Blanche Macdonald Centre News from Blanche Macdonald Centre HAUTE IN HONG KONG - BRIAN CHAN TAKES ON THE GOLDEN GLEAM OF LOUIS VUITTON, TIMES SQUARE! Top Fashion School Graduate Brian Chan

We are on opposite ends of our daylight. As the sun makes its morning spill into the streets of Vancouver, in Hong Kong it is already past one a.m. the next day. Despite the late hour, the voice coming through the speakers is bright – radiating energy. This doesn’t come as a surprise from Blanche Macdonald Fashion Merchandising graduate Brian Chan – after all, you would probably be chipper too if work meant spending your day in the smooth gloss of mega-luxury shop Louis Vuitton, in Hong Kong’s premiere Times Square shopping district.

“As a Visual-Merchandiser-In-Charge, I conceptualize the store, design the layout and arrange the presentation of the collections. It’s definitely fun but with great power, comes great responsibility,” says Chan, dropping his voice ominously before cracking into a laugh. “I take a big fashion risk every rotation. Sometimes they’re rewarding, and sometimes they’re not right-away, but they always teach me something!

“At Louis Vuitton, we do things a little bit differently; I hold many responsibilities within the store. I look at reports every day from all over Hong Kong and we compare the products or the product lines that are doing well, and those that are doing not-so-well at each location. For Visual Merchandising I lead a team of twelve people to do window and store rotations. We use my insights from the reports to decide on a merchandising plan.”

Top Fashion School Graduate Brian Chan

Such a position requires a deft maneuvering of a wide array of skill sets. The interplay of hands-on creativity and business is one that Brian thrives in as Visual Merchandiser In-Charge, Client Advisor, and In-Store Trainer at Vuitton, but there is a lot of hard work, as well as a diligent awareness to his everyday.

“Perspective varies with different people, and even if there’s a guideline for you to follow it will never work for every single store, in every single moment. You have to truly understand what or who you are dealing with in order to put something together that is an effective business driver. You have to be well-rounded. As a Client Advisor you learn quite a lot about the customers’ buying patterns. It definitely helps with making both business and visual decisions!”

The importance of versatility in the diverse industry-meets-artistry of Fashion was instilled in Brian at Canada’s Top Fashion School. It was a life-changing decision that came about through unusual beginnings.

Top Fashion School Graduate Brian Chan

“I thought that my parents would want me to study a science, so I just went for it. I chose Geology because of two big reasons: one, that it was the most non-scientific science and two, because it was the least math-involved,” laughs Brian.

“I knew that I wouldn’t be able to survive six months in the field when I graduated. Still, I stuck to the program and I finished the degree, but I knew that I needed to pursue something that I really liked afterwards. I watched a lot of Fashion Television growing up; mass media really opened up my eyes to something new that was going on in this world. At the time I had a part time position at a boutique, and one of my coworkers had gone to Blanche Macdonald. I looked into the Fashion Merchandising program and decided that that was what I needed to do.”

It was a big shift that would go on to bring big, thrilling changes for Brian. Seizing at every volunteer opportunity on offer while he was at school (“Working runways and events... there were so many things that I wouldn’t have been able to try had I not gone to Blanche!”) it was one internship in particular, secured through Fashion Career Director Mel Watts, that set the wheels turning on what would become an international luxury career – a coveted slot in the Menswear department of Holt Renfrew with Tom Ford.

Top Fashion School Graduate Brian Chan

Brian’s devotion and passion for the sales floor quickly led him to being hired on as a seasonal employee for Holt Renfrew’s Louis Vuitton nook, scaling the ladder to a full-time position within months. His new high calibre setting meant high calibre run-ins.

“Vancouver is Hollywood North and so we had lots of celebrities that would come in. I’ve helped one very undercover one. You won’t usually be able to tell who they are until they come up to pay – they’re very low key. We do have stories where we have had to shut down the store for them to shop, though. It does happen!”

