The Progressive Hairstylist: Interview with Kahlae Clifford

Part 2 in our series on the future of hairstyling.

Yorkville hair salon owner Kahlae Clifford talks about styling all textures of hair.

Kahlae Clifford and one of her clients at her Yorkville hair salon, Studio 86.

Last week, we talked about racism in hairstyling, and whether or not the focus should shift from hairstyling for different races to hairstyling for different hair textures and removing race from the conversation altogether.

This week, we’re talking to Studio 86’s head stylist and owner, Kahlae Clifford, about her experiences studying hairstyling, learning how to style different hair textures, and catering to a diverse clientele at her progressive Yorkville hair salon.

What made you want to become a hairstylist?

When I was growing up, being in a salon was always fascinating to me. After high school, I didn’t know which direction to go, so I decided to take a cosmetology course. Ten years later, here I am!

What was hair school like? What did you like about it?

I went to a small, family-owned cosmetology school. They had about 30 students, which was good because I got a lot of one-on-one attention from the director. That was one thing I found very important.

What made you decide to learn how to style textured hair after school?

After cosmetology school, I worked in a salon/spa for about two years. It was a very small work environment and I didn’t have a lot of stylists around me to learn from. I knew I needed more, and to me, Hamilton didn’t have much to offer. I moved to Toronto with a girlfriend of mine and my first salon job was at Scarborough Town Centre.

Moving to the city and working in a much bigger salon made me realize hair styling is all about texture, and if you don’t master it, your future is limited. I knew if I wanted to make it in the city, this was something I needed to learn and cater to.

Why do you think textured hair wasn’t covered in school?

To be honest, I don’t know the answer to this question. But moving forward in the world of hairstyling education, this is a must. It’s more important for stylists to learn how to style different hair textures than to focus on just one.

What kind of challenges have you experienced as a stylist who can work with all kinds of hair textures? 

I have to say my experience has been pretty good. I was hired at a downtown Toronto salon, which is where I expanded my knowledge in textured hair. I had a few mixed feelings about working there. Some of the staff were okay that I was a ‘white’ girl working in a ‘black’ salon, and some weren’t. I figured that was part of life, and unfortunately I was being discriminated against, but I reminded myself that I was there to learn and do my job, which is what I continued to do. Four and a half years later, I was hired at another salon where nobody had the skills I did. Everyone thought it was pretty amazing that I had built a clientele of all races and hair textures.

I do remember one client in particular who was new to the salon and didn’t know who I was. When she was put in my chair and I was consulting with her, she looked at me and said, “Who is doing my hair?” I responded and told her I was going to provide her service for her and she said, “I want a black stylist!”. I suspected that this might happen–that some people might not accept someone of another race doing their hair. I didn’t take offense; I just passed her on to the kind of stylist she was looking for.

What would you say to someone with textured hair who is nervous about sitting in your chair?

It’s been a while since I have had a nervous new client. Studio 86 has a pretty strong online presence and most new clients have done their research and know they are in good hands.

Thanks Kahlae!


Readers: what do you think about this topic? Should hairstylists be educated on all kinds of hair textures? Is it okay for someone to reject a stylist because of his or her race? Let us know what you think! Join the discussion over on our Facebook Page or comment below.


2 Responses to “The Progressive Hairstylist: Interview with Kahlae Clifford”

  1. Kahlae does excellent work based on her knowledge of hair – the color of the skin that hair belongs to is not important. Do you only let German mechanics work on your BMW? Would you eat Chinese food if it was made by Japanese cooks?


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