In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
"I'm not afraid of changing an entire look. I thrive on that," says celebrity colorist Rita Hazan. It shows in her work: Jennifer Lopez's honey-blonde hair, Jessica Simpson's platinum locks and Beyonce's golden blonde tresses, recently seen in her "Formation" music video, are all famous examples. Katy Perry's rotating hair colors, from lavender to blue to pink, are also Hazan's doing.
A New York City native, Hazan decided to attend beauty school at 17. Around that time, she had her eye on working for the famous hairstylist Oribe, who was running his own salon on Fifth Avenue, visited by '90s supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington. "I got my license and walked in and I was not leaving until I got that job," says Hazan. For the next 10 years, she assisted the salon's head colorist Brad Johns and garnered her own celebrity clientele, including a young Mariah Carey at the start of her musical career. By 2003, Hazan had opened her namesake high-end salon — also on Fifth Avenue.
In 2011, she launched her product line for color-treated hair, which has recently undergone its own makeover. "I felt like [the packaging] wasn't really saying what I wanted it to say," says Hazan. "I was aligning myself with the right chemists first and learning the product industry. So it took me a while to get there but it's evolved into this gorgeous-looking product." New additions include a shampoo and conditioner that hydrate and maintain colored-treated hair and a "Triple Threat Split End Remedy" to heal and seal damaged ends.
Now with nearly two decades of experience, Hazan is balancing her salon, a hair care line and a slew of private appointments with big-name clients. We spoke with her about how she juggles everything, as well as her advice for aspiring colorists.
What's your schedule typically like?
I have three lives: The salon life, my celebrity life and my product line life. I balance it all and make sure I spend enough time doing all of it and nothing gets neglected. Mondays and half a day on Wednesdays, I'll do office stuff, work on my products and the business. Tuesday through Friday, I work in the salon, but the truth is if a celebrity calls, everything gets moved around. Sometimes they're in town for one day or need something for a shoot tomorrow.
What made you want to start your own hair care line?
When people told me I should have my own product line, I thought, 'the world doesn't need another shampoo.' If I'm going to do one, it has to be necessary and 'me.' I was doing a lot of traveling, interviews for magazines and seeing clients at the time, and I heard this one complaint constantly: What can women do in between appointments to cover their gray? There were no good solutions for it, so I decided to do it myself. It took me four years to create this root concealer. There was nothing on the market like it.
How do you approach creating new products?
I don't want to just put stuff out. My company is five years old and I only have six products. I don't like to have 15 products out to create a line. That doesn't mean anything. Product should have integrity and you have to think about what people need. When I'm working in the salon and hear what clients complain about, I try to solve that.
What challenges have you faced throughout your career?
Doing hair color is easy for me. I don't know how to explain it but it just naturally comes to me. The hard part is new business, how to run a salon, how to run a product line, handling things like insurance and payroll. I don't have partners or investors and I'm doing it on my own 100 percent. So I have to learn each business, which keeps me excited. I'm always learning and educating myself. I would say asking questions is the most challenging thing. I think people are embarrassed to ask questions but I never feel like that. When I go into a room of 10 bankers who know what they're doing and I don't understand what something means, they're going to have to explain it to me. I don't have a fear of feeling stupid because I really want to learn.
What advice would you give to aspiring colorists?
The most important thing is to train and learn your craft. You could assist a lot of people and take classes to make sure that you know what you're doing. Just because you do your friend or mom's hair and it looks good doesn't mean you're ready to take on challenges like, let's say, a bad color that needs to be fixed.
People think two years is enough for training but it's not close to enough. The first two years you're learning what the products are and how to use them, and if you stay another two years, you'll really know what they do and how to really use these chemicals. Skill takes time, patience and hard work. I didn't wake up and have a big business. It was a lot of work.
What are your thoughts on social media, especially for professional hairstylists and colorists?
I was probably late to the party but it plays a huge role in the industry. A lot of colorists post formulas and their work so others can learn from it or book clients from it. People see your work and you're more likely to get a new client than not.