A brush with the late, great fashion icon Alexander McQueen made hairdresser Sara-Jane Lilwall realise she wanted business success not fame.
And she has succeeded, having just opened her third Blow Dry Express in Canary Wharf, aged 29.
It offers woman-on-the-go styling in under 30 minutes from 7am to 7pm and promises it will keep them looking seek and polished for three days.
“I love Canary Wharf. It is like a planet of beautiful, smart business people. There is nowhere like it,” said Sarah-Jane.
“On the tube in the mornings I’m very aware that everyone has really long, shiny, thick, clean hair.
“So kudos to the girls of Canary Wharf who are getting here so early and look incredible.”
Born and raised in rural Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire she first picked up her styling scissors as a teenager.
“My mum will tell you that she coaxed me into hairdressing by tooth and nail,” said Sarah-Jane who’s first job was with Toni And Guy.
“I didn’t like school but when I found hairdressing that changed because I was good at it.”
Her drive and vision was cemented a few years later - when her dream was to be a star of the fashion world.
After landing a job for fashion designer McQueen at Manchester Fashion Week she thought it was coming true.
“I was assisting on his fashion show,” said Sarah- Jane who now lives in Wapping.
“He shimmied past really fast and I thought it was the most amazing moment of my life.”
But instead of boosting her expectations the experience gave her heavy dose of reality.
“Afterwards I realised it wasn’t that nice and there was no money in it and that I would always be fighting for every job and getting paid nothing and talked to like crap.
“It as a wake-up call that the fame most girls want at that age wasn’t for me.”
She took the plunge and moved to London in her early 20s and started working for Headmasters, within months landing a fully-funded place on management degree course.
A role as their youngest manager, aged 23, followed and she worked 12-hour days, impressing her bosses with her attention to detail and willingness to do cleaning jobs normally reserved for trainees.
“I have not come from riches but I have got what I wanted because I have always cared about what I have done.
“My salon went from £100,000 loss to £100,000 profit within a year,” said Sarah-Jane.
Hard-nosed business decision such as sacking staff and not tolerating lateness did not make her popular with everyone but the young entrepreneur said she learnt valuable business lessons along the way.
She began doing pop-ups in Spitalfields and opened the first Blow Dry Express in Liverpool Street two years ago using her own savings and investment from a client. Aldgate followed in 2016.
But with the Canary Wharf salon Sarah-Jane said she felt like she has finally made it.
“It is the first time it hasn’t feel like a dream.
“I really feel like a businesswoman now.”
Her building blocks for the business are fair pricing and a streamline, easy and quick booking system where clients can see how much each time slot costs.
Customers automatically get a free treatment on their second visit and a free blow dry after spending £300- which is usually after 10 visits.
“I have used what I have learnt over the years,” said Sarah-Jane, “and I’m not expensive because I’m no frills.
“It is high quality but and you shouldn’t feel intimidated coming here.
“My girls are beautiful but very friendly and the prices are as honest as they can be.
“I don’t think I’m bigger than what I am doing.
“The industry goes wrong when people get greedy and think their name is more important than the client. Or if they are a success they can put their prices up.”
Her confidence comes from having interviewed about 1,000 people to find the 15 staff in her three salons and she said: “They are the best in London.
“I don’t want my brand and the quality we offer to ever get diluted.”
The correct products and not too much heat are key to a good blow dry said the hairdresser who stocks her salon with Redken and L’oreal.
Silk pillow cases and regular treatments will help maintain healthy locks but the most important actor in making a style last is the client- who she said in Canary Wharf favour straight hair with bounce.
“If you know your hair is thin and usually lifeless then wash it before you come in and we will just use a heated tool.
“If you know it gets greasy easily, tell us and we won’t use as much product.
“We are not magicians so letting us know what works for you and your hair will get you a better result.”
Readers of the The Wharf can get 20% off a blow dry until August 31 by quoting WHARF at the Canary Wharf salon.
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