In addition to providing ample opportunities for celebrity sightings, Vancouver’s luxury retail scene groomed him for the next leap of his career. Brian took initiative and asked for an international transfer; the Louis Vuitton team, recognizing his talents in Visual Merchandising, supported him all the way. Off he soared to China’s buzzing core.  

“You might think otherwise, but there is not a huge difference between Vancouver and Hong Kong in terms of customer. It’s intensified; let’s put it that way. In Hong Kong, like in Vancouver, we need to cater to a high percentage of overseas clientele. It means faster service, and attention to their specific needs. Though, Hong Kong’s out-of-town Chinese clients do prefer more flashy items; they want obvious Louis Vuitton rather than the subtle Vuitton of Vancouver.”

Top Fashion School Graduate Brian Chan

Beyond market profiling, Brian’s not much concerned with comparing the two cities; he is head over heels with where he is at, and infinitely grateful for the beginnings that brought him there.

“I am very blessed to have lots of friends and family around. I grew up in Hong Kong, so working here is like coming home. All the same, I still consider myself a Canadian!

“To this day, my Fashion History classes with Peggy and Donna are very valuable to me, and I really appreciate their teachings! Because of them, I know what La Belle Epoque is, I know what Art Deco is, I know about Art Nouveau. When I was training for the store I was able to use the correct terms, understand the concept, and bring in tear sheets for my team to be inspired by. Fashion is always taking inspiration from the eras before us; and this is especially true for Louis Vuitton.”

For anyone with monograms and dreams of lush window dressings twinkling in their eyes, Brian urges them to go for Fashion gold.

“Don’t be scared. It’s always hard to take that first step, especially when you know that that internship or volunteer opportunity isn’t necessarily going to pay you. However, it’s bringing you a lot of experience, exposure, and expertise. Try it, do it, and it will definitely be rewarding in the future. It really helps to have a good network - build it up with your volunteering, your classmates, your teachers. And don’t be a meanie. Be a good person.

“It takes a lot of work, but if you really love luxury brands and retail, then you can make it happen at Louis Vuitton!”

Top Fashion School Graduate Brian Chan

Top Fashion School Graduate Brian Chan Top 5

Tue, 24 Mar 2015 00:00:00 PST

The phone never stops ringing.

Every five minutes, without fail, Jesse Hamade’s in-store cellphone bleeps into life. That’s entirely normal for one of the three Cosmetics Sales Managers at the Vancouver branch of Holt Renfrew, Canada’s leading luxury department store. She’s in high demand.

The continual stream of questions and requests doesn’t faze Jesse in the slightest. An ability to deal calmly with the issues at hand comes with the territory.

“It’s chaos!” she laughs when we bring up the question of what a typical day at Holt Renfrew looks like. “This store has the highest volume of sales in Canada. We have 80 associates in our department and if I’m the only manager on duty it gets busy. My phone is always on and my team is always calling me for something. I’m dealing with vendors, buyers and our staff on any customer service or development issue. I never know what I’m walking into. It’s crazy but enjoyable. My day is never boring.”

Jesse is Holt Renfrew’s Cosmetics and Skincare department’s swan, gliding serenely on the surface but working hard underneath all the same. And a major part of that work is ensuring that Holt Renfrew’s many associates are as well-prepared and supported as possible. 

“To me luxury means that our associates come first,” she explains. “We don’t throw people on the floor without an extensive training program. We want to do everything we can to help our staff succeed. My door is always open. There’s a lot of mentorship that happens.”

Top Esthetics School Graduate Jesse Hamade

Jesse is happy to provide that mentorship, but it all starts with recruiting talented and enthusiastic makeup artists and skincare specialists. Which is why, when Jesse is looking for new recruits, her first port of call is the same Makeup and Esthetics School where her own story began.

“We want commitment, drive and a desire to give great customer service. We want people who’ll go above and beyond and get their clients to keep coming back. Blanche Macdonald gave me a great start to my career and there’s still a connection there. Their grads know how to sell themselves really well. When I call Jen Brown and Heather Sosa in the Blanche Macdonald Career Department I can tell that they care and really want their students to succeed. Not every school is like that.”

