I really knew that I wanted to work with hair. I loved it. I felt alive. From working as a receptionist to going to these amazing places; big studios in London or amazing manor houses for weddings. It was so, so awesome.
Do you have anything special that you've really enjoyed doing, any specific shoot or wedding?
I had this one shoot for a comedian for the Edinburgh Fringe. She needed she needed a poster photo for her show called Hair of the Dog. I made a sculpture of a dog and covered it in hair. It was bizarre. And of course, because the lady was a comedian, we just didn't stop laughing.
And of course, the BVLGARI fashion show. I did this three times in a row. The models wear over one million pounds worth of jewellery every single month. It’s always in a secret location, so we’re not allowed to post anything because obviously people are worried that somebody might steal the jewellery. It is an experience.
What, for you, is a critical part of being a hair stylist?
You have to be a kind person. You have to treat every client like a celebrity. Don’t look down on them. Even if you become successful, always treat everyone the same way and be a kind and approachable person. Of course, work extremely hard. There are days I really don't want to wake up. I have a four-year-old daughter. I have to balance my work life, my family life, and I have to make sure that my social media is always updated. So, being very strict with yourself, having a routine and knowing and planning what it is that you need to do, what it is they want to achieve, and always being hungry for new trends.
How do you keep on top of new stylist trends?
Even something as simple as looking at a magazine after every season of fashion shows; they usually do a simple breakdown of the most spectacular looks and the best hairstyles. For each season, it’s important to know what the key elements are for current trends, so you don't create something completely opposite. Also, following accounts such as Behind the Chair, a major online community for salon professionals, is very useful. Following hairstylists to the stars for example, Chris Appleton. If they're doing it, in all likelihood the younger generation will be asking for these sorts of styles.
Knowing what’s current and subscribing to relevant YouTube Channels or Pinterest. Pinterest is more for Bridal Hairstyling. Brides will bring you images of styles they want, and you have to know how to do them. You simply have to know.
And how do you educate yourself on how to do trending hair styles?
If somebody shows you a style, you should know how to do it. You should know how to how to curl that section, how to do that low chignon and so on. Education is key. What I think people should do, rather than struggle by themselves, is try to find online tutorials. There are so many platforms that offer online education. You pay a small amount, you learn that style, you practise it and make it your own. You are ultimately able to do your job better.
This is silly of me, but I thought of it as you'd get your qualification, and you’d learn all the techniques there. But it's very much learning on the job.
Especially now with the social media platforms, trends come and go extremely quickly. I've been doing hair now for 11 years, and I would say in the last four years the speed has been unbelievable. Before social media, for example, there were maybe three or four different images brides would bring you. And of course, now with the Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram, the access to a variety of styles is so much easier.
People's expectations are so high. That's why I think having a platform to follow that, for example our Online Academy, and having a mentor who helps you break down a style, is so essential. Every Saturday, in the Online Academy, we do a feedback session for students. They show us an image of their work and I critique them and find areas for improvement. I think what's important to me is having a mentor; somebody that makes you accountable, somebody that tells you what you're doing.
So, tell me tell me a bit about your work with the Online Academy and obviously as a mentor. How did that fit around your career? And how did you get into it?
The Online Academy is basically an ongoing mentoring scheme. We do a lot of competitions to inspire students and help them grow. During the lockdown, I was doing three live sessions a week tutoring the most popular styles. Now we have a huge backlog of very popular styles that we can provide students with. Also, we pay huge emphasis to photography, it’s ultimately how people display their work. Just having a basic understanding of how to work with light, correctly and ensuring that their hair is not overexposed can help your business hugely. When people are starting, they don't know how to present themselves. We give them good examples of how to take photographs, how to display their work and how to improve their work. And it's not just that. It's also makeup, photography, business, and social media.
How do you use social media to grow your stylist business?
First it was Facebook, then Instagram. Nowadays it is it is harder in a way because you have to be able to do everything. You have to you have to be everyone. You have to the accountant; you have to be the social media marketer and post funny videos and so on. If you want to be seen, if you want people to recognise you, if you put in the hours, you will have a break through at some point. But you do have to be very consistent and to know a lot more. Gone are the times when the most complex hairstyle was a simple plait.
I guess the social media aspect of it is something huge to consider. It sounds like it would be very difficult to showcase your talent and get a client base without dedicating a lot of time to social media. It’s definitely something for prospective hair stylists to consider.
This is the thing we try to drill into our students. There is no point just practising at home or doing amazing work and not displaying it. I feel like I was scared of that on the social media. I would do some beautiful styles and I feel like I didn't have the time to take any photos. It wasn't good enough. And, of course, if you don't take photos or videos, people don't see what you do. People don't know you. People don't know how good you are. So, display. Show.
