Michael Gordon has shaped the industry of hair styling, that we can say for sure. As the founder of Bumble and Bumble, and more recently NYC’s Hairstory Studio, his vision for the future of hair continues to drive us forward as stylists, into new concepts and innovation in the realms of both creative styling and hair care.
These days, at Hairstory Studio, Michael is championing the brute force of the independent hairstylist, because ‘going independent’ appears to be the new black of the hairstyling industry. By creating an environment of experimentation to foster creative growth for his stylists, and formulating a product line based on ditching shampoo (the root of all hair woes) he is helping both client and independent stylist to streamline their hair care routine, and their back-bar.
Today, Michael chats with us about the future of the industry, ditching shampoo, and how Hairstory is here to create culture and community for the lone hair rangers, by inspiring us, engaging us, and helping us excel as independent hairstylists and artists in the big-industry hijacked world of hair. If you are a hairstylist who has ever considered breaking off from the salon and going Independent, listen up. Michael Gordon is here to encourage you to take the leap and strike out on your own.
Hair Talk with Michael Gordon
You have moved on from B&B to Hairstory Studio and a brand new product line. I am curious to know what inspired this shift for you, moving on from B&B and starting a new vision from scratch.
After I left Bumble and bumble, I decided if I were to return to the industry it would have to be with different intentions. In my time away, I became interested in the subject of sustainability, in particular how to avoid creating waste. I started to think “why are there so many hair products out there?” The ‘aha’ moment came when I realized the culprit, the real scam here: shampoo. In particular their detergents and the very real havoc they cause. This damage is the catalyst for so many products: conditioners, detanglers, treatments, masks, on and on.
This epiphany led to my search for an alternative. I didn’t know if we would find it but we did. New Wash cleans the hair and scalp with fatty cleansers derived from essential oils, leaving the hair and scalp clean and in perfect equilibrium.
In what ways do you want to see Hairstory setting a new standard for stylists/clients?
My ultimate goal is for detergents of all kinds (“naturally-derived” glucosides to SLS) to be totally rejected by the experts; and you –hairdressers – are the experts.
My whole career I’ve strived to see hairdressers become more important in society, more influential, more confident, more bold. I believe this is a powerful movement we can all get behind. Imagine what would happen if enough intelligent, forward-thinking hairdressers like yourself got behind this. The conclusion most early adopters have arrived at is that if you take away detergent from the equation, you don’t need many other products. If we could get all those harmful ingredients and all those thousands of bottles out of our landfills and oceans, just think of the good that would be done.
How can we use your vision to help us change the way we do hair, and the way we communicate with our clients?
Very good question. Another one of my grievances with the industry is the appalling lack of really fine education. In particular, most hairdressers have no real idea of how to use product, and that’s not necessarily their fault. Part of the problem is perpetuated by hair companies that create countless products and so frequently launch new ones. These products are made in marketing rooms and have no real purpose other than to turn a profit.
Hairdressers naturally assume that these products all have a place – that the formulations do things that the others don’t. However, deep inside I know, from experience, the same hairdressers are screaming “this is bullshit, I can’t possibly need another thickening spray!”
With our pared-down line of four products it will be much simpler to educate your clients, and in effect sell much more. You are providing them something you believe in, it’s not a sale, it’s advice that will make their life better.
I also encourage all hairdressers and clients to use our site as a reference – to start conversations you might not have usually prompted – and all-in-all become braver.
What would you tell someone who loves the idea of leaving their shampoo behind for New Wash, or any other non-shampoo system/routine, but has been so indoctrinated in their own routines and beliefs about cleanliness that they are afraid to make the leap?
Well let’s start with the fact that the most likely place to contract a staph infection is a hospital – so the idea of being over-zealous about cleaning, purelling, and disinfecting has become an over-the-top, mostly American, neurosis. Constant disinfecting has been proven to have negative consequences on people’s immune systems as illuminated in Julia Scott’s New York Times Magazine article “My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment” (I encourage all your readers to read it).
We have resources on our site that can walk people through the science of New Wash, but ultimately they’ll need to come to this important realization themselves.
Why do you think there are so many independent stylists now, all of the sudden?
