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#MakingHairstory: Hayden Cassidy on Finding Success as a Woman in a Male-Dominated Industry

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This March, The Tease is bringing you stories from women who are #MakingHairstory, #BakingBeauty and #DoingItForTheCultuHer. Learn how these influential women are breaking barriers, disrupting their industries and empowering others to do the same all month long.

Hayden Cassidy is a self-taught barber delivering precision cuts to people all over the world. Her editorial-inspired artistry is bar none. And when she isn’t cutting hair, she’s educating hairstylists everywhere as a Global Educator for Andis. You can see Cassidy in action on her YouTube channel, where she reaches an even larger audience, sharing tips and tutorials for professionals and amateurs alike.

We had the chance to speak to Cassidy about finding her passion in the barbering world, being a woman in the business and the importance of education.

How did you get started in the salon professional industry?

I started cutting hair as an apprentice in Dublin about 5 years ago. In my third year of playing soccer on a scholarship in University in America, I was involved in a tackle that caused my leg to break in a couple of places. After multiple surgeries, I was told I couldn’t play at the same level again. This news turned my life upside down, as soccer had been my passion for so long. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next and I became quite lost. I started teaching dancing and working in a bar to make money when I returned back to Dublin.

One of my friends had started barbering and introduced me to it. I found myself fascinated with the whole industry and felt that spark of passion ignite, one that I never thought I’d find after playing football. I got myself a home clipper set and started cutting anybody who would let me. I immersed myself in YouTube videos and Instagram, volunteered in barbershops to sweep floors and shadow until eventually I got myself a junior position, which was the start of my “professional” career.

In every shop I’ve been employed in, I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside some incredible people who have all helped me massively along the way. I think the most important thing for me and the thing that attracts me to the industry is the freedom to create, and the feeling of fulfillment I get from making somebody feel the best they can. 

How would you describe your relationship to hair?

The day I committed to working in a shop was the day I fell in love with hair. I’ve worked now for 5 years in the industry, and I’ve never taken a break from it. Every trip I do, every weekend I’m off, I’m still thinking about, or doing something creative with hair—projects, shoots, educating—it’s been an incredible journey but also an intense one. I think you need to give it everything to get where you want to be.

There are so many incredible artists in this industry, and there is so much to learn. I think that’s what makes me so passionate about it all. I’m constantly learning and constantly inspired through every aspect of the industry; behind the chair, on stage, educating and doing creative projects. 

Women are often discouraged from sharing their accomplishments, but we want to hear about them. List some of your career highlights. What are you most proud of?

I’ve had an incredible journey so far! I’ve had the opportunity to experience living in Berlin and London because of my career. I think some of the biggest highlights have definitely been when I have been traveling and educating. I’ve been to so many amazing places to showcase my work. I was the first international female barber to ever showcase on stage in Indonesia and Brazil, which was such a massive achievement and honor. It’s crazy to find myself in places halfway across the world where people recognize you, chanting your name and cheering for you. It sometimes feels like a dream.

Also, becoming an Andis global educator after 2 years in the industry is something I’m incredibly proud of. The first stage show I did was only 8 months into cutting hair. It was the scariest moment I’ve ever had but also one of the most exhilarating! I’m enjoying learning and progressing every day and now I’m also happy that I can share my knowledge with other barbers and those with an interest in becoming a barber.

When I started cutting hair, I didn’t have the money to invest in a barbering school or personal training. Social media platforms became so important to me as they provided vital resources for me to learn from. Now I’m in a position where I can offer the same opportunities for learning to others, which for me is an amazing achievement. 

What are the biggest challenges you have experienced within the industry and how did you overcome them?

I think the biggest challenge was the fear of doing something wrong. Because I’m self-taught, I never knew what was right or wrong. I just tried things and if they worked, great and if they didn’t, I tried to learn from the experience. But that initial fear of starting out I found the hardest. I decided I would tackle it all face on, probably something I learned through my sporting career. If I felt afraid, I’d make the effort to push myself out of my comfort zone, knowing that if I did, it would lead to growth and greater confidence.