Jesse speaks from experience. The programs, instructors and even the location may have changed, but Blanche Macdonald’s educational standards remain as impeccable as they were when she was a student. 

Top Makeup School Graduate Jesse Hamade

“My Mom studied esthetics in Paris for a year. Once she told me about her experiences the bug had been planted. Through my teens I was always doing my friends’ makeup for graduations. I would tell people, ‘That doesn’t look good. You should try this.’

“Blanche Macdonald was known as the best School even back then. I arrived thinking of taking the Makeup program. But when I spoke with Robyne Nessel-Smoot she thought I’d benefit from the Esthetics program. She was right! It ended up being more of a passion for me than makeup. The skincare portion of the program was like the first year of nursing. That was my favourite part of the program. I was learning about all the systems of the body. It was more than learning about just putting on makeup or skincare products. There’s a science behind skincare.”

Top Esthetics School Graduate Jesse Hamade

Esthetics School gave Jesse more than an education. It also provided the springboard for her entry into the industry she was passionate about.

“When I was still a student I did a facial on a woman called Peggy Sinclair who had come in on a friends and family day. She said to me, ‘When you graduate call me and I’ll get you a job.’ And she did! My first job was doing facials for her at The Bay Downtown. Strangely enough, now Peggy works here!

“Once I started working I loved the one-on-one intimacy between myself and the client. I realised that I was good at it too. I would get great feedback from clients and could see how happy they were. I would educate myself on the products’ ingredients, what each one could do for my individual clients, and how it would make them feel as they saw their skin improve. Changing the way a woman feels about herself, and knowing that you played a part in that, is huge.”

Top Esthetics School Graduate Jesse Hamade

Jesse loved the industry and the industry loved her right back. With her interpersonal and skincare skills paired with a flair for sales and marketing, Jesse was repeatedly recruited to exciting management roles, stopping at Adrien Arpel, Clarins, Elizabeth Arden and Chanel at Eatons where she stayed for five years, eventually rising to the position of Business Development Manager overseeing the entire cosmetics floor. When Eatons closed its doors the industry wasn’t going to let her talents go to waste. Jesse was immediately recruited for the same position at Sears.

“I loved it. I was in my 20s and had 80 associates working for me, many of whom were older than me. I had to prove myself, but I could always generate the dollars. I could always come up with events that would help drive business. I wasn’t sitting in an office then and I’m still not. Even now as a Sales Manager, I don’t have to sell to clients but I always do. That doesn’t change.”

Top Esthetics School Graduate Jesse Hamade

Always eager to take on new challenges, Jesse took a lengthy break from the beauty industry to sample working life in another field she’s passionate about – fashion. After many successful years across Eastern Canada with Louis Vuitton, Le Chateau and BCBG, Holt Renfrew in Ottawa came knocking on her door. Now Jesse’s back in Vancouver, bringing her mix of motivation and marketing to one of the city’s most luxurious cosmetics departments.

“I’m still fascinated with coming up with marketing plans and how I can help get the associates to the next level. There’s an art to selling and an art to repeat business. Associates have to understand that this is a business and it’s not just about putting makeup and skincare on people. You need to build a loyal client base. You have to be passionate about what you do.

“This has never been a job for me. It’s a career! There is opportunity to grow. I love showing the team that if they put in the hard work they’ll get the rewards. They understand that I started at the beginning and eventually became a manager. They know they can do the same!”

Top Esthetics School Graduate Jesse Hamade Top 5 Products

Learn more about Blanche Macdonald's Esthetics Program!

Mon, 16 Mar 2015 00:00:00 PST

For Blanche Macdonald Makeup graduate Sharon Rai, every day is a labour of love. The lavish ado of marriage was once youth’s sweetest daydream; now, that daydream has grown into the swoon-inducing reality of her workaday, as Canada’s premier bridal Makeup and Hair Artist.

