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Karen Wallington of Modlocks: Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry

Anything goes! Individual beauty is in. Uniqueness is celebrated.

Don’t compare you to anyone but yourself. While it’s great to take inspiration from the success of others, it’s important to remember that you can’t just do exactly what they do and expect the same results. Follow your own path — everybody has a gift, they just have to find it. I had a business partner, and she and I had very different work ethics. She tried to duplicate my success by doing what she thought I was doing and inevitably it didn’t work out.

As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Wallington.

Karen Wallington is a Canadian entrepreneur and internationally acclaimed loctician (dreadlock practitioner) with over 20 years experience and a Red Seal Endorsement in hairstyling. She is a returning guest speaker and instructor for the Natural Hair Industry Convention in Atlanta teaching proprietary techniques to create, maintain and style dreadlocks for all hair types. Karen is the founder of MODLOCKS and co-founder of NOGGIN OIL.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Before I was a loctician, before I was a hairstylist I was a makeup artist and during Halloween I worked in Burbank, California for a beauty supply company called Cinema Secrets. The founder of the company, Maurice Stein, whom I respected highly sat me down and asked “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I said without hesitation “Doing makeup for TV and movies”. And then he said, if you go back to school and get your cosmetologist license so you can do both hair and makeup, you would be able to market yourself better. He was my mentor, and I feel like he saw the potential for success, but that he knew what I didn’t even know at the time — that maybe makeup wasn’t my true calling. So I followed his advice and went to Hairstyling School. During my apprenticeship, when one of the stylists wanted to start dreadlocks of her own, she rounded up the assistants to help. That was the start for me. I fell in love with the aesthetic of dreadlocks and the labour of love it takes to create them. I stopped looking at hair as the canvas and started looking at hair as the medium. Soon I realized there was an incessant need for professional dreadlock services and the rest, as they say, is history.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It’s hard to say which is the most interesting! I auditioned for Superstar Hair Challenge, a Canadian reality TV show and I was a top ten finalist beating out thousands of other applicants. I have a few clients in professional sports, music, and television, which have its perks. One of the most interesting places I’ve been to for work was probably Anchorage Alaska in the month of December to start a client’s dreadlocks. She had the most interesting job — Supervisor Park Ranger responsible for millions of acres of breath taking unchartered wilderness.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I have strong work ethics and my clients are my number one priority. I don’t cut corners or expect overnight success. My career has always had steady momentum as a result of many smaller victories, so a tipping point might not necessarily be about a moment of success, but rather a moment of clarity. In 2016, I rebranded and made the conscious decision to get rid of the toxic energy in my life so that I was able to run my business with lightness and integrity. Yes! That was my tipping point because I was still putting in the hard work but the momentum sped up and the small victories began to multiply. The lesson here is this — you do you, dump the toxic relationships that exist in your business life the same way you should in your personal life!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

In terms of one person — my husband has always been unconditionally supportive. But they say it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a lot of people to build a brand, and I really believe you have to find your tribe — people that you trust. I’m a sole proprietor but there are a lot of people that I call upon. I’m grateful to my photographer, my video editor, my partners in my retail company, my publicist at Lamourie Media, and to my mentor Maurice Stein, who passed away in 2016 — I mentioned him earlier — he supported me through my first career and sent me on the path I eventually took.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?

When I started in the industry, professionally groomed dreadlocks was not very common so I was always thinking about ways to improve upon it: faster, more efficient techniques, smarter tools and ways to provide better comfort to the client. Dreadlock and braid services alike require hours of hair pulling, which can be tender to the scalp. Then one day, my client said something that inspired the idea to create a product to roll around the dreadlocks and alleviate the tenderness associated with the service. Understanding that I had hit on a unique solution that would help locticians and braiders and their customers like no other product ever had, I was determined to make the idea a reality. I reached out to my friend and client, celebrity stylist Brian Philips, owner of World Hair and Skin, for guidance in bringing it to market. Phillips has also designed styles for many major ad campaigns and is widely recognized for being on the cutting edge of hair design. He was honoured with Environmental Defence’s Green Champion Award “for 25 years of leadership in sustainable businesses and progressive work eliminating toxic chemicals.” Naturally Brian was excited to hear about my product idea and shared with me his own idea to solve a problem he’d experienced with his own dreadlocks — the need to clean the scalp without wetting the rest of his hair -he’d been working on developing an all natural “showerless cleanser”. Realizing that working together and developing a partnership would make both products stronger, we paired together to create the exciting new Noggin Oil line: ‘Essential oil therapy for your noggin’ — the first and only vegan hair care products specially formulated for dreadlocks, braids, extensions and all other protective hairstyles for all hair types.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?

1. Anything goes! Individual beauty is in. Uniqueness is celebrated.

2. Thanks to social media, artists no longer need to associate with big corporations in order to be seen. The beauty industry is finally acknowledging successful independent stylists and independent brands: Especially those who support diversity and inclusion.

