Interview 003: Hair Stylist & Salon Owner, Bianca Bertoli
Design your life, we'll design the rest.
Welcome to our first interview series where we will be getting to know creative professionals and entrepreneurs from different fields. They all have one thing in common, using BRINN to work smarter, not harder.
Interviewer: When did you figure out that you wanted a career in hair?
Bianca: Always. This was always it for me. I never had the parents that never let me wear makeup so it was always make-up, make-up, make-up all over my face even when I looked crazy. My mother would even let me leave the house like that! I guess she thought it was creative expression, I don’t know. I think the first time I ever did someone’s hair, I must have been a freshman in high school. I was just Manic Panic-ing everyone’s hair. Everyone had hot pink hair. This is just it for me, there really wasn’t ever another option.
Did you ever try out any other careers or have doubts that a career in hair would work?
I definitely had this moment my senior year of high school where I thought that doing hair wasn’t important enough. I was really starting to get more into feminism and just questioned if the hair industry was purposeful enough to the world to focus on. I had this hair dresser when I was in high school that was so cool - and I was so not cool. She just made me feel so good and I remember thinking, “she just gets me, someone finally gets me”. And then it clicked for me, it is important when you get to make people feel good about themselves. That is the MOST important.
Bianca's Rebel Rebel packed with all of her hair-care necessities.
What is your favorite part about your job?
I still love the end of the appointment when the person in your chair feels really good about themselves. I do think since I opened Lock & Shade, my favorite part has definitely been curating the salon culture here. For me, I get that same end-of-appointment feel from that.
From a consumer stand point, you walk in here and just feel cool. All of the girls look awesome and treat you so nicely. And for me, the end of appointment feel is totally what getting my hair done is all about. I truly feel my best when I leave Lock & Shade.
What was your very first job?
My very first job was at Denino’s Pizza in Matawan, New Jersey serving up slices all day. I smelt like garlic all the time. I worked until 11pm every Friday which to a teenager was a death sentence. I’d show up to parties late, stinking like garlic knots with all of the leftover pizza with me.
You worked under other people who owned their own salons before you took the plunge and opened yours. What are some of the most important take-aways from those past jobs that still resonate with you today?
I definitely learned a lot about what I did not want my salon to be. There’s a whole new wave of salons coming up. I think the next generation of salon owners are really making a change in the industry. We all have similar stories about our past salons and we all joke in here that we’re the island of misfit toys. We all abandoned these toxic salon environments and we created this space for ourselves. When I look back on it, I learned so much by witnessing what I did not want my salon to be.
Dreamy fall coloring by Bianca Bertoli
I’m not sure if anyone is ever really ready to take the plunge but do you recall having an “I’m ready” moment?
We hit a point where the town was changing so drastically, the spaces were starting to fill up. We knew it was only a matter of time before someone from New York or Hoboken tries to open a salon down here, I didn’t want to work for them. There was a definitely a sense of urgency moment like, If I don’t do this now, I’m going to be too late. I still don’t think I feel “ready” though and I don’t think anyone ever really does. If you are waiting until it’s the perfect time, you have enough money and the stars are all aligned, then you’re never going to do it.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have faced so far as a business owner?
I honestly think my biggest obstacle has been myself. I mean, there are the little things like not knowing how to properly write a check but those are the things you learn as you go and can easily get over. My biggest obstacle has been feeling like I don’t deserve to own a salon, I’m too young to own a salon, I’m younger than all of my employees, what do they think? People are going to think I haven’t earned this yet. That’s always been the biggest obstacle and it wasn’t until a well known female salon owner looked at me and said, “don’t ever bring up your fucking age again. Its irrelevant. Do your shit”.
I 100% agree with you. I often doubt myself and tell myself that I am not qualified to be doing what I’m doing. Then I look around and realize how much everyone else believes in me and I wonder why I’m the only one questioning myself. It’s definitely an on-going battle with myself.
I think women especially deal with the Imposter Syndrome. You know, you’re doing someone’s hair and absolutely crushing it and the salon is doing well and in your head you’ll be like, “I suck at this, she’s going to find out I suck at this.”. Why do I think have those thoughts?! I think that a lot of people are their own worst enemy for sure and not everyone realizes it.