If you’re taking photos, learn how to develop that skill. I take all my photos on my iPhone Max Pro 12. With makeup I do feel like you have to have a DSLR camera. But with hair photography, you don't need as high quality an image. You can create a display where you can show your clients exactly what you can do. People can take terrible photos on social media, so that almost undersells the work. For example, if you take a photo directly outside in the sunlight, all the little baby hair becomes magnified. Just knowing the basic things about social media and taking photos is so important.
Would you say that most of your client base is through social media?
Absolutely. Try to build social media presence as soon as possible on Instagram. Instagram is growing quite rapidly. My Instagram algorithm changes all the time, now it’s all about video reels. If you’re not doing videos you’re not growing. So, I have had to realign because before it was only filters, but now I have to do lot of reels to gain new followers. But massively, you know, because I'm approaching ninety thousand followers.
What have you most struggled with throughout the years and what's the hardest thing about being a hair stylist?
It's kind of the physical element of it. If I don't look after myself, if I don't exercise in the morning and maintain my core strength then my back aches, I get tired, and I can get ill pretty easily. So, to do your job well, you have to you have to look after yourself. You have to take time for yourself. Being a freelance hair stylist, the work doesn't finish when I come home because of the social media, the responding to emails, updates, planning in advance. Christmas is coming, OK? So, we have to ensure that we do something. It’s definitely hard to switch off.
Other difficult aspects are dealing with people's criticism and dealing with people's expectations. I think a lot of starting hair stylists are scared to tell clients; no. Clients will bring you this amazing photo of a bride with tons and tons of hair. And of course, she says, no, I don't want hair extensions. But ultimately, she will not achieve the same result without them.
A lot of students will step back if the bride doesn’t want remy hair extensions, and just give a style they think is similar. However, it obviously doesn’t look like the photo and the bride is disappointed. I mean, how many times have I almost bullied my brides into having real hair extensions? And of course, they're like, oh, my God, I love it. 98 percent of all my brides wear hair extensions. So ultimately knowing how to give the best advice but also not being scared to speak up and to tell them what will suit them. This comes with practise, with experience. Treat them kindly, listen, but also force your opinion. Gently.
I think ultimately that's so important because you're the one with all this experience. That's why you go to a hairstylist or a hairdresser. You want the advice, and you want to know what suits you. I know you use clip in hair extensions; do you use any other types of hair extensions?
I'm going to try to use tape in extensions. I love the clip ins and the wrap around clip in ponytail. On my wedding day, I had Hollywood Waves first and then I got a wraparound ponytail for the evening when I was dancing. But the tapes I think would work so well for somebody with fine hair. Clip extensions tend to be visible for people with fine hair, but the seamless collection is amazing for stopping this. The tapes would be amazing for hiding the extension seam, so I’m definitely going to try them.
Do you think it’s better to work in a salon or for yourself?
If you decide to work for yourself, you’re your own boss. But you have to be extremely strict with yourself. As I said, updating social media very regularly, responding to all your clients, paying your own taxes, making sure that your reputation is preserved all the time. One bad review can ruin your reputation. I think if you want if you are thinking of going down the self-employed route, you have to have the mentality of a workaholic, because especially for the first few years, there will be no work/home balance. For example, a couple of days a week I will record tutorials, then maybe on Saturday I would have weddings and feedback sessions in the Online Academy.
So, how would you differentiate between working in a hair salon and working freelance?
If you want the community and you want to do 9-5, if you love doing hair but not so much the admin, then working in the salon might be the answer for you. And it doesn't necessarily mean that you will have to cut hair, there are salons that do fashion shows and more creative stuff. If you want to do the extra work, if you want to bring work home, then definitely go freelance.
When you work freelance it’s about you rather than the salon. You’re able to choose the people you want to work with. We have over 10 people and we don't choose people based on skills. We choose people based on their personality. Skills can be gained.
People should know there are options. It’s not just working in a salon. Some people think; you do your NVQ, you go to college, do your work experience, and then you work in a salon. There are so many options; theatre, cruises, film, fashion, influencing. You don't have to necessarily deal with clients on the daily basis. There are so many books nowadays. Choose your niche, choose something that you're good at and become known for it and the work will come.
So finally, what’s the secret to success in becoming a hair stylist?
I was saying about doing a level two NVQ and attending various other courses, but if I didn't practise pretty much every single day, I would not be where I am today. Being extremely fussy with your work, being hungry for success, being hungry for more, wanting to be the best and not settling for mediocre. If something isn't working, I would be cursing, getting angry, but persevering and trying to do it again and again and again. This is the kind of mentality you need to have if you want to succeed.
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