I’ve worked in shops that specialize in shaves, in longer hair, in fades, in [Black] hair, in Asian hair—every place that would help me understand and learn the skills I need to work with any client. I never want to turn a client away through lack of knowledge, and I think that’s the key to this industry; having both the knowledge and confidence to do whatever you’re asked to do. 

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?

I think the biggest thing for me is to understand and listen to people, especially when educating. It’s important to let people know you care and [that] we’re on the same level, in that we’re all creatives looking for opportunities to learn to express ourselves through our craft. I don’t educate to give myself a platform, I educate to help the people I teach feel confident and stronger in their work.

To me, being an educator is tuning into the needs of the group or individual and being open, authentic and patient. Developing patience has definitely been a big lesson in my career. There have been times when I felt I needed to push myself harder and do more because I was comparing myself to others. The thing I actually needed to do was take a step back and focus my energies on being grateful for what I have done so far.

But I’m constantly my own worst critic. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think it’s important to know when to give yourself a break too. That’s certainly been my biggest lesson this year. It’s very easy for hairdressers and barbers to burn themselves out, but I want to make sure that every time I’m cutting hair, I’m giving it 110%. To be able to give that level of service, we need to listen to our minds and bodies and take a step back, when needed, to regain our energy.

It’s [also] important for me that I don’t become overwhelmed with the pressures of social media or obsessed with it. It’s a great tool and resource for sharing knowledge, but it shouldn’t take over. The most valuable and rewarding things to me are my clients who sit in my chair and the people who want to learn, not my social media image. 

Are there any women in the industry who inspire you or your work? If so, who?

Yes, I’ve worked alongside incredible women in the industry, and I’ve been inspired by so many too. I recently had a panel discussion in Atlanta with some I consider not only my close friends, but also my inspirations in the industry. They are amongst the most talented barbers I know, and they were all female. We talked about all things related to being a woman in the barbering industry, and listening to their views and stories left me feeling so powerful and proud of the women I’ve met and worked with in my career.

The 5 of us spoke about empowering women and feeling confident in what we do. We all had different stories, but all of us were proud to be where we are today. The panel included Pope the Barber, Taylor Levins, Nay Queen of Fades and Brandi Lashay. Brandi brought us together for the panel but [she’s] also a huge inspiration herself. She has worked in the industry for over 20 years and is a pioneer for female barbers. I’m so proud to call these women great friends as well as my biggest inspirations. 

Do you have any words of wisdom for other women within the salon professional industry?

A lot of people tend to view being a “female” barber as a disadvantage in an industry traditionally for men and dominated by men. I have traveled around the world and seen as many talented females in our industry as I have males, and coming into this decade it’s important that, as an industry, we start supporting the people around us, irrespective of their gender.

I have had the privilege of being on stage with some of the most talented barbers I know, all females, who have used the term to grow, succeed and shine in what they do. If you have ever received a comment that made you feel lesser, use that comment to empower, to fuel you, to prove that you are just as good as anybody else with the skills you have. We all get asked the questions “what’s it like to be a female barber?” and personally, I think it’s time that question got scrapped and replaced with “what does it feel like to be a successful barber?”

The female barbers who I share stages with are not there because they focused on their gender; they are there because they are passionate, hardworking and amazing at what they do. We’ve all started from the bottom of the chain, and we all choose to create the journey we want to live. It’s about believing in ourselves and our skills and pushing ourselves to break boundaries in the industry and also support each other. 

What’s next for you?

I’ve been traveling and educating around the world for the past couple of years, [and] I’m hopefully going to continue to do that. I also want to explore London’s industry a bit more. I’ve been here a year and a half and there are so many amazing opportunities here, which I’m going to take full advantage of. I want to push myself more creatively in the coming months.

A lot of my friends are in the fashion industry, so that’s something I’d like to explore: in particular, men’s grooming. I love creating, educating and I love hair, so I’m constantly pushing myself and looking for new adventures.