By Karie Bennett
In this special edition of One-on-One, Salon Owner Karie Bennett (and her staff) interview the Queen of Creativity and fellow salon owner Brig Van Osten.
It’s not often you see this particularly glowing shade of canary yellow hair on a woman’s head. But women like Brig Van Osten don’t come along very often and become creative role models to a whole industry. Of course, in the beauty industry, you can be anyone you want to be. Brig, as I found out, just wants to inspire others, bake better cupcakes than Betty Crocker and have tons of fun.
Along with two million others, I watched Brig win Shear Genius 3, and I immediately thought she would be an interesting person to know. Between her wild, colorfully mismatched outfits, crazy artistic hair ideas and shrewd contest strategies, I sensed there was more to this woman than meets the eye.
I met Brig on Facebook, and connected with her again in Las Vegas at the 2010 North American Hairstyling Awards, where she asked to interview me, since my salon was nominated for a Salon Master of Business Award. After much texting and navigating through the huge crowds, I finally caught a glimpse of that signature yellow hair, and there she was, in all her “Brigged out” glory. Tall and fabulous in an outfit of her own creation, we were able to say a quick hello before the chaos swallowed us up again. Our NAHA interview never materialized, but I decided to turn the tables. I asked the team at my San Jose salons, Atelier, for some questions for Brig, added a few of my own, and wound up with some great insight into what makes her sing like the proverbial canary:
Karie: When did you first get interested in hair as a career?All goofiness aside, Brig is smart, quick-witted, undeniably creative, and is a whirlwind of ideas and inspiration. During Shear Genius, she took a lot of hits for her “over-the-top” personal hair and clothing style, although many of the Bravo TV bloggers have expressed their admiration for her courage and how “real” and “down to earth” she was.
Brig: My mom suggested it to me after I told her I didn’t want to attend community college after graduating. My mom knew me well and always supported my creativity so she thought it would be a great fit for my talents. (Guess Mom always knows best!)
Karie: Did you play with hair as a kid?
Brig: Not really. I spent my teenage years first trying to tame my red curly hair and then desperately trying to alter it in any way I could. At one point I used Sun-In over blonde box color and picked up a “You Go, Girl” chemical relaxer from Sally’s. I didn’t “Go, Girl,” but my hair sure did!
Karie: If you weren’t a hair stylist, what would you be?
Brig: At 12 years old I wanted to be a whale trainer at SeaWorld. Good thing that didn’t pan out! At 15, I visited FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) with my mom only to discover that I would have had to design clothes with one arm and one leg since that’s how much it costs to attend. Ultimately, the fact that cosmetology school cost $2,500 and I could complete it in 10 months grabbed me. I didn’t miss a second, graduated and passed my state board in under a year.
Karie: What made you decide to enter Shear Genius?
Brig: I had no doubt in my mind after I watched two stylists I had worked with/near on the “hair show circuit” and respected, do quite well on Season 1 (Anthony and Tabatha). I love to compete and I thought it would be a great challenge and opportunity to gain some publicity for my salon and staff. That definitely proved true. However, I auditioned for Season 2 and didn’t make the cast until Season 3.
Karie: Wow, you’re a brave one. Where do you get your courage?
Brig: My mom. Had to be. She never told me I couldn’t or wouldn’t. She always found the means to provide me with whatever goal I had at the moment. At 17, I entered a beauty pageant and my mom made my swimsuit. It was the best one in the pageant. I didn’t win the title, fortunately, or I might be a politician’s wife now, but I did win “Most Photogenic,” whatever that meant.
Karie: How has your professional life changed since winning Shear Genius?
