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Check Out Chelsea Frye’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chelsea Frye.

Hi Chelsea, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for sharing your story with us – to start, maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers.
Thank you! I’d be happy to- It’s kind of the classic ‘Small town girl who wants to see the world.’ journey. After Highschool, I knew I didn’t want to go to college right away – so I moved to Chicago when I was 18 with the excitement of a new life and started my education at a trade school. Cosmetology school at the time was very limited in its scope of beauty culture. But I found one that had a long time player in the in the industry. I fell in love with this trade- I felt like the artist inside me could thrive and I could make a living doing this. In Chicago, I assisted in a salon and worked two other jobs, yet I still longed to see more and do more. I found a program in Thailand teaching Thai women Cosmetology and eagerly signed up to participate. That year there was terrible flooding, and the program turned into teaching ESL, but I stayed with it anyway and moved to Thailand. I learned so much about teaching and did some hair for fun too! I continued with hair when I returned and have been in the industry for 15 years. I STILL haven’t seen or done it all. Recently, I co-founded an education outlet for the surrounding STL area with a fellow Stylist, Ashley Montgomery, to help bridge the gap between the limited education of cosmetology school and the highly textured hair types. We call it Master of None.

Currently, I work at a lovely salon called The Hair Lab. I have clients from all over and am also planning to start doing pop-ups in Chicago. Hands down, the small businesses and artist community here in St. Louis are welcoming, talented, and inspiring, and did I say how much talent is here?! I’ve traveled all over for education and inspiration. I continue to explore what I don’t know: How can I do this differently? What are others getting inspired by? What do they see? Being curious and surrounding myself with people who want to learn and grow from others has got me where I am today.

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
You know- hairdressers are unique. We come from so many outside spaces. I’ve heard some people say ‘I quit my job at XYZ, and everything seemed to fall in place.’ I’ve seen many lose their jobs and small businesses through the pandemic. For myself there was a lot of Ups and downs and confusing signals from the universe. But one major challenge I face currently has been long running.

The beauty industry has obvious issues with eurocentric beauty standards. Body and beauty inclusion is definitely in a fight for its place. My entire career has been proving my skill isn’t tied to my appearance. It looks glamorous and can feel relaxing when you enter a salon/spa space. But it’s not always that way. What the customer doesn’t know about, is the abuse stylists endure.

The issues range from dress codes that require back-breaking labor in heels for 12 hours. To copyright contracts that take away your right to images that you either helped design or altogether curated. I’ve had to work with products that make me ill, and even face no payment for hoursss at work due to zero cancelation policy. This is why I think we’ve seen a surge in studios, like Salon Lofts in The Grove neighborhood. These spaces have also been a reprieve with COVID safety for stylists and clients who need/want to be more cautious.

The main issue I seem to be facing at this point in my career seems to be a popular one. I’m a working mom of two under the age of 6. This is still a male-led industry, with the majority of it made up of women. When I go to a class and hear the lead educator talk about unrealistic expectations to further my career and hear the sea of women in the audience sigh, it feels like such a setback in our lives. I’ve been on a mission to make a better balance for myself and others. I’ve met some other amazing women like the owner of The Hair Lab, Emily Struckhoff, who share a love for creative people’s success no matter their position outside of work.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I specialize in functional, low-maintenance hair design. Supporting hair in its own capacity, how it wants to work with, not against, design goals. I’m eager to work with people who want to know their bodies better and want to have cool hair. I like to share what I know- I’m very proud to have put myself in challenging positions. I hired and trained my first assistant stylist, Gwen, and wrote a curriculum for her. I’ve also been incredibly honored by other stylists and salons reaching out to me for guidance in their design paths and career goals.

A dream of mine is to do more live art and pop-ups alongside the art community here in Saint Louis. Knowing what you’re capable of as a person and selecting seasons to push those boundaries are important. I’d say what I’m known for is listening- some people aren’t ready to come out of their comfort zones but really want something interesting about their hair. Some people want a huge transformation. Others want to feel gender affirmation. Some don’t even know where to start with hair maintenance. This applies to stylists understanding who they are behind the chair and what they want from what they are doing.

I am known for swinging a razor. I’ve been asked why I cut hair with “a knife” before, and I’m not going to lie- that made me feel like such a badass. Straight razor cutting is a fun asset to my work. It’s a skill that continues to develop, and I just recently got back from a trip to San Francisco, where I worked exclusively on this form of cutting.

Saint Louis uniquely opened the door to opportunity for me. The racial divide here was apparent, and I saw a need for change in the industry. Salons are known for not being able to perform services on all types of hair. Or refusing clients altogether. I work hard to be inclusive, never turn anyone away, and know the basics. I’ve met and made friends with other stylists too- so if there is something I may not be able to do- I can refer them to someone who will knock their freaking socks off.

Sorry. That one was long winded!

What matters most to you?
In the service industry, losing sight of yourself and your needs is easy. I also can’t do this job long-term without a healthy body. I put together a ‘Self-Care’ class for The Hair Lab stylist team- we worked through Mental Burn Out, Body Care, and creative inspiration. I was surprised to realize just how neglectful I’d been to myself. I can’t offer much to others if I’m not offering myself anything. Continued work on myself is something that matters most to me.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
John Gramlich Photography McKenzie Jean Photography Abigail Munshaw Photography

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