Of the people I've interviewed for this series, Rachel Smith has been doing what she loves the longest - for more than 30 years. Rachel's success is likely due to a dozen reasons, but her willingness to back herself and her enthusiasm to try out new ideas is impressive. She's incredibly warm - one of her client's told me that Rachel is a lovely listener whose encouraging, but never 'telling'. I spoke with Rachel last week.
What’s your job exactly?
I’m a hairdresser and colour technician and business owner - I run a studio in Surry Hills called Tonik Hair Body by Rachel Smith.
What do you love about your job?
I love that I can help make people feel happy and confident – happiness is contagious so if the client’s happy, then I’m really happy. My work’s never boring - hairdressing is constantly changing – new products and techniques and technologies and trends. I get lots of satisfaction in what I do and love working with hair – it’s creative, a form of artistic expression, and it’s good for my soul.
How did you get into your current business?
I’ve been a hairdresser for 32 years, 20 of those in Surry Hills, and running my own salon for a while. Recently I designed and moved into a new studio space that I’ve been creating in my head for years – good things definitely come to those who wait.
What was your first ever job?
I did my apprenticeship in Port Macquarie - I still feel lucky I started up in Port. I was cutting in my first year - that doesn’t happen in Sydney. Also, I got to enter the mid north-coast hairdressing championships run by Schwarzkopf and was winning trophies in the second year of my apprenticeship. By the time I arrived in Sydney, full of dreams of working in Oxford Street, I was pretty experienced – and my dreams came true pretty quickly.
Can you remember what you wanted to be ‘when you grew up’?
I always wanted to be an air hostess until I started hairdressing - then all I wanted to do was more hairdressing.
Have you done formal studies?
There wasn’t a TAFE in my town, so I had to do my apprenticeship through correspondence. That was good because it gave me the opportunity to get involved, and onto the floor, cutting and styling at a very young age.
What does your workweek look like?
Late nights and weekends – as it will remain for as long as I’m passionate about my work.
What do you wear to work?
These days I always try to dress comfortably for long days.
What is your standout proudest career moment?
I feel proud when I win awards – I’ve got second place in day wear street style cutting; first place in Fantasy avant-garde; first place in Goldwell Colouring and first place in National Colourist for PPS Australia.
Is there anyone whose career you really admire?
There are lots of people whose work I admire, but in particular I’ve been following Sharon Bain, Eugene Souleiman Errol Douglas for a long time. I’m pretty eclectic and get inspiration from lots of places, but I followed the trends over the decades, and with each decade there are master stylists. Now with so much available on social media, I’m stalking hairdressers all over the world.
What do you want to do next?
I’ve just rolled out my dream business concept – it’s an intimate studio with one cutting chair and two colour stations. It’s a lovely environment for my clients and myself - it's very relaxed.
I’ve found a bit more time since my daughter started Uni – so now I do more bridal work, which I love, as well as getting back into fantasy avant-garde.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing your current work?
Probably cake decoration. I did a fair bit of decorating at school and entered all the local shows. I was pretty good, and won a few awards. It was strange because I was competing against much older women in the agricultural society - I was so young, they thought mum had done the cakes.
What do you think the biggest fail a person can have running their own company?
Probably not failing, because it means you’re not trying out new ideas and creating.
How would you describe what you were like as a child?
I was always pushing boundaries, or thinking about pushing them!
What are you like at work when you’re stressed?
I try to hold it in for as long as I can before I let it stress show. Botox is good, it stops the world from seeing my expressions on my face – but to be honest, since I stripped back my business to create a private studio, it’s minimised my stress.
What are you like at work when you’re relaxed?
I’m creative and up for anything.
What’s important to you?
I’m a big fan of natural ingredients and have been using them for years. They’re better for our environment, but also I think there’s an association between healthy products and healthy hair. It’s great to see so many products becoming available, and watching more salons move towards sustainability. I’m generally a clean living, love the planet, love the goddess-energy type of person. I like feeling strong and empowered, and if I can do anything that helps other people feel empowered, then I’m happy.
My ultimate ‘most important’ is my beautiful daughter Paige. My brother and my besties are all family, and my family is my rock!
Other than work, what do you love about life right now?
I’ve just entered a new chapter of my life – it’s exciting and it feels like angels are guiding me. Every single day I feel enormous gratitude for my two princesses: that’s Paige and Angel, my lahsa terrier.
and finally, a quick pop quiz!
Favourite musical artists? Rolling Stones, Cher, Adele, London Grammar, Robbie Williams - I’m all over the place with my music.
Favourite reading? My absolute must is Italian Vogue
Favourite movie? Star Wars. I love Wookies
Favourite art? Aboriginal art
Favourite place? Being in salt water - I think I was a mermaid in a past life.
All images provided by Rachel Smith
If you enjoyed reading about Rachel's career, here's the link for more interviews I've done with people who love their work.