One of my favorite things about you is your passion to stand up for what you believe in. A lot of business owners would choose to keep quiet when it comes to the current state of affairs our country is in but I really admire that you show up and speak up. Beyond the salon, you started Girls on Top; a collective promoting feminist causes through community, fundraising, activism and events. Can you talk a little about the organization and why it’s important to you to be an advocate for feminism?
Feminism has always been something that’s important to me but I think before the election it was more something that was just a personal stance. I wasn’t going to let anyone disrespect me or my girlfriends. When the election happened I think everyone woke the F up and realized that we have to be louder and that it’s officially beyond my circle of friends. Again, I think it ties back to that little spark I had in high school about wanting to do something that felt important. When we opened the Salon, it was a goal of mine that I wanted this to be an empowering space for the people working here and getting their hair done here. We opened in September, the President won the election in November. So there was an immediate shift. We are working with all women, in Asbury Park with a huge LGBTQ community, there was a lot to be said and to show up for. I had a great friend and client named Jackie. She came up to me and said, “we have to do something”. We were both feeling that sense of helplessness. She wanted to do a Planned Parenthood fundraiser and asked if she could use our space and I was all in. Honestly, I recognize that a lot of hair stylists can’t do that. It’s very taboo. It’s the first thing you learn in beauty school - no politics, no religion, no controversial subjects. I’ve always rejected that. I don’t feel like I need to a singing, dancing monkey with no opinions. I’m a woman and I work in a very progressive field and I should be allowed to have an opinion. I don’t bring anything up while you’re getting your hair done, clients don’t want to sit there and talk about any of that while their in my chair. And I did have to reside from myself while planning the Planned Parenthood fundraiser and realize, some people are not going to come get their hair done here because of this. That fundraiser was really the start of Girls on Top. So far it’s been a year and a half and we’ve raised just under $1,000 for Garden State Equality, we’ve raised $2,000 for the ACLU and $10,000 for our local Planned Parenthood.
Have you noticed any push-back stemming from the organization that may have effected Lock & Shade in any way?
We had one woman tell us that she absolutely loved her hair but she would not return because we supported Planned Parenthood. I said, “I’m sorry to hear that because your hair looks beautiful and I think we are a great salon for you but I respect your decision”. That was really it. Honestly, amount of people that have found the salon because we offer services like gender neutral haircuts and an open-safe space has far outweighed any negativity we’ve received.
You’re a busy woman. Beyond owning a salon where you are the corrective and creative color specialist, you always seem to be booked with weddings on the weekends plus showing up for your community. Do you practice self-care at all?
I really do try. Luckily I have a lot of close friends who are also hair dressers. We try to give ourselves a nice Sunday. As a business owner, you don’t truly have a day off so even when I have a day of self care where I’m going to the beach or getting a pedicure, I’m still checking my emails and on my phone. I am getting better about trying to disconnect but it’s hard when you own a business and you have employees who are relying on you. Even when you do turn your email off, you can’t turn your brain off. So for me it’s about little moments and owning when you fuck up and realizing that everyone including yourself will move on from those moments. You just need to give yourself a break sometimes.
Do you have any daily rituals that you practice to help foster your creativity?
I find the most inspiration when I look into things from the past. Different eras of hair from the 60’s and 70’s, they are just so beautiful. So I am constantly taking screenshots of hair I love or writing down ideas. I think it also helps to say things out loud. My receptionist, Julia is my walking post-it note. She hears it all, all my photoshoot ideas and everything.
What does designing your own life mean to you?
Designing your own life to me is that you can just curate the environment that you choose to put yourself in. You’re going to have to maybe piss some people off, or cut some people off or just grow and move on in a way that doesn’t make everyone happy but you have to do it for yourself. There wasn’t a salon environment that I wanted to work in so Laura and I made it ourselves and we filled it with people we love and policies that we stand behind. Now I love the environment that I get to work in.
Bianca is an artist and the Creative Director and Owner of Lock & Shade in Asbury Park, NJ. She is also the co-founder of "Girls On Top", a collective dedicated to feminist activism through community, fundraising and events.