Four and a half years ago, master hairstylist Susan Ford was one of ten winners in the first round of the Vidal Sassoon Advanced Scholarship. The expert panel of judges included Vidal’s son, Elan Sassoon of Sojourn; Wella Global Education Dean Stephen Moody; Sassoon International Creative Director Mark Hayes; founder Vivienne Mackinder; Educator of the Year award recipient (Australia) Tracey Hughes; and Mane Attraction salon owner Kendall Ong. They certainly saw something in Ms. Ford, and we are proud to count her amongst our alumni. Today she is Creative Director and Master Stylist at Asha SalonSpa in Chicago, and she also travels around the United States teaching advanced haircutting and hairstyling for Aveda. We were grateful that she took a few moments out of her busy schedule to answer a few of our questions.

BCL: In 2013 you were a recipient of the inaugural round of the Vidal Sassoon Advanced scholarships. How did winning the scholarship change your life and career?

SF: Winning this scholarship and spending a week at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica was an exciting time in my career. Not since the very beginning of my career have I been able to immerse myself in a full week of education, elevating my skills and working one-on-one with such talented Sassoon Educators. I took the Salon Creative Course at The Sassoon Academy and it was a great mixture of theory and hands-on. The location was perfect, right in the heart of Santa Monica, and a great learning environment. I could feel the creativity in the atmosphere.

BCL: You are an educator and you work behind the chair. How do you balance the two?

SF: I work two (long!) days behind the chair at Asha SalonSpa in Chicago as Creative Director and Master Stylist. On Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays you will find me at Aveda salons across the US, teaching advanced hair cutting and styling. Hair is my passion so it never really feels like “work.” I am always grateful that I chose a career I love as much today as I did 30 years ago. My “weekends” are Tuesday and Wednesday when I recharge and rejuvenate. Balance is important to avoid burn out or fatigue so I treat my days off as mini vacations.

BCL: What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?

SF: Twice in my career I moved to different countries and each time had the challenge of building up a new clientele from scratch. I worked extra hours and made myself available on odd days and hours to accommodate any new guests. I offered discounted haircuts for referrals, I aligned myself with coworkers in different departments and we crossed-referred guests for each other’s services. I went to department stores in the area and introduced myself to make up artists and offered the artists free haircuts in return for referrals. To date, that was my best marketing plan! It was hard work, but within 2 years, my books were full again.

BCL: What advice do you have for hairdressers who are just getting started in their career?

SF: Focus on the journey of your career. Be present and enjoy the excitement of discovery, improving, perfecting and experimenting. Take this as your motivation and it will always feed into your creativity.  Keep thinking about what you are learning along the way and what you can improve. Find mentors and learn as much as you can from them. Be kind, show gratitude, give back to your community, keep your mind open, stay humble…… and laugh often!

You can follow Susan on Instagram @susanfordhair