“I have been mesmerized with brides since I was a little girl,” Sharon enthuses. “To me they were as close as I could get to a princess. Now, I am honoured to be able to work with them, and to be included in the most special day of their lives. It’s been nine years since I worked on my first wedding and each one still has the same excitement for me – I still get those butterflies in my stomach!

The feelings are mutual. Brides are infatuated with the beauty mastery of Victoria-based Sharon Rai Hair & Makeup Artistry, which whorls through everything from blush-kissed natural, to the full-blown opulence of South Asian tradition. And this year, the wedding industry was ready to make their adoration for Sharon’s finesse known.  

“It was an amazing feeling to hear my name as the winner of Best Makeup Artist! Especially being mentioned in such an esteemed group. Even more amazing was hearing the excitement in the voice of the host when she read my name again for the Best Hairstylist in Canada award,” says Sharon, her smile beaming with the emotional vestige of her DOUBLE nationwide-win at the prestigious 2014 Canadian Wedding Industry Awards. “It was pretty cool!

“I’ve worked very hard this past year. 2014 brought new challenges, new opportunities, and I was able to find the balance of being a mother and being a business woman. That’s what made this such a great accomplishment: having a baby, being able spend time with her, and still working up to being one of the best artists in Canada. It was huge.”

Top Makeup School Graduate Sharon Rai

Sharon is nothing short of a multi tasking marvel. Between being BC’s most sought-after Bridal Hair and Makeup Artist, traveling to accept awards – an outstanding ten this year alone – as well as forging and heading Victoria’s first alliance of esteemed wedding businesses, Women of Weddings (WoW), this woman-wonder still (somehow) found the time to throw a lavish first-year fete for her petite treasure Naiva.

But busy is just the way she likes it.

“My parents are entrepreneurs, and I started working when I was nine years old. I loved it!”  

As she grew older, Sharon found that this same enterprising spirit was blooming within her. Having always had a love for makeup, but not yet knowing how to make a career out of it, she enrolled in business school in Vancouver. She flourished in the fast pace, but she couldn’t shake her artistic intuitions.

“I had this creative passion but I didn’t know how to release it. I had met my husband – then boyfriend – and I was telling him about my passion for beauty. And he said, ‘Well, you should go for it!’ I didn’t know where to start. I started research into many Makeup schools, but I recognized Blanche Macdonald as the one that would best prepare me for the career I envisioned. At that time I was working in business, and the schedule of the program really fit with my lifestyle. I contacted the school – after that first phone call I knew that it was exactly what I needed to do.

“What I loved about Blanche Macdonald was that the teachers were all living, breathing, and working in the industry. This was the most exciting thing for me because I was a sponge in school. I was the keener, always sitting in the front, all about learning. I was always asking questions, picking their brains, and not only did they have answers, but they could all relate to the industry at that moment.”

Top Makeup School Graduate Sharon Rai

Sharon’s openness to the teachings of her instructors, and the ‘real-world, real-time’ experience that they could impart meant that she was one step ahead of other emerging artists upon leaving the creative cocoon of Canada’s Top Makeup School. And having the Blanche Macdonald Centre seal on her resume only fortified her foothold in the industry.

I had instant credibility. The challenge that I find most artists face is in just convincing people to believe in them as artists. I had a head start because I was a Blanche Macdonald graduate. From there I only had to focus on working hard and proving myself to be the best.”

Proving herself after school meant maintaining the will to continue learning – and a lot of hard work.

“I volunteered with Make Up For Ever, Nars, Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier, Shiseido, Clarins and Stila; at Holt Renfrew, The Bay, Sears and Shoppers Drug Mart. And worked retail at MAC. I also did a lot of assisting with Makeup Artists, Photographers, Hairstylists and Stylists for fashion shows and photo shoots, which were all trade-for-print!

“I would get paid nothing and still I would stay the entire day at shoots making sure the hair and makeup was perfect. And I did that again and again so that I could build my name. I wanted the practice – I would do anything to improve my skills. I kept working with dedication and a commitment to my passion. Now I’m making a career out of it, and loving every single day.”

