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John C Simpson – Beauty industry expert and Crocr8 founder

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John C Simpson

With more than two decades of experience, John C Simpson is a hair-styling force to be reckoned with. Working as a stylist in Pittsburgh, John discovered his passion for styling at the age of 18. He was since named Goldwell’s North American Creative Director and won the North American Hairstyling Award for Colorist of the Year in 2008. John teamed up with beauty industry expert, Christopher Dove, to form the new education platform – CoCre8, which was launched in 2014.

We met up with John who shared a lot of valuable information about the industry, lessons learnt and tips on how to be a successful hairstylist.

Q: When and where did you graduate from beauty school?

A: I graduated in 1992 from the prestigious Pittsburgh Beauty Academy.

Q: Were you always a good hairdresser?

A: I think that being a hairdresser just came naturally, to me. My whole youth was filled with art and fashion design, so applying it to the concepts of hair came with ease. Through extended training, my skill eventually grew.

Q: What was your first job like?

A: I worked at two salons before finding my home. As a young stylist, I wanted to do flashy avant-guarde hair, but the salon I worked at did not see this as their major drawcard, which left me quite bored. But nonetheless, it was a great growing lesson. I was so thrilled to finally find my home – I was able to tie the conservative meets avant-guarde world together.

Q: If you could do something over, what would it be?

A: This is a tough one! My career path has worked out perfect for me! The only thing I would not do is waste time. Instead I’d focus on exactly what it was I wanted to be.

Q: What do you wish you had learned in beauty school?

A: I was fortunate, at the time of my training, to work with some of the great hairdressers and learn the true beauty of designing hair – from cut, to color, to classic finish! I only wish that there was a bigger emphasis on highlighting designs. At school we only learned highlights through a cap. All of the other methods were self taught. Yay frost!

Q: If you were talking to a group of young, new hairdressers what would you tell them to make their careers better?

A: If you dream it, conquer it, everything is possible!! Don’t become frustrated when challenged with something new. You need to make mistakes. It’s part of the growing process.

Q: In your opinion, what is the secret to your success?

A: Well, I am a bit OCD – and even through ups and downs of growing my career, I never gave up! Each obstacle made me work harder and think on a larger scale. It’s funny how we measure success. In my mind I’m at a major growing point.

Q: Any tips on learning to cut or style better?

A: As you’re looking at your canvas, always have a game plan in mind. Think about the shape, how the hair moves, and what kind of end you really want to see. Think about which tool will create the different textures, instead of going in blind until something happens. Discipline yourself in multiple cutting methods.

Q: Is there an easy way to learn color?

A: By understanding the basic fundamentals of color theory: Where you’re at, where you desire to go, and what’s going to be there along the way. I always think of hair as fabric. You may have vinyl, wool, and cotton in the same head of hair. Understanding your product choice for each area will make a difference. Something could repel from the vinyl, deeply absorb on the wool, and stain the cotton. By knowing that one head may need multiple formulas, choose the correct product for the appropriate fabric.

Q: What are the mistakes young stylists usually make when starting out?

A: Back to finding your perfect creative environment. Some young stylists will start and stop at multiple salons without ever really gaining any of the salons methodology. Research what style of salon you’re choosing, and commit to a place where you feel strong. This isn’t a date! Also, once you find your place, don’t over think every single client. Keep it simple, and as the comfort comes, expand your creativity from there.

Q: What are the misconceptions about becoming a hairdresser?

A: Some people come into the industry thinking that their world will immediately be filled with glamour, wealth and fame! However, people need to know that it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of self discipline and continuous education to make you a strong successful stylist. And even when a day of “hairapy” has been challenging, always know there’s another day to correct your mistakes and to emotionally recharge.

Q: At what point should a young stylist think about specializing?

A: Starting out I would give myself at least three years behind the chair and five years to better to understand why I’m creating the look that I’m doing. If you then decide that specializing in cut, perm or color is more for you, then do it full force. Whatever is your largest passion, and keeps you stimulated, then go for it! But only make the choice because you’re fully passionate about one versus the other.

Q: Who made the most impact on you when you were starting out?

A: Growing up around the business I was always intrigued. Moving forward in my career, I started watching Vidal Sassoon, the Color Works of Annie Humphrey’s and the early Beth Minardi workshops, to see how cut and color work simultaneously. Also, I learnt a lot as a colorist watching these women make a haircut look more compact when it isn’t and lengthening a look or shortening an effect just by the simple placement of color design. These people will always hold highest rank throughout my career.

Q: Do you still attend educational events?

A: Absolutely! Once you’ve stopped learning, you’re done! Feeding your mind and your creativity give you fuel to keep moving forward. Plus I always love to see the different inspirations of other stylists and educators.

Q: Is there anything left for you to learn?

A: There’s always room to expand! Whenever you feel that you know everything, you need to open up your mind and think on a larger global level. Where is the young fashion design taking us and how do I put a fresh twist on a timeless classic? Reaching out further and exploring photography, landscaping, architecture, and automobile design with fashion allow us to take the shapes, lines and color palettes and bring it all back to our true love of hair.

Q: Can a young stylist actually make a living right away or does it take time?

A: Absolutely, you can make a living right out of the gate. However, you have full command of your lifestyle you choose to live. The harder you work, and the more retention you gain, of course your lifestyle can increase from there. You have the ability to be as successful as you choose to be.

Q: When did you consider yourself a success?

A: I always feel that I’m continuing to grow. Even though my salon days are booked solid, sometimes into triple overlap! In the past, in my educational career, stepping onto a stage with the announcing of my name, only rendered me the polite applause. The surreal life of now stepping onto a stage with the thunderous applause, has definitely made me feel that I’ve achieved something. It’s a mad reality to know that people are inspired by your message and crave the style of your work. Now I want to turn the thunder into a booming roar!

Q: Do you recommend a stylist work toward being on platform?

A: Being on platform for any stylist is quite the compliment, however, knowing that stage work is not a platform for your celebrity. If you’re going to be on platform, have a passionate message that you would like to relay and tell a brilliant story. This gives you an opportunity to expand your message to hundreds or thousands of people that can take your creativity, make it their own and fulfill their careers. Giving and sharing information with another person, and seeing them become more successful that you will ever be, is the fulfilling reason why you’re on platform.

Q: What is it like to work for a manufacturer?

A: By working for a manufacturer, you gain all the new tools to expand your work and create total new ideas. My career with Goldwell has given me advanced technologies that fulfill my needs. I only believe in representing a brand because it works for you. I’ve never found a brand that delivers what is promised at all times, supports new ideas and expands my color tableau to the extreme, with a backbone support of new cutting foundations supported by styling and home care services. Working for a manufacturer like Goldwell allows me to personalize and sign my look.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say to young stylists?

A: You’re entering a career with limitless opportunities. What other career can allow you fashion, people, creativity, doing what you love and making money from it even if it’s a tough day? As you season within the business, always remember what it was that turned you on to doing hair. I remember the first day I entered beauty college. The smell of perm solution and ammonia lingered and the subtle scent of setting lotion was all around. I knew at that time that this was the exact industry that I would love for a lifetime. A career that you can find harmony in change, and remember that life is not a dress rehearsal! Live and love the industry you’re in. Just go for it!