1. In writing, finding your voice seems similar to colorists finding their aesthetic. How did you come to do fashion colors (also known as mermaid hair or unicorn hair)?
It started way back when I began doing hair, around 2001, when the fun, funky-but-acceptable hair color was blood red. At the time, there weren’t any other colors in the professional world to use. So at 19 years old, I went from having this virgin hair (never having dyed it before) to having a head full of bold plum and violet tones. I was the only person I knew with hair like that and I loved it. I didn’t even have clients that wanted it.
2. So how did you grow your clientele for fashion color?
When I was in California, I had a mentor who sent people my way. But when I came to DC, I was starting over. Social media made all the difference—Instagram in particular. With IG, having an online portfolio was crazy easy. Plus, with hashtags, the opportunity for connections were endless. I used social media as a resource and learned how to use IG as a tool to stay connected and relevant online.
Besides doing it myself, in the beginning, I’d wait for that one open invitation—like a client that I’d tease forever and I’d say “Hey, what about a pink streak in the front?” and eventually someone would say, “Yes!”
I didn’t have a lot of clients that wanted green hair, but I’d do it myself or convince someone to do it and I’d post a picture of beautifully executed green hair. I put what I wanted to do out there online in the hope that people who wanted that kind of hair would eventually find me. Little by little, more and more people started saying yes, and started coming to me because they knew I could give them the hair color they wanted.
Some people might look at me on social media and think it’s been a quick growth thing—but it’s not. This is something I’ve been grinding away at for years.
3. Have you ever been discouraged from doing what you’re passionate about?
Yes! There was a woman I took a class from, she was gifted in the business side of running a salon, and she pointed to me and said, “Nobody’s ever going to pay you to do that. I don’t know why you’d ever waste your time learning to do those kinds of colors.”
4. How did you learn to trust yourself to do this non-traditional coloring?
Education. I am constantly educating myself. I was a connoisseur of education waaaay before I was an educator myself. Year’s ago, I came across a woman on Facebook who taught a class on fashion colors. She was one of the first people to offer continuing education that wasn’t associated with a specific product line.
Picasso didn’t have one brush, right? So by getting familiar with all the available product lines and different techniques, I had a lot more choices and confidence.
You’ll get a different outcome if you color a canvas with crayons or with high dollar acrylics, even if it’s by the same artist. So education on what you can use. And practice ... I just kept doing it.
5. Having mermaid hair is not a small decision or commitment. How did you get women (and men) to trust you to dye their hair in these bright bold colors?
I was my own billboard. I was all in and encouraged people to do it by wearing it myself. I’d work with clients who wanted some fun color and we’d figure out ways to do it in a subtle way. I’d make them feel safe and give them options—like a color that will still look great as it fades or in a place that’s concealable for work. That’s why I started doing color panels under the main hair and how I came up with “Underlights.” [Ruby’s original technique that’s now seen all over the fashion-hair color world.] And the more I did, the more people trusted me to do it to them.
6. As an artist, can you tell us your process for getting better at what you do?
I’m constantly digging to be better than what I was yesterday. My goal is that when you come to my chair, your haircut and color is better than it was the last time. And I really want every client to believe it. For fashion colors, which is 100% creative and totally art-based, I’m constantly asking what haven’t I seen? If my initial thought is that’s kinda ugly, I know I’ve nailed it. I trust myself to do good work, but if I can’t immediately grasp onto it, I trust it’s far enough out there that it’s pushing me and my work forward. That process is something that drives me.
7. What does this creative work mean to you?
I’ll never be able to say in words how much what I do feeds me. [She starts to choke up.] I know if feeds me beyond what other people think is reasonable. I don’t even know how to say it to make it sound right. But I feel so lucky and blessed that I have something that I can look forward to doing every day. There’s a big difference between servicing another client, and the artistry of doing this kind of hair color.
The day I got my diagnosis (thyroid cancer December, 2016), I’d already had the day planned to do my friend’s hair for a coloring competition. It was that day when I realized how important this is to me. All I wanted to do was do her hair. I dove into the process. It was my peace, my solace. It was everything. Nothing else matters for me when I’m standing behind a chair. It’s like I just give in to it.
8. What would you say to someone who is just starting out, who doesn’t have as much experience (or doesn’t have as many followers) who wants to do what you’re doing?
Never stop working at it. When people ask me this question, or even other hairdressers sometimes say, ‘Man, I really want what you have’—I say, ‘No you don’t.’ And they don’t! They aren’t willing to do what I do.
If you’re willing to stand next to me all day and put every ounce of heart and soul into it and not stop, then okay. Being a good hairdresser, in my opinion, is not only the artistry of it, but knowing how to take care of people. I gotta remember—I wouldn’t be able to give my art if I didn’t have people willing to sit in my chair and let me do it. I’m 17 years in, and I’m still working really hard. It kinda is daunting, but that’s also how I think it should be. You need to be willing to make some sacrifices. But that goes for everything, right? If it was easy, everyone would do it.
9. Do you have a mantra that guides you in life or your work?
I know this is going to sound annoying, but it’s YOLO: You only live once. And not just because of my current health issues. But it is where my bravery and trust comes in. When I’m making color formulas out of the air—I mean, obviously I have an idea of what I’m doing —but often times, I’m just trusting it. I’m trusting that the product will perform. I’m trusting myself, in my head and in my gut, to know what I’m doing. And even if it doesn’t come out just right, it’s gonna be rad and we’re gonna love it anyways. YOLO! I ask myself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ and I really do wonder, ‘What’s worse? Not trying and being upset that I didn’t try it, or trying and failing?’
10. Have you ever failed?
Oh my gosh, yes. Way back when I started, I did my friend’s hair in my living room. No mirrors, nothing. The next day she comes to me and says, ‘You know what? I think I want to go a little bit shorter.’ And I said, “yeah, I was thinking that while I was doing it.” Now, mind you, I was barely out of beauty school. I start cutting it and when I get done, she looks at it and says, “I hate it” and a silent tear runs down her cheek. She reached up to touch it and then started to sob. I felt so bad, I gave her money to go somewhere to get it fixed!
11. Mothers often struggle with how to balance time spent on creative pursuits with time dedicated to our children or other responsibilities. What would you say to us?
I’ve always said, my work is an acceptable mistress. I don’t have kids, so I can dive into this all day, everyday. The fun thing about creative based passions when you have a family is that you can wrap your children into it—whether you love to draw or write or anything, you can do it with or teach your kids. Not to mention, your family can inspire and nourish that creative side. Sure, you can’t give it everything. I doubt there’s ever a perfect balance. But I think there is such beauty to draw from as a creative when you have a family.