“Be really great at your job and be really, really nice”. These are the words of Sophia Hilton, award-winning colourist, salon owner and educator. Her London salon ‘Not Another Salon’ prides itself on its non-judgmental policy, village salon feel and talented staff. She runs ‘Not Another Academy’ for advanced hairdressers and is involved in charity work in Madagascar. Winner of the L’Oréal Colour Trophy, 2017 Colour Expert of the Year and winner at the British Hairdressing Awards, we’re so excited to have caught up with the coolest lady in hairdressing.
Concept Hair: What is your hairdressing story?
Sophia Hilton: Wow. Big question. I wasn’t interested in school until Year 7. I had been put in bottom sets as I was dyslexic and I hated it. The kids were rough: swearing, throwing things, bullying – it was hell on earth. I needed to get out, so I worked my butt off. It took me three years but eventually, I moved from bottom to top in everything. That fight taught me that natural talent has nothing to do with success. Once I started hairdressing, it was that drive that got me through. I was well practised at working hard.
CH: Why did you decide on becoming a colour specialist above anything else?
SH: I won the L’Oréal Colour Trophy about 6 years ago and it changed my career as I got a lot of respect for colour. It was from that moment I really pushed in this avenue.
CH: What do you look for in your staff?
SH: It’s such a lottery when picking staff! People can tell you anything in an interview, it’s really hard to tell who will work. I do think that people are subject to their environment, so it’s me as a leader that determines what part of their personality will show. It’s me that has to help find their strengths. The only times I’ve not had the power to change people tend to be because of something bigger, like mental health issues or drug addictions. That goes above my qualifications.
CH: You’ve recently had your third birthday at Not Another Salon – how did you celebrate?
SH: We had a party to raise money for a little nightclub in London for people with special needs called ‘The Bubble Club’. It was a perfect fit for us, because we have what we call a ‘No Judgment Policy’ in the salon, meaning everyone is welcome within our walls. It was important for me to create a safe space for people to feel they can be themselves.
CH: How important is education for you?
SH: It’s my life. I’m an educator as well as a salon owner and I own a colour academy for advanced hairdressers. We travel across 5 countries and teach over 60 courses in the UK every year. I’m obsessed with personal development. I think you should be investing 10% of your income into growth at all times, and not relying on your boss to do it. If you don’t, it might not ever happen and the only person that really loses is you.
CH: Who’s the most remarkable client you’ve had?
SH: Love this question! I once had a woman who had been wearing wigs getting her first cut after her hair had grown back. Beside her was a child cutting her hair off to donate to a wig-making charity. It was absolutely wonderful to see them interact. A true act of humanity right there.
CH: What’s your worst client story?
SH: I recently had to cut all my friend’s hair off because of hair loss. She closed her eyes the whole time and told me she hated me and loved me at the same time. It’s so sad to see a woman cut her hair because she has to, but beautiful to be the person that can be with them. It’s a double-edged sword but I’m glad I got to be there for her. It’s a rare but beautiful part of my job.
CH: What’s your greatest achievement?
SH: Opening a London salon. I’m not from a rich family so I had government loans, bank loans, my savings and some of my mum’s. It was supposed to cost £250,000 and I dragged that down by being so tight! I had no choice, I couldn’t get more money. It was the best alarm clock to get you up every morning, the thought of losing it all and being in debt.
CH: What’s the hardest thing about your industry?
SH: The unrealistic expectations from Instagram. It’s total false advertising, you never get to truly understand how long a look took and how much it cost. That’s why we went price-translucent online, so that clients began to be educated on what’s involved.
CH: What’s one thing that you wish your clients would understand about hairdressing?
SH: Definitely about the unrealistic expectations of the internet. So many of the videos look like they are done in a day but they are actually done in month. Images are heavy edited and so often they have a hair type that is just, well… not yours. The most annoying thing for me is that a lot of the colours you see on Instagram actually only stay for a few washes. Yes, it looks great for the image, but she will be battling with yellow the whole time afterwards. They don’t show you that. Just think of it like this; do you see more of these colours online than in real life? Yes, because they are not real life.
CH: How do you think the recent advancements in social media have affected the hairdressing industry?
SH: It really has changed everything and I think it’s caused a breakdown in colourists. They are left feeling like they are always disappointing their clients and that they are not good enough. But they are. Instagram has raised the bar to a level we can’t hit.
CH: Can you tell us a little about your time in Madagascar and the charity?
SH: I spent most of my late teens in turmoil about the state of the world, trying to work out how I could help people’s basic needs. I even began to despise hairdressing, like really despise it. I remember saying all the time that my job was ‘nothing more than making rich people look prettier.’ When I finally got the courage, my first volunteering trip was in Ghana. My second was a full career break in Madagascar, which is when contributing to the world really got under my skin. I thought that opening the salon would end my charitable giving because I would be so busy, so I declared that I would give 10% of my income to charity in advance. It’s a really good idea to make big claims like that. That way you can’t ever get out of it or you look like an idiot. Yes, bullying yourself into charity. That seems to be a good way forward.
CH: What’s your most important advice for young hairdressers?
SH: Decide what you want and be content with your decision. If you want a more relaxed lifestyle, don’t expect to make any money. If you don’t want to work evenings and weekends on competitions, art teams and education, don’t expect to become an industry name. Reaching for the stars is just one way and is not for everyone – all that matters is that you’re happy. But if you want what others have without wanting to do what it takes, that will lead to deep unhappiness.
CH: What’s the best thing about having yellow hair?
SH: People smile at you all the time, it’s so lovely. You can’t not smile at yellow hair! It was important to me to always look approachable to people.
And finally… some quickfire questions
What can’t you leave the house without? My phone and laptop
What’s your go to song? Cheerleader by OMI
Adventure or relaxing holidays? It used to be only adventure, now I need both
Twitter or Instagram? What’s Twitter?
Last photo on your camera roll? Screenshots of music I like for my next catwalk show
Favourite colour combo? Red and yellow
If you could cut anybody’s hair – alive or dead – who would it be? My Nan’s, anything for a few more moments with her.
Motto? You get out what you put in
Go-to brand for colour? L’Oréal