Top Makeup School Graduate Sharon Rai

Practice makes a tenured artist, and Sharon’s indomitable will for mastering her craft led her to be accepted onto MAC Cosmetics’ illustrious Impact Team – also known as the ‘best of the best of BC’ – placing her in a leadership role educating and training her fellow artists, as well as teaching consumers about product and makeup styles.

Yet even this grand and alluring position could not keep Sharon away from her first beauty love. The beckons of bridal were too sweet to bear, and Sharon Rai Hair & Makeup Artistry was born.

“We like to think of ourselves as the Bride’s Backup Bridal Party because we do everything! Our top priority is to make sure that our brides can enjoy their day in a relaxed, stress-free environment while we take care of every beauty detail. Though, there have been times when the bride has fainted, and we’ve been the ones running to grab her water and take care of it all,” says Sharon. “I always tell our brides that they have an everlasting touch-up. They don’t even have to worry about looking in the mirror. The photographer is always seeing the big picture; that everyone is standing correctly, that the composure is right. We are the real life Photoshop; we’re zooming in to check for flyaways, un-fluffed dress skirts...anything at all out of place.

“When they book with me they have me from ‘I will’ to ‘I do,’ and I am their pampering, makeup, hair and styling service for any event leading up to, and including the wedding day. I really like to make that connection with them. Most brides become great friends of mine afterwards  because they are welcoming me in to such a special day in their lives.”

Top Makeup School Graduate Sharon Rai

Sharon and her team specialize in both Western and South Asian weddings. For her South Asian brides, it’s not only about the beauty experience, but about the care, attention and honour placed on the rich traditional intricacies of a culture-centric wedding.

“Born into a Sikh family, I can truly relate and understand. In addition to training my team for hair and makeup, I teach them what I learned growing up, and through my more recent experiences with South Asian weddings, such as detailed dressing techniques and beauty rituals. I’m not only fostering my team to be the best in beauty, but to appreciate what matters to each of our brides specifically. It’s about connecting with each of them as individuals to learn about their personal cultural and family traditions.”

Many of the artists in Sharon’s ever-expanding, and carefully curated team are scouted from the classrooms that first knocked Sharon off her feet and set her on her own path to success. She knows that the graduates of Blanche Macdonald are “at that standard” – that they’re ready to be tossed into the variable and demanding world of weddings.    

“Living in Victoria, you never know when you might get a warm day in January, or a rainy day in July. You can never know for sure what’s going to happen, but we make sure that no matter what, they are looking and feeling their best.

Top Makeup School Graduate Sharon Rai

This is no easy task. When you’re working with an environment buffeted by high emotions and rife with unpredictable moments, there are simply too many eventualities to be prepared for. In her seventh year since she founded her company, Sharon has more than a few of these contingencies-turned-realities under her belt, including one particularly sweltering exotic destination wedding in the Dominican Republic.

“I had never worked with that sort of heat before. The bride had booked me for the days leading up to the wedding, and so each day I would practice makeup on myself to see what would work; what would withhold that heat. By the time the wedding came around, everyone was sweating bullets and she looked AMAZING! She didn’t break a sweat. She looked radiant in all of her shots.

“Now I can say with confidence that my makeup will last through anything – though any surge of emotion or weather. It’s one thing to see the before and after, but as an artist, being able to see it live through different happenings and moments allows you to become stronger in your craft. You can constantly be striving to improve your skills.”

The brides of the West Coast certainly need no more convincing when it comes to Sharon Rai – her passion is contagious, her portfolio brimming over in glowing faces and heartfelt testimonials. Having now been titled the Best of the Best in Canada for Bridal Hair and Makeup, you may be surprised to hear that learning is still high on her list of priorities. Then again, it’s learning that’s brought her to the thrilling pinnacle she currently holds.  

“I still educate myself and hold education high: as a master artist, as a business owner, as a leader and as a mother. It’s always good to keep learning, to inspire others. My advice for any aspiring artist is to work hard, set goals for yourself, practice, listen, learn as much as you can, and you will master your skill.