Returning to my comment about the lack of good education: I think it’s a shame that young hairdressers spend ten to twenty thousand dollars on a school, and the aim is not to create skillful hairdressers and thoughtful entrepreneurs, but essentially to keep young people from being unemployed. You come out of the 1500 to 2000 hours, take a state board exam, that in the kindest word is asinine, and you’re on your own.
At this point, if you’re bright you find a mentor or go to a really great salon and become an apprentice. In the sixties for instance everybody went to Vidal Sassoon to train and later on to any salon owned by someone who had came from Sassoon. This resulted in a very high standard of haircutting.
Things changed, times changed, franchises popped up like Jean Louis David, Supercuts, etc. etc. Hair product companies started by real hairdressers were purchased by large corporations, costs were cut, and authenticity and respect for the hairdresser abandoned. So, fast forward to now and most salons can’t afford to offer – for various reasons – valuable education.
People are deciding its not worth the money to stay in salons, selling products they don’t believe, and loosing a large portion of the commissions they garner to the house. They have their own visions and they’re manifesting them for themselves. We’re here to help these bold entrepreneurs.
Is this a sign of major changes in the direction our industry is going?
I would imagine at some point. As it stands today almost every single product manufacturer in the world either sells retail or to salons. It will not be easy to be copied when their bread and butter is in creating dozens of different shampoos and conditioners. It’s like a drug addicting trying to get clean. Hopefully they catch up with the times, but honestly this is about doing something good for brave go-getters that want to be part of a new economy. We can have connections to each and every one of our hairdressers, have conversations like the one we are having now, and really support all of you.
We have made it as simple as possible for our independent hairdressers: simple, attainable opening orders, no need for expensive inventory, and your clients will be connected to you forever, so you will make commission on every sale they place online. That second sale will not go to Sephora or Amazon, but to you.
In the coming months we will be starting a podcast series with our CEO Eli on all topics big and small about becoming independent. I think you will find this invaluable.
You appear to have a dream team of colorists/stylists at the Studio. What do you personally look for when choosing your Hairstory Stylists?
I would agree that the people who do hair here are extremely talented; however it’s not a salon, so the environment and culture are conducive to allowing people the space and encouragement to become excellent. It’s not a profit center; there’s no money being exchanged. So instead there is an exchange of ideas, techniques, and at least one or two full days a week when the assistants get to train. Our very frequent photo shoots provide our stylists with an opportunity to evaluate their work and develop their eye.
Certainly my decades of experience are help, and I can act as a mentor. My coaching is made easier by the fact that these people are very self-motivated and driven to become better. The focus is very much on being the best we can be and you can see it in the conversations at our lunch table.
Hairdressers use to make pilgrimages to Sassoon – in the 90s and 2000s they made the same to Bumble. While we’re a tiny little enterprise, we are getting those same requests now. Obviously we can’t take everyone in; however, we are focusing our content to help people learn, practice, and be inspired. There’s great shows on cooking, on sports, on all sorts of craftsmanship – you don’t see that in hair. We will be filling that void. I suggest in the first five, ten minutes of your day reviewing a story or two and taking it with you through the day.
You really champion the concept of Creative Collaboration within the Studio. What are your thoughts on the importance of collaboration in our industry, and how can we (independent stylists) begin to move in the direction of being more collaborative?
The idea is to encourage and suggest that hairdressers talk to each other more. Most professions have seminars, discussions, TED events – and I’m not talking about hair shows – where important ideas are exchanged. That’s why blogs like yours and others are so important. We need to have real conversations. For example the exchange that the story “The Long and The Short of It” got started simply on Instagram was very exciting to me. People were discussing hair length in a new way.
In fact, we are going to start featuring different hairdressers from around the country who share their experiences in little films. Films that are thought-provoking and motivating in a very transparent and authentic way.
We’re in the beginnings of building a strong community and we encourage you to join.
If you know a hairstylist, please tag them or share this post with them. It just might be what they need to take the leap into their own independence. And if you are a stylist, I strongly recommend you check out New Wash and the Hairstory Enrollment Plan. My clients adore it, and the whole system is designed for independent stylists and their clients. Make your first order and get a free bottle of New Wash for yourself, and be sure to tell them How-to Hair Girl referred you. Stylist referrals mean kickbacks, and you will get them too when you turn your friends on to Hairstory;) Spread the love, from one hairstylist to the next.
xo, HTHG, Michael Gordon and Hairstory Studio