4 Wella Hair Pros Share What They Really Think About Hair Shows, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of Hairdressing


Back in October, I had the pleasure of attending Wella Company’s 2023 Beauty Envision Awards—The He(ART) of Hair in Las Vegas. For those of you who are already familiar with BEA, you know that it’s the ultimate competition for hair and beauty pros looking to elevate their skills and showcase their creativity.  While attending the show, not only did I get the chance to see which talented stylists would snag the top honor in each award category, but I also got to witness some incredible presentations from the Wella North America Ambassadors and Global Artists.

But that’s not all. Before the excitement began, I got an opportunity that few in our industry so often get: a chance to pick the brains of four of Wella’s hair maestros and have them answer all my burning questions about all things hair as well as the hairdressing industry at large. Wella’s Sr. Director of Brand Education Carole Protat, Brand Ambassadors Zach Mesquit and Dereq Clark, and Global Creative Artist Sonya Dove dropped so many gems throughout my conversations with them that I just knew I had to share some of my biggest takeaways with you all. Keep scrolling for all of their incredible insights. 

On whether hair competitions will remain an important method of presentation for hair pros as the industry continues to evolve:

Carole Protat: “As a stylist sometimes working behind the chair can get a little boring. It’s very repetitive. You have the same clients coming on the same day. So, how do you stay inspired? How do you continue to challenge yourself and grow? I think competitions are one way to do that because you need to partner with different people. You need to think of your wardrobe, your makeup, your overall creation, and the photographer or videographer that you work with. So, it gets you to spread your wings a little bit more and put your work out there.” 

Dereq Clark: “Absolutely. Hairstylists need to be around other artists, especially since COVID. Speaking for myself, I feel that I get inspiration from other hairstylists and other artists. We need to be around each other to get inspiration and so we don’t get so burnt out.”

Sonya Dove: “I do think it will and I think it will change over time. Technology makes things change. I’ve been hairdressing for 44 years and I remember that competitions used to be face-to-face. It used to be that you bring your model and it’s all face-to-face. So, that changed because you have to change with the times. But, I think the passion for people entering will never change. It’s always a passionate thing to do and it’s a way to be recognized. If someone wants to be recognized and they want to take a step up the ladder in their career, they should enter competitions. If you want your name to be known, you should enter competitions. Even if you don’t win and you’re nominated for the finals, you’re still a winner.”

On the biggest challenge that hairstylists face when it comes to hair competitions:

Protat: “I think hair competitions are tough because you have to have the team to do it and have the confidence to put yourself out there. I think sometimes it’s comfortable to work one-on-one and stylists are very much used to having that one-on-one relationship. But, once you enter a competition, it’s out there in the universe. So that confidence to feel like I’m ready to take that step and I’m going to find like-minded artists that I can partner with in order to create my entry, is necessary.”

Dove: “The biggest challenge they face with competitions is finding a fabulous model. It’s always hard because as hairstylists, we have a vision of what we want to create and it’s not going to be your normal salon thing. As hairdressers, we like to make everything bigger and better, so the challenge is always finding a model to wear your creation on their head. That’s the hardest part.”

On how the role of a hairstylist has changed over the years:

Protat: “Hairstylists have to be a jack of all trades today. When I started in the industry, you just had to do good hair. It’s not enough anymore. You have to do great hair—that’s a given. But, you also have to be a psychiatrist. You have to put yourself out there on social media, too. The industry was very much traditional in that you were in a salon working in a team. It has now grown tremendously with independent stylists. A lot of them work on their own, either in a suite or through renting a booth. They don’t have the same team to rely on. So, you have to be much more resourceful today to continue to grow, evolve, and develop connections throughout the industry.”

Clark: “It’s changed a lot. I think the clientele has changed the most for me. Because of social media, everything’s so fast now. I kind of stay in my lane. I’m good at what I do in my lane. I don’t necessarily want to be a jack of all trades. I actually want to master something. I would like to be a traditional hairstylist and just do what I do. But with social media, people can chair hop a lot faster and a lot more. Now, they want to go to people that specialize in certain things. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, but the clientele has definitely shifted.”