Top Makeup School Graduate Sharon Rai



Sharon Rai's Top 5

Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:00:00 PST

The rain has only just been soaked back up into the sky and a crisp beam of winter sunlight rays down on the shop front of Vancouver’s Greenhorn Cafe. Blanche Macdonald Fashion Design graduate and owner of self-titled label Sara Armstrong ambles up, folded in to the dark cocoon of her coat, and we pause together to marvel at the timeful turn. As we upright a couple of chairs outside, brushing off a few straggling drops, the magnificent line and craftsmanship of her jacket are addressed.

“I finished it just now actually. I had been feeling a cape, but I think I might stick with this,” shrugs Sara humbly, her shoulders framed in angled raglan seams, sloping and structured all at once.

“My style is a really strange combination of fashion and sculpture,” she muses slowly, thinking fully – everything with a dream-paced purposefulness. “Though I actually feel that the combination should be more common. It’s transforming anything from a two-dimensional to three-dimensional form, and I reference this a lot in my architectural seams. My background in sculpture has been helpful also in being a bit more fearless in materials.”

Sara refers to her BFA in Intermedia & Sculpture from her hometown University of Regina, where her foray into the world of art-as-career first began. Though she ultimately decided that sculpture was not the medium for her, it built the foundation from which her dynamically arching lines and intriguingly formulated silhouettes – which have garnered her international acclaim – have been wrought.  

“When I was doing my degree, I was focusing mainly in public sculpture. I thought, ‘Well, what do you do – work on one project for five years? How do you stay inspired in that?’ Fashion design is my own kind of public sculpture I suppose. Everyone can take a piece, and what I want people to do is to make their own stories and life around them. I don’t think of them as these trendy one season pieces. I want the people who own them to incorporate them into their lives.”

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

In her third season with her eponymous label, Sara’s impeccable craftsmanship and heritage-minded design stalked down the Vancouver Fashion Week runway to grand success. Reaching a new culmination of hype in the fashion community, eager requests for pre-orders and editorial pulls rained down on her like confetti after the show. Not to mention that it was picked up by, and featured on a global scale by Vogue and Glamour UK, as well as Elle Italia.

“[Vancouver Fashion Week Founder] Jamal and his team are amazing. He’s such a good mentor; he really builds you up, and it’s a great network of people. I’ve done Saskatchewan Fashion Week, and it’s so city identified. What I love about Vancouver Fashion Week is that it’s international. There are people from all over the place which is really cool.”

Inspired by ‘Peruvian nights,’ Sara’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection saw romantic, gender inclusive looks with compelling proportion and a structured ease that fused urban design with the effortlessness of dusk backcountry strolls.

“Silhouette, shape and form always come first when I’m thinking of a theme. Then I think of what it sounds like or what kind of scene would this be in. From there it runs into runway, music, video. All of those things paired together makes a collection. I can’t say that I’d be interested in showing a collection if I didn’t have all of those things because that’s what brings it to life. It’s completely holistic.”

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

Bringing a vision to mind, to harmonious matter each season is no easy feat and Sara insists that it couldn’t be done alone.

“Your team is everything really. A good leader, a good brand has great people behind it. Delegation is huge because as someone who’s designing and working full time, and trying to build a type of brand, you can’t do it all on your own.

“You need people with the right skills who are just as passionate. This is especially true now, the further I go with my collections, photo shoots and videos. Even my music last season was completely made from scratch by my friend, Branton Olfert. It’s the only way to really take your thing to the next level  you need next level people.”

When it came to choosing her people, Sara knew where to turn, taking on two PR mavens, Tara Osipoff and Albian Kwok, straight out of the Blanche Macdonald Fashion Merchandising classrooms. She knew that she could be confident in their knowledge and skills, coming from the Top Fashion school that first launched her own journey.

“When I moved to Vancouver from Regina I had maybe $200 saved which was not practical,” laughs Sara. “My Aunt, who is practical told me, ‘You need to look into schools.’ I had some friends who had been to Blanche Macdonald and so I enrolled. It’s been one of the better experiences that I’ve had in Vancouver for sure. It’s a community, which is something you need when you move to a new place.

