Kollen Krizka, born and raised on Chicago’s south side, grew up with aspirations to pay her way through college by doing hair and nails on the side. Little did she know she would someday be able to combine her dream with a passion that swept her off her feet. For Krizka, working as Cameo’s manager means more than just overseeing students and teachers; she is also the guide who shepherds students (sometimes with gentle force) out of the classroom and into their salon training, styling hair for actual clients. Here, she tells us more:
MK: Tell me what you do at Cameo.
KK: I’m the manager here. That means I get to make sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing and that the students are where they’re supposed to be. Making sure everything is running smoothly.
I also supervise during salon hours: I get the opportunity to work with the students while they’re working with clients. I’m one of the teachers who can issue Cameo clients to students, so I’m out there making sure that the students are getting the clients and performing the services, and from the administration perspective I’m also out there making sure the teachers are working with the students in the way that they need to be.
What brought you into the cosmetology industry?
It’s actually kind of funny. I always knew I wanted to do hair, even though I didn’t really do much styling to myself. I had actually wanted to get my cosmetology license, and then I was going to go (to college) and become a regular school teacher. I always knew I was going to teach, and I always knew that I was going to do hair, but I never knew to put them together until I was much older.
How long have you been working for Cameo?
I celebrated my 10 year anniversary last August, so I’m going into my eleventh year. And it’s flown by.
Congratulations! Can you tell me some of the reasons why it’s flown by so fast?
I have worked in almost every aspect of this industry. I’ve worked in chain salons and private salons, I’ve worked underneath a woman for booth rent, I’ve worked at a beauty supply store, I’ve done other classes; and I think it’s just flown by because the student population is constantly changing, and all the different students really keep my interest going.
What do you enjoy most about working with students?
When you work with stylists, they’re sort of stuck in how they’ve been doing things; whereas students are so much more open to what you’re giving them. They soak it in like a sponge, and it can be really refreshing to work with someone who just wants to pick your brain for everything. It’s really kind of enlightening, and I love seeing their “aha!” moments, when they finally get it. It really makes working with them worthwhile.
In terms of the work you do when you oversee salon hours and the students working with clients – I imagine it’s part of your duty to assign a client to a student whom the student is both ready for, but who’s service may also challenge them a bit?
Absolutely. It’s a very interesting line you have to toe sometimes to make sure that the student is getting not only a service they can handle but also a client they can handle.
Interesting. Have you ever had a situation in which the student was freaking out a litte bit, like “Oh, I’m not ready,” and you had to be the one to say “No, you’re totally ready. You just don’t know it yet”?
Definitely. I can’t tell you how many times . . . When they first come to the salon aspect of the school, the students all tend to feel that they’re not ready because they’re leaving the little home they’ve created in the past three months with their Basics teacher. They’re very comfortable with the students they’ve been learning with, and so when they come out to start working in the salon, it’s a big new world for them. There are times when you have to talk them down and just let them know: this is what they’ve been training for the whole time, and that they have someone with them the whole time, and even though we’re a step or two behind them, we are watching and we are going to be there to make sure they can do it. And they can.
What’s one of the more challenging things that comes with your job?
When you’re dealing with students, you’re not just dealing with their technical skills. Sometimes you have to deal with them on a personal level. Dealing with some of the outside influences that I can feel sometimes – those things limit their abilities because they’re so focused on the outside world. It’s really a challenge for the other teachers and me to kind of get them to temporarily forget about what’s happening outside and just focus on what or who is in their chair.
I can see how that would be frustrating. You want to help, but in terms of the outside world, there’s only so much you can do.
Absolutely. In the ten years I have been here, I’ve see some of the students overcome challenges I myself have never had to face. But they’ve done it with grace that I don’t think I could muster, and it’s amazing to see them do that.
What sorts of ability levels and education backgrounds do your students come from? I can imagine it’s a variety, but do you have students coming in knowing a lot about hair?
We have a good mixture of both. I have some students who have grown up in the salon world; maybe their mother, aunt or grandmother or someone else in their life has owned a salon, and they’ve grown up in it and they’re used to doing hair a certain way. But when they come into school, they’re taught: “Ok. You’ve been looking at advanced hair for so long, I need to bring you back down to Foundations. And then there are students who have no background, and I can relate to that. When I came to school, I had no background in any of it. All the students are pretty open-minded, but sometimes there is a struggle with people who have known about doing hair previously.
They’ve got to “unlearn what they have learned.”
Yes. You’ve got to break some bad habits and encourage the good habits. And in the long run, that makes it easier for them, because what they see versus what they do is two different things.
Let’s go back to you for just a second. You said you always knew that you wanted to do hair, but growing up in a salon wasn’t really in your background. What happened in your life to give you that certainty?
I’ve always been a worker. I’ve always wanted to make money, and I knew that if I wanted to go to college – I’m one of five children – so that cost was all going to be on me. I knew that I was going to need a job that was going to provide me with money and flexibility to go to school. I figured if I did hair, nails or something in that profession, I’d be able to have the flexibility and the money.
And did you go on to college or some other sort of professional training after cosmetology school?
No, I never did, because I fell in love with doing hair! (laughs) I never knew that you could love something that much. Doing hair isn’t just about a job. It changes you. I have a lot of friends who tell me, “This is what I do and this is who I am,” and it’s two separate things. I’ve found, in this profession, our job IS who we are. It’s in every aspect of our lives. I fell in love with it and I never wanted to let it go. When I thought about it, I was like “Well, I always thought I was going to be a teacher. Oh, you know what? Why not teach something I love?” And I never looked back after that. It’s worked out better than I ever thought possible.