Interview with Nikki Hath: “The Lifestyle Is What You Make It”

Nikki Hath is a 2003 graduate of Cameo Beauty Academy who now owns her own salon space with Sola Salon Studios in Orland Park, IL. She loves purple, loves being her own boss and believes firmly that training from Cameo is the ideal first step in a successful cosmetology career. Read on to learn how she took that first step, (and conquered all the steps after that) with help from Cameo.

Why did you choose Cameo Beauty Academy?

Honestly, when I decided to go to beauty school I was primarily concerned with location. It was close to where I was living, but it also had a really good vibe to it. I felt very comfortable with the program compared to the other schools I had checked out. Those purple awnings drew me in and I just felt at home.

Were there any specific teachers or administrators who really contributed to that comfortable feeling?

Oh, yeah. Pretty much all of them. During the meet-and-greet and the walk-through, Mr. Herman made me feel very comfortable and very at-home. Once I started attending, all the teachers were great too: Ms. Gina, Ms. Sharon and Ms. Eileen, just to name a few. It was a great atmosphere overall.

How long had you been interested in hairstyling and the beauty industry before attending to Cameo?

Basically my whole life.  I always said I wanted to do hair, so when the opportunity came I took it right after high school.

What advice or input would you give to prospective students who are in a similar position right now?

I would say: Don’t be scared of the program, and that this is going to be both a career and a lifestyle. Take into account that when you are there at Cameo, you are considered an adult. Nobody there is going to call you to remind you to come to class; school is what you make it. When you’re there, you learn a subject a day, so you can’t slack off. It’s not like you have make-up days. Take it for what it is and live every day to the fullest because you learn so much so quickly.

You mentioned that cosmetology was a career and a lifestyle. Can you elaborate on the lifestyle part of that, at least from your own experience?

Sure. For me, it’s important as a professional cosmetologist to keep up with Continued Education. It’s very important to keep up with things: social media, networking and constantly putting yourself out there. There’s also the long hours, standing on your feet for long periods and the wear that puts on your body.  The job is your life.

Did Cameo prepare you for these things?

Yes. But I also feel that going out and working in a salon day-to-day is an important learning experience to build on top of beauty school. Cameo gave me great credentials. At the time I was attending, there was something called the Star Program, which gave you the ins and outs of what it was going to be like working in a salon full-time, and how to prepare yourself to be a professional.

What type of client work are you really passionate about?  Cuts? Color?

Definitely color. That’s my specialty. I have a lot of regular color clients that come to me for a range of things: Soft and subtle, and then you get the people who want bright purple and the more creative, bold, punkier looks. As a self-employed stylist, I have a little bit more creative freedom, whereas when you work for a salon, you’re somewhat limited to the services they offer.

Can you tell me some more pros and cons about working in a salon for someone else vs. being self-employed?

Absolutely. That goes all the way back to my first walk-through at Cameo with Mr. Herman. He laid it out there for me. He said, “When you get out of the program, you can go to work at some salons and make an hourly wage; there’s salons where you can work on commission-based pay; or you can go to a salon and rent a booth. I would say there’s pros and cons to all of these. Commission based: you’re working for somebody, so they may advertise and promote you and get people in the salon. There’s typically a program or hierarchy where juniors and seniors will get the clientele first, and you work up to that while earning a percentage. Pros are that the salon management will have a schedule for you; you’ll be working certain hours on certain days.

When you’re self-employed, you can make your own schedule, you offer the services you want to offer. But then you’re responsible for your own self-advertisement through word-of-mouth or whatever. You’re also your own boss, but that also means that nobody is going to fill in for you’re sick. You’re in charge of your own phone calls, appointments, making sure your shelves are stocked with inventory.  I see myself as always being on-call as a stylist. But my career and my own business grew for me when I became self-employed. My clients are proud of me because I have gotten to this point, and they can give a referral knowing that I’m in my own suite now and people can come in and be more comfortable in that one-on-one environment, as opposed to going into a huge salon and paying the fees that the management of a huge salon might dictate. They know they’re going to get a one-on-one consultation and a one-on-one experience with quality work.

What has been the most unexpected thing you’ve dealt with in your career so far?

I’ll get clients with all sorts of discoloration, and that’s when you have to go back to your basics and really know your color chart. It’s important that that basic foundation is a solid one, because that’s essential knowledge that I use regularly, 11 years down the road now. In terms of client relations, I feel like Cameo gave me a really good glimpse of what I was about to experience. And when you have personal relationships with your teachers, it makes you grow. They’re essential in helping you get ready for the real world.

Any other words of wisdom you’d like to pass on to students who are just starting beauty school?

The biggest words I have to pass on: It is what you make it. Don’t go into beauty school thinking it’s going to be easy. It really isn’t. You’re learning so much information. Also, every client is going to be a new experience, so it’s not ever going to be a routine 9-to-5, behind-a-desk type of job. Put your heart and soul into it, keep your creative passion going, and make your experience whatever you want it to be, whatever you aspire to. Whether that’s working on commission, renting a booth, owning your own salon or becoming an educator, just keep pushing at it and never give up.

What’s next for you and your business?

I’m six years into being self-employed and being my own boss, so I have been thinking a lot about what my next step will be. I’m content with where I am at this moment, but I think eventually I would like to take a little bit more time to get off my feet and look into becoming an educator or working for a product company.

Best of luck! And thanks for taking the time to chat.

Of course! I love Cameo and I always like to put in a good word for them because I was so comfortable with it, and I feel like they got me where I am today.


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