On how social media has impacted the hairdressing industry:

Zach Mesquit: “For the most part, I think social media has benefited the industry. It has greatly accelerated how successful you can become. I remember being in beauty school and being taught how to build a clientele. They were telling us to get business cards and go to the malls and walk around, introduce yourself to people, and network. I just remember being so stressed about how I’m going to do that as I’m not an outgoing person. Luckily, social media started coming around the same year that I graduated and so, I feel like it’s made it a lot easier for people to have a really good career. If you’re really good at what you do and you become known for a certain thing, people will even fly from all over the world to come see you. So, it’s really changed our industry.”

Protat: “I think social media is great because now you’re not limited to just the people that you see in your salon and you can really use it to your advantage. If you’re a hairstylist looking for a specific type of client such as a specialist in blonding or balayage, then you can post that and clients can search for you. There’s also a lot of hairstylists that do independent education and social media is a way for them to advertise without having to have a publicist or an agency. So, I think that’s all the positives of using social media to build your business, however social media is also a smoking mirror. With all the filters and all the different things, sometimes it can be deceiving and undermine the actual quality of the craft because you always wonder, is it real or is it retouched or manipulated? I think it’s a double edged sword, but it’s a necessary evil.”

Clark: “We need social media as hairstylists. Social media has changed the trajectory of my life and my career. I’m working with Wella because of social media. I didn’t even know what a brand ambassador was. You hear about it, but I didn’t know. I never saw myself in that space. Not to diminish it, but I was just a hairstylist. I didn’t think that big. So, social media has definitely taken me to the next level. Now, I do think it has its negatives and positives. So the negative being that I feel like everybody is so sensitive now. People don’t mind commenting and being negative under your posts. You could have done something amazing, but then there’s people who will talk crazy to you. So, that’s definitely a negative, but I guess everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.”

On what is required to be successful in the current hairdressing landscape:

Mesquit: “A social media presence, for sure. You don’t need to try to be an influencer or anything like that if that’s not your cup of tea, but you do need to have some sort of presence online. Not only is it a great way to attract more clients because they can find your work that way, but it also serves as a portfolio, allowing people to see your work and what you’re good at. Along with that, I would also say figuring out what it is that you want to specialize in. I think a lot of people get into the industry and they kind of want to do it all. When I first started out, I figured out early on that I wanted to do only a few things really well. While I could do a redhead or cut a bob, I enjoy extensions and blonde hair. So, those are the things that I branded myself around. I think by really figuring out what you enjoy doing the most and building a career around that is what will keep you inspired and help you to have longevity and a really successful career.”

Protat: “I think you have to really think of your business plan. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to be? What is your specialty that you want to develop? That’s how you’ll get known and recognized and continue. And you can expand on that, but if you don’t have a specialty or if you don’t have anything that is your own, it’s difficult to stand out. The more you can identify your strengths, the better—whether it’s within cutting, color, or whatever it is—and then that’s how you build your name with a specialty.”

Clark: “You definitely have to be more than a hairstylist. You have to be a videographer. You have to be a painter. You have to be somebody who knows how to work the camera and be in front of the camera. You also have to be a therapist. So, it’s more than just hairstyling. It’s a little bit of everything now. Back in the day, there wasn’t that much pressure. Now it’s a lot of pressure.”

On the best advice for stylists when it comes to staying innovative and creative so their work remains relevant:

Mesquit: “I think my biggest piece of advice is to attend events and just get out there. With so many of us working in private spaces nowadays, it’s really important to get out there and be a part of the hairdresser community by going to shows and entering shows. That’s the best way to network and to meet people. Early on in my career, going to shows was how I met so many other hairdressers in the industry. We would link up and do collabs and do videos together. And if you’re trying to grow your social media, that’s a great way to do that as well, because you meet other people who are trying to grow. It’s just a great way to stay inspired.”

Protat: “To me, the day you stop learning, you stop growing. So, education is key. If you’re a stylist, make sure you invest in yourself. I’m always a proponent of finding a mentor—someone you truly admire. And you would be surprised that most of these people are so open to mentor others. So, find a mentor, get out of your comfort zone, and go on a photo shoot, once in a while. In your local area, find a photographer, a wardrobe designer or a stylist, and a makeup artist and do test shoots and really get out of your comfort zone. That’s how you stay inspired and relevant.”

