BEHIND THE BRAND: “WOMEN COLOUR THEIR HAIR TOO MUCH”, SAYS CELEBRITY HAIRDRESSER LEE STAFFORD
Carla Valois Lobo
Even though I was early for the interview, I found Lee Stafford already seated waiting for me when I arrived at the restaurant we’ve booked in Soho. As soon as we greeted ourselves, I saw myself very surprised with the husky voice and how strong his accent still is. Afterwards we started chatting and Mr. Stafford began speaking about his career since the beginning until nowadays, celebrity hairdresser and owner of his own product range, exported to over 10 countries.
Read below the complete interview with Mr. Stafford, who I should add is very likeable and quite spontaneous:
You were brought up in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex, in a family with no one related to the Beauty industry, so how did you begin cutting hair?
It was by accident really, I never planned to do it. I didn’t have any qualifications, didn’t know what I was going to do, and my mum was the one that suggested actually. As we were sitting in the salon, she said: “You like women, you like fashion, you hate getting your hands dirty, and you hate the cold weather, so what about hairdressing”, and I had found she had organised interviews with me. I mean, I had interviewed hundreds and hundreds of young people for jobs in my career, and not once, ever, did I get a young person that brought its mum to an interview, and that was how I went. I just got the job in the West End, and practiced straight away. Before I even thought I was doing it and the minute I did it I fell in love with it. I was there just a couple of months because it was taking me four hours to get there and going back, and I was working long hours, I was doing all them dogsbody jobs that assistants are expected to do, I wasn’t earning any money because all my money was going to the train fares and I was going that to get some education and inspiration back from these people, but they weren’t giving that so I left.
Then I set up a shop in my mum’s dining room and I cut hair there for the next six years of mine, without any education. And I only learned how to do one haircut and I couldn’t even do that very well, but what I’ve learned, to be honest, is that despite being useless at cutting hair I created rapport with people, everyone was like my best mate. I have that natural rapport with people and I had built a big clientele, really by purely rapport alone.
And your parents were always supportive?
Yes. I come from a family of men that are real testosterone, though men, but the interesting thing was that the minute I got into hair I just had this massive gang of girlfriends because, as a hairdresser you are either working with girls or doing girls hair, so all my mates all suddenly were like: “Can we be in your gang?”, thus I was never ridiculed by the boys at all.
Where did you learn properly to cut hair? Did you go to an academy or it was in your first job?
After six years in my mum’s dining room, my dad kept saying that I couldn’t stay there all my life, and he was right. So I started to look for my own salon on my local area, and then I panicked because I thought that I couldn’t be a hairdresser if the only hair cut that I knew how to do was this one bad one. Then I started going to lots of private seminars, that how I learned. I went to thousands of seminars; I used to come to London every week and pay to go on private courses.
I always remember the first seminar I went on. I was blown away, I could see clearly a thousand mountains I had to climb, it was exhausting just to the thought of it, but I could see a light for the first time, s I got very excited and I probably spent the next 10 years of my life just completely absorbing and trying to learn my craft, I was obsessed about trying to get good at it. It wasn’t easy, even after 10 years I wasn’t happy with anything I did. It took a long road, nothing came easy to me, it wasn’t a natural gift at all, it was a lot of hard¬working, passion and constantly trying to get better, every single day. It was a constant but slow evolution.
You opened your first salon on 1984 in Leigh-On-Sea, then the second one, in 1992, in Sheffield. In 1997, you won the Men’s British Hairdresser of the Year; how it was this evolution from beginner to celebrity hairdresser?
What happens was that I decided I wanted to attend these awards, and I didn’t have any money to enter. But I decided I was going to enter anyway and have a go, and I ended up using all the models in the street, I was one of the models even, and I ended up winning this award. And that was a real game changer, I mean don’t get me wrong, I nearly bankrupted three times since then, but definitely got me notice by a hell lot of people. At the time, and this is 16-17 years ago, I kind of became a maverick overnight because of the collection that I won with it has never been seen before, that way that was done, and it was only done like that really because I didn’t have much money to spend but it kind of became really of raw edge.
But you opened your first salon in London just in 2000. Why did it take so long?
I was quite happy working in my local town. There was a friend of mine, who I was living with, that kept saying that I should be in London, and he planted that seed in my head. Ignorance is bliss really because I remember that I put everything on this shop in London, but I didn’t have any clients, nobody knew me here, I didn’t have any cash flow, and it was in Wardour Street, it was a fortune, overheads became a fortune. I nearly went bankrupted very quickly, but what happen was I was in negotiation with Boots to launch a
product range, this was going to begin off two years, and they kept saying their staff was going to pay me to have this product range, I wasn’t at all, and then out of the blue I was invited by the producers of “This Morning” called me on the show, basically I won this competition and I ended up as the resident dresser of the show.
How does your brand came up? And how it was the development of the products?
Because I was on the show, Boots listed my product range and the bank stepped in, it goes in overdraft, and I was saved again. [The development of the products] was amazing; I remember I had all these ideas for fancy packaging, and my partner said that we didn’t have money and that we were going to use a Boston round, which it’s just the most basic bottle that you can buy off any shelf from any manufacturer. In a way, it was good because it forced us to be brave, and because Boots spent two years deciding whether or not going to get us listed, there was two years to work in the development of the look and feel of the brand, and it was all very organic, we never got designers, we couldn’t afford designers. The pink [of the packaging] came from the pink reception desk I had in my London salon, which kind of made the salon feel pink. The dog, for example, it was an idea from my friend photographer, the one that convinced me to come to London.
Since 2007 you’ve appeared in some television shows, as “Celebrity Scissorhands”, “Secret Millionaire” and “Pointless Celebrities”. Can you tell me more how did you end up doing these shows and how it was the impact in your career?
TV is a powerful media. I could an array a list of amazing hairdressers that work in the fashion world, as Sam McKnight, people that I admire immensely and are a fantastic hairdressers, but if you ask people on the street whether they know them probably the most never heard of them. And if you try to sell a brand that is no good, so television is an amazing media, it gets you well-known. If you want to launch your brand and/or to have a successful brand, marketing is another major factor. And I enjoyed as well, I never looked at it as: “Oh, this is going to be good for my brand”. At the time, it was exciting, it was a challenge, something different. Looking back now, it was brilliant because it kind of made me a household name really, which can only help a product range.
With your experience, what are the most common mistakes women make with their own hair?
Well I think hairdressers would kill me for this but I think one of the biggest mistakes is that women colour their hair too much. My mum and my wife are prime examples: one day they want their hair red, next day black, then want it blonde, then black and red again, and it just ruins the hair. Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions to the rule but, on the whole, women colour their hair too much. I understand though, it’s the Lady Gaga effect, everyone wants something new, and I admire that as well.
What advice would you give to them?
I don’t think they use treatments enough. People, in my experience, use treatments in back to front: when you use a treatment, you got using in between the shampoo and the conditioner because the shampoo cleanses the hair and opens its cuticles, when the cuticles open is the time to use the treatment to get inside, and the conditioner closes it down with leaving all that is good inside. But a lot of people use a treatment without the conditioner, so the cuticles gets open, the treatment goes in and nothing comes back to close it again.
Finally what are the plans for the future, yours and the brand?
I’ve just started opening academies, I have three academies open now, and I want to open another 47. That’s a real passion of mine. And, of course, with the brand just got momentum there, I mean you can’t never rest on your laurels, but as long as I’m still passionate about hair the brand is going keeping moving forward.