Brig: Since the airing of Shear Genius I have been given opportunities that I have wanted for many years. I wanted to venture into what I refer to as “La La Land.” Living in the Los Angeles area, a lot of TV shows film locally. Recently E! Network asked me to film a few episodes of Style Star. This was extremely exciting and I had a blast. I also have been a regular on NBC’s Today in L.A. talking about hair trends. On the “pro” front, I have been making appearances from Los Angeles to Miami and places in between. I enjoy spreading positivity and inspiration throughout the industry and encouraging artists to branch out. I have also been forming new relationships with some awesome stylists. Recently Charlie Price and I did a shoot for 303 Magazine and scored the cover of an upcoming issue. Collaborating with other top stylists is amazing!
Karie: How has your clientele changed since your SG win? And how much time do you spend in the salon?
Brig: The visibility of P!ay hair lounge has grown in an amazing way. My own clientele has expanded, but more importantly, so has the clientele of each stylist at P!ay hair lounge. We feel incredibly fortunate for this success. I am behind the chair four days a week, approximately eight-10 hours a day.
Karie: How much do you get to ‘play’ with your clients?
Brig: My average client is over 35 years old and a professional woman with two or more kids. She is well dressed and wants an easy-to-maintain hair style and color. I never assume my client wants the same color or style. I always have suggestions ready and encourage them to bring ideas or pictures. If you are not open to change and your client is, they will change you!
Karie: How important is your “look” in attracting the clients you want?
Brig: I think all established stylists should have a signature look/brand in their appearance. You should be completely put together every salon day. At P!ay, we approach it like being on stage. We always have our hair styled, make-up done, accessories and costume/outfit ready to show. Equally as important is the bio that sells each stylist to the masses. At p!ay, we consider what type of client each stylist is “fishing” for when we write the stylist bios. We have found that almost all new clients, including referrals, visit our website prior to scheduling an appointment.
Karie: What was the best lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Brig: I learned that a 12-chair salon was a much bigger team than I wanted to be in charge of and that my salon space’s square footage could handle. As a solution, I removed five chairs and decreased the size of the team, resulting in more space in the salon. I am much happier and involved now and so is the team. Clients responded to the change very well.
Karie: What are your personal or professional goals for 2011?
Brig: On the personal side, I plan to maintain a healthy balance between my business and my personal life. That may be a bit cliché, but it’s always on the forefront of my mind. As far as my professional goals, three main ones come to mind:
Karie: Where can SALON TODAY readers catch you?
- Continue inspiring and empowering future professionals around the world and near to me, including my team.
- Getting involved in fun events, like the upcoming Pravana hair color contest that I’m the spokeswoman for.
- More television adventures!
Brig: My adventures can be followed on my YouTube, Twitter and Facebook pages. I’m a huge computer nerd.
One thing we can expect from Brig is the unexpected. Her YouTube channel is where she posts everything from how-to hair videos to cooking tips to her clothing makeovers. Never a dull moment with Brig, check her out at youtube.com/user/brigvanosten.
In 2006, Brig opened P!ay Hair Lounge (yes, that’s an exclamation mark instead of an ‘L.’ Brig’s obsession with exclamation marks seems to fit her constant state of excitement). With bright yellow walls and a doorway draped with a huge red-and-white striped circus tent, the atmosphere is definitely whimsical and energetic. Original art is showcased on the walls, and rotates every eight weeks. In this fun, playful space, P!ay stylists consider their clients part of the social architecture, and enjoy making the salon experience fun, and the hair beautiful.
About the Author
KARIE Z. BENNETT, here with her team from Atelier Salonspa and Atelier Studio, cut her own bangs on her third birthday, wrote a book when she was eight, and the rest is destined for her memoirs. 2011 marks her 30th year as a hair stylist, and she is celebrating by launching a second career—as a writer. Currently working her way through The Writer’s Studio program at Stanford University, she writes three online blogs, including ‘The Owner’s Forum’ for salontoday.com, and is the San Jose Small Business Examiner for examiner.com. She still loves working on clients, developing new salon artists, and being a source of inspiring ideas for the beauty industry. Find out more at kariebennett.com and atelieraveda.com.