Clark: “I definitely suggest coming to shows like Wella’s Beauty Envision Awards for inspiration. Reflecting back on the pandemic, we all kind of got lost in the sauce. A lot of us lost a lot of hope. So, we need things like hair shows to inspire hairstylists, spark their interest, and reignite that light that was dimmed during the pandemic.”

Dove: “Speaking from my own personal experience, I love reinventing myself. I like to reinvent myself over and over again. I change how I look at things. The other thing I do is I make sure that I fill my cup with what I like to do. I have two hobbies: I love camping and being in nature, and I love to dance. So, the combination of those two is experiences out in the boondocks, just dancing away. I do that for myself at least twice a year to decompress and come home with an empty cup so that I can fill it back up again. Give yourself time for yourself—that’s what I would advise. Don’t give yourself to so many people around you. if you’re not doing good, you’re no good for everyone else.”

On what is missing from a lot of the education that’s circulating around in the industry:

Mesquit: “I think there could be more education on client relationships because I feel like a lot of hairdressers don’t know how to deal with all the different types of personalities that can come into a salon. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of hairdressers often get walked all over by some of their clients. So, I think there should be more information out there about how to deal with different types of people, especially where you’re in the early stages of your career and building your clientele.” 

Protat: “Education has gone through a big transformation in the last three years. When the pandemic hit, obviously, it became what do we do? We couldn’t be face-to-face anymore. When teaching someone how to do hair, you kind of have to hold their hands and show them the body position and train their eyes to see certain things. And so, we had to transform all of that through a screen. I think it made us stop and reassess what we can learn on a screen and what we can’t learn on a screen, and define our strategy according to that. There are a lot of things you can learn by seeing and viewing. There are others in which you have to have a person next to you. So, it became 100% digital to now being about 50-50. 

What I love about what we’re doing with Wella is we have a big certification program. People can come to our studio or take a class in the salon, and they’ll leave with an accreditation. They can then put it out there on their social profile or their website to say, ‘I’m an expert in color or I’m an expert in cutting,’ and really advertise themselves to stand out from the pack.”

Dove: ”During COVID, everybody learned a lot because we were all sitting at home learning on our phones. So, my clients are so knowledgeable about what’s happening. It makes us as hairdressers really have to get above them, in the respect that we have to keep educating ourselves. I think what’s really important to think about is that education on social media platforms is incredible, but there’s always going to be a place for face-to-face education. My dream for the future is for it to be 50-50, so 50% social media and 50% face-to-face. If we can find that gray in education, it’s a win-win for all.”

On the ways in which the hairdressing industry needs to evolve to better prepare the next generation of young hairstylists:

Mesquit: “It’s getting more and more popular to be an independent stylist. A lot of people are going straight out of beauty school and renting a suite without ever even working around other people. Almost everyone I know is either in a private suite or freelancing. I know very few hairdressers that are actually still in a salon, so I think that the industry is definitely going more that way. I think young stylists not having as much exposure to all the different things that happen in a busy salon just brings up more of a need for education on how to deal with that.”

Protat: “Some cosmetology schools are great and they’ve already adapted a lot of things and adopted new techniques. But, it used to be that the schools were there just to pass the state board and it was all about sanitation and things like that. So, I think finding a school that really teaches you the curriculum and, of course, how to build your craft is important, but also things like how to do an interview, how to find a job, and how to figure out whether a salon is a good fit for yourself. These are the important things that some schools do a great job at and others don’t at all. If you don’t have that in your school, I would highly encourage students to look for something like that. Also, find a mentor somewhere to really be able to understand all the ins and outs and what else you can be in the industry. You don’t have to be behind the chair 100% of the time. You can educate. You can work for a brand. You can work for editorial. There’s so many different things that could be opened up to a person.

One of the things that is sorely missing is textured hair education. I think stylists should be able to serve any client walking through their door, so we’ve created a big certification program at Wella that’s called Curl Craft to address that. And schools also need to start embracing it so that people can understand how to cut, color, style, and care for different textures of hair, different types of hair, and different curl patterns.”

