ISA Training was set up in 1998 with the aim of providing world class learning in hairdressing to all. ISA, which stands for ‘Inspire, Succeed, Amaze’, is an independent hairdressing training provider in Wales.
Founder Shirley Davis-Fox MBE believes regulating and licencing hairdressing is vital to the ever-growing industry.
We spoke to Shirley about her hairdressing journey – and how ISA Training has gone from strength to strength over two decades.
Concept Hair Magazine: Why did you set up ISA Training?
Shirley Davis-Fox MBE: There was an opportunity in the market as I knew employers wanted their apprentices to train in the workplace, rather than going through the Further Education sector. ISA turns 21 this year: we started with 11 staff and we now have 64. ISA Training operates throughout Wales and the southwest of England.
CH: What are you most proud of so far?
SDF: There is so much to choose from. I am extremely proud of ISA’s Salon Cymru, the largest hairdressing competition in Wales open to all apprentices, not just those that train with ISA. Our Oyster strategy is quite unique, the concept being ‘the world is your oyster’. In partnership with Erasmus, we take up to 10 apprentices a year to Europe for work experience. We have been to Tarragona (Spain), Poland, Cyprus, Germany, Helsinki and New York. New York was fully funded by us, we took 10 apprentices there. I’m very proud that has grown. Working abroad is not for everybody so we offer other opportunities like working at a photo shoot, photographic work and masterclasses with celebrity hairdressers. I am also extremely proud of the political work I do in England and Wales for The Hair Council.
CH: Why is hairdressing such a great career to choose?
SDF: It’s very, very creative, sexy and entrepreneurial. I’m forever saying to our politicians and career counsellors that our apprentices today are the owner/managers of tomorrow. Career paths in hairdressing are vast and varied. We work with salon owners that were ISA Training apprentices of ours 20 years ago that are now training their own apprentices. It really is cyclical. We have had some fantastic successes: in 2008 we had a young A-Level student, who left school to train as a hairdresser. He became the Overall Winner of Salon Cymru in 2009 and was selected to represent the UK in the British Hairdressing Junior Team in Paris. He then went on to do TV work and photo shoots all over the world. He now works in a prestigious London salon and has clients who fly in from around the world for him to style their hair. A career in hairdressing is limitless.
CH: What is the most significant change that you have seen in the industry over the last 20 years?
SDF: First of all, it’s more creative than it has ever been with a flair for cutting, colouring and shaping. 20 years ago, it was a lot of colour and bobs. Secondly, and most importantly, the perception of the industry is changing slowly, very slowly. With the growth in the industry, the consumer has more choice now than they’ve ever had which really makes it vital that the industry becomes licenced and regulated.
CH: Why is it so important to maintain a high standard within the industry?
SDF: Given that the industry has grown, it is absolutely vital that it is recognised for the craft that it is, that it is regulated and licenced. Anyone without any training or qualifications can open a salon and use chemicals on a client’s hair. I don’t think we’d have the issues we have in the industry if we were regulated. Young people need to feel inspired to join a profession. We have to do more with careers and parents and that responsibility lies with everybody who works in the industry.
CH: What does Wales do differently to the rest of the UK?
SDF: We have an Employers’ Round Table in Wales, which looks at some of the big issues and challenges facing the industry like the amount of VAT, recruitment and careers, the perception of the industry. ISA also commissioned an Economic Impact Assessment of the value of the Hair and Beauty Sector to Wales. It contains key information that is making the politicians realise just how integral hairdressing businesses are to local economies.
CH: Why should young people take part in competitions?
SDF: To showcase their skills, that is absolutely vital. They learn from their peers, it gives them confidence, it inspires them to continue to compete against their contemporaries. It doesn’t just happen when they’re learning their craft, it’s all the way through their career path. Because they learn from their peer group, it hones their skills to enable them to take those back to their salon. It’s an ever-improving cycle.
CH: What do you consider to be your biggest personal achievement?
SDF: I was nominated for an MBE in 2015 for my services to the hair industry. I was raised in care and I left school at 15 so to be awarded an MBE in recognition for something I’ve done: my cup was overflowing! I was so, so proud, I didn’t want the day to end. I remember the day the letter came I thought someone was having a joke. I thought it was a letter for jury service to begin with!
CH: In what direction do you see the hairdressing world going in the next few years?
SDF: It has to be regulated and licenced. The hair industry provides a service: we live in a digital society, but you cannot go on the internet and order a haircut or colour. You have to physically go to a salon. That is the key fact about our sector, it is growing and it will continue to go from strength to strength.
CH: What has been your favourite hair trend so far?
SDF: I’m not actually a qualified hairdresser, I’m just extremely passionate about the industry. I love curls, they are back on trend, long wavy curls which seem to be coming back, I love that.
This interview first appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Concept Hair.