3. Today’s beauty professionals are not afraid to share what they know. It’s quite remarkable. The world has completely flipped around from trade secrets to telling secrets.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?

3 Concerns

1. The qualifications to become a professional hairstylist differ state-to-state, province-to-province (in Canada). For instance, to become a hairstylist, some parts of the country don’t even require a license while others mandate 1500 apprenticeship hours plus an exam. There needs to be consistency across the board.

2. I worry about how salons and beauty professionals will survive after the pandemic. Waiting rooms and salon stations are being taken out to allow for more space and it’s not safe to overlap appointments anymore. That means professionals are taking less clients, which means more hours and less income.

3. My biggest concern with the beauty industry is systemic segregation. Some people are still refused service in a salon because no one knows how to actually do their hair and that is not acceptable in 2020.

3 Improvements

1. Inclusion training for spas and salons — We all experience life from different perspectives and come from different paths but we all want to feel beautiful and show up as our best selves. Salons and spas should have experts come in to teach the science of bias in our industry so that we can better serve all customers with inclusivity and compassion. In fact, I recently joined a new group called the Canadian Inclusion Committee under the Allied Beauty Association and we are beauty professionals who are coming together with ideas and suggestions about how we can be a better, more inclusive industry.

2. Change the curriculum in schools -When I went to school there was minimal education on textured hair. This goes to my point about systemic segregation. Every hair professional should have basic knowledge on how to cut, colour and style every hair type; and cosmetologists should also have basic knowledge about every skin tone. In fact, many beauty professionals wish they had had more diversity training when they went to school so that they could service a more diverse clientele.

3. Brand Loyalty vs. brand hopping — sometimes if you are so loyal to a brand you don’t see innovations being presented by newer, up and coming brands. It’s great to be loyal to a product to a product that has worked for you but different one brand can’t meet every single client’s needs.

You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?

1. It’s all about maintaining positivity and a healthy mentality. Stop comparing yourself to others. If you have healthy self-esteem, you won’t succumb to all the pressure of what defines beauty.

2. Do a little physical activity; it’s been proven to boost your spirits. Try some quick cardio or a few squats to get the heart rate going and when you go on with your day you just might notice that you start to feel more productive, more empowered and more beautiful.

3. Confidence is beautiful but confidence doesn’t require makeup. If you can go out in the world without a stitch of makeup, it might feel strange at first, but it also might feel liberating. Then you might find a whole new appreciation for the art of makeup and not the obligation of it.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.

1. Surround yourself with people you respect and admire — I feel my most empowered when I’m around people who I define as successful, not necessarily in the beauty industry. For example, I know a woman who is a reputable real estate agent, and we like to talk about business even though what we do is totally different. You never know what you’re going to learn from someone in another industry that you can apply to your own.

2. Don’t compare you to anyone but yourself. While it’s great to take inspiration from the success of others, it’s important to remember that you can’t just do exactly what they do and expect the same results. Follow your own path — everybody has a gift, they just have to find it. I had a business partner, and she and I had very different work ethics. She tried to duplicate my success by doing what she thought I was doing and inevitably it didn’t work out.

3. Reach out to people who have a different bias and learn from them. It’s great to surround yourself with people you’re comfortable with but it’s also good to seek out people with a different opinion so that you may both learn from each other. The best approach to engage with someone who has a different opinion than yours is to invite curiosity. Ask questions and listen without commenting or rebutting. Never get defensive because having a difficult conversation isn’t about changing each other’s point of view — it’s about understanding it. This is good advice for success in the beauty industry and for life in general.

4. Listen to your customers. They may have insights that you haven’t even thought of; and following through could bring you places you have never dreamed. That’s exactly how I came up with the idea for Noggin Oil. I was doing routine dreadlock maintenance on a client when she expressed that she had a migraine recently and her “scalp hurt”. I had an “aha!” moment. Dreadlock services and other protective hairstyles can be uncomfortable to the client and I had been trying to solve that problem for twenty years. I thought of the roller bottles used to alleviate headaches on the temples and realized that no one had ever developed a product to apply directly to the scalp. I co-created a groundbreaking new product line called NOGGIN OIL with essential oils designed especially for locs, braids and other protective styles and brought it to market.

5. Believe in yourself. I could have just made my formula to use on my clients, and that might have been sufficient, but I knew that I had really thought of something that people needed. Even though I had built a successful salon, Modlocks, I had no experience or knowledge about bringing a product to market. That’s why I surround myself with people who are successful across industries, and I always believed. There are no failures in life or in business, only opportunities to grow and lessons to learn.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

As a loctician with over 20 years experience, I have seen and worked with every hair type. My clientele and social media followers represent the vast diversity of people around the world so I think in terms of what I could most effectively influence, it would probably be to facilitate more conversations about diversity and inclusion within the beauty industry and keep the momentum going. #beautyinclusion

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You are the author of your own life story” I have this quote hanging up on my wall. I interpret it to mean so many things: Live your own life, not someone else’s. Your story is whatever you want it to be. Make it count.

How can our readers follow you online?

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to flourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.



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