Clark: “I definitely think they need to make sure that everybody knows how to work with textured hair. I think that’s still lacking. I have seen some companies veer more into it, which is good to see, but I think more needs to be done. It’s unfortunate that it isn’t already a part of many curriculums. Everybody walking around on Earth doesn’t look the same—our hair is not the same. So, you can’t approach everybody’s hair the same way. Hair is hair, but every texture requires different maintenance and a different approach. That’s not a bad thing, but I do think beauty schools need to put that in the forefront right now. As we can see, the world is turning much more multicultural.” 

On the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on the hairdressing industry: 

Mesquit: “I think that AI is definitely a bad thing, but I feel like it will kind of work itself out. I think the biggest problem with AI and even social media as well, is that there’s a lot of hairdressers out there who filter their work. They adjust the colors, they smooth things out, and they edit their photos. I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me after getting their hair ruined because they saw someone’s work and it looked great in all their pictures, but then they walked out the salon looking like trash. They’ll show me the pictures and it just does not look the same. AI is kind of an advanced filter so basically people can use it to fib and make things look different than how they do in person. You might have a steady stream of first timers coming in if you do that, but you won’t build a lasting career and reputation if you’re using AI. So, I do think there is a downside to AI, but I also think if you really have the talent, then you don’t need to worry about it.”

Protat: “I think there’s a lot of great things that we could use AI for, such as product information. For example, if you have a product and you want to learn more about its ingredients and how to use it, you should be able to use AI to do that. However, I think when it comes to hair and the hairdressing craft, AI is dangerous, in my opinion, because it’s not real. I am a big believer in handcrafting because that’s where you become really good at what you do. So, I think there are some things where AI can be used, but there are others that cannot be replaced.  AI won’t teach you how to color hair or cut hair. So, that’s where I’m 50-50 on AI because I think there’s a lot of great usage for education. But, when it comes to the actual craft, that has to be done in person.”

Clark: “AI can’t do what I can do. People like a personal touch and AI is a robot. I can’t predict the future, but I don’t see AI taking my job ever. I mean, who’s going to let a machine do a highlight?”

On how they’re feeling about the future of hairdressing:

Mesquit: “I think the industry is definitely recession-proof. No matter how tough times get, people will always want to look their best. They might cut back a little bit, obviously, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere. And It’s a really fun industry to be a part of because as long as you’re doing things like going to events, continuing your education, and staying on top of what is relevant, it’s ever-changing. So, it never gets boring. I think it will continue to be like that.”

Protat: “I think we need people to understand—and when I say people, I mean parents—that hairdressing is an amazing career. There’s still a stigma for parents when it comes to their kids wanting to do hair. They’re like, I’m not sure that’s a good choice. So, we need to re-educate the world on hairdressing being an amazing, fulfilling career. It’s a matter of making sure that people understand that you can make money, you can be passionate about it, and that it’s not a bad choice. I think it’s all about getting to school fairs and showing everyone how great a career in hair can be, if you really want it to be.”

Clark: “I love this industry so much. It is all I really know. I want to stay positive, but I have to be honest and real. I think that hairstylists in our careers are under attack right now. A lot of people don’t think that what we do is—I don’t want to say valuable, but they don’t think we need to be licensed. I’ve noticed a lot of states are trying to take away our license. And I’ve had to sign numerous petitions to make sure that we have to have a license to do hair. So, I do feel like, unfortunately, our industry’s kind of under attack. I don’t like that. I want to see it continue to grow. I want to see it have diversity. I want to see more people like me in roles like this that I never thought I would even have. I think it needs to be normal for people to see that. So, I want to change that.”

Dove: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel that we as a community in the hairdressing industry need to get involved and come in a bit tighter and closer. I think the schools need a lot of support because the schools are the future of our industry. The future of the industry is unknown, but it’s exciting. The hairdressing industry is the best industry to be in. Personally, it’s given so much to me. I’ve traveled the world and I’ve seen so many awesome people. People need to know more about how awesome this industry is because it is incredible. We can make more money than lawyers. We can make people happy everyday. There’s nothing like it when you can touch someone’s heart.”

To hear more from Wella’s incredible hair pros, be sure to follow @wellahairusa and @wellaeducation on Instagram.

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Camille Nzengung

Camille Nzengung is a Features Editor at The Tease, where she covers all things hair. You can find her writing about the best hair products, the coolest hair trends, and all the exciting new hair launches. Send her a pitch: cnzengung@thetease.com.

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