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

“It was a year, but I feel like I’m still in the program because I still talk to [Fashion Career Director] Mel Watts, and so many of my friends that I met in school are still friends. Sewing classes were always fun  Lisa’s a riot! I’m such a history buff and so the fashion history that we learned in Peggy Morrison’s Fashion Awareness class is still something that I think about a lot when I’m designing – when I want to pair a sleeve, thinking about how they might have done it in the 1940’s or some Gothic era. There’s so much that I learned over the year and I literally use it every day; even when I’m doing press releases, or writing out the description of what a piece is.”

Though Sara’s design focus may lie with a home-grown aesthetic, the extravagant and fast-paced arena of social media and web marketing is not one that she shies away from. Cultivating an online presence with her seasonal collection videos, regular updates on her Instagram page, and a soon-to-be-launched web shop are all things that Sara has on her mind in the now, and looking ahead.  

“I know that my audience might not be 100 percent Vancouver. Maybe the people that I’m trying to reach are nomads; maybe they’re people who could live anywhere and wear anything they want. I think that it’s important that my target is able to access that wherever they are, whether they’re in Beijing or Stockholm. It’s a good way to start because that’s ultimately what I want to do, is wholesale internationally. So I love branding, and I love my Instagram – I’m out of control on that!”

All the same, at the end of the day it’s the intimate and immersive practice of hands-on-fabric that has Sara enamored with her career.

“I feel like I have an ‘aha-moment’ every day – I just have to do it. It’s an inclination to design and create.”

It’s an inclination, but it’s not all ease and affinity; Sara knows that in the cutthroat world of Fashion, talent is only as good as how far you push it.

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

“Every season we learn something new, and every season we have higher expectations for the next season. There’s always an ebb and flow and there’s always a chance to learn. Design can’t be everything if you want to have a business – it has to be well-rounded, and it has to be promoted. That’s real life. Moving forward, outside of the actual design, something I could be better at is selling.”

Sara is being modest. With international acclaim and a strong local support so early in the game, Sara’s line is set to flourish in the years to come – and we’re eager to watch. Reflecting on her success so far, she has apt words of acumen for the next generation of emerging Fashion Design talent.

“Own your craft. Own your future. Make your own curriculum. Go to your classes, do well in your classes but also look outside in your community; what workshops can you take, what can you do to be the best version of yourself? That’s what I did when I went to school – I really dove in and that year was committed to learning what I wanted to learn.

“That’s the biggest thing; you can go to the best school but if you don’t have a vision of what you want to make, of who you are then it doesn’t really matter. So own it.”

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

Sara Armstrong, indiegogo campaign

Tue, 24 Feb 2015 00:00:00 PST

The critics have spoken. When Condo/Western Living magazine ran its “Where to get a real haircut in Vancouver” feature, Ka!Boom was listed as the best salon in the Coal Harbour neighbourhood, with a specific shout out to a certain Blanche Macdonald Pro Hair graduate.

“‘Ashley works miracles’ was what they wrote!” she smiles. “I got so many new clients from that story. The weird thing is, I don’t know how it happened and I never found out who wrote it. I had my suspicions that it was a client but she denied it. So it’s still a mystery!”

It’s no mystery why that secret admirer is singing Ashley’s praises. It’s the same reason why her chair at Ka!Boom is continually filled with clients looking for the latest style and why pro hair line Moroccanoil has recruited her to educate other stylists across Vancouver; Ashley loves what she does. Growing up in Kamloops, BC, a life as a top hair stylist in the big city was always her ultimate goal.

“I was braiding my Barbie dolls’ hair and experimenting on my younger sister from the time I was five. The first haircuts I gave happened in Grade 5 at a sleepover party. I announced, ‘I can cut hair,’ and went at all my friends with a pair of scissors. We all ended up going to hairdressers afterwards, but some of those hairdressers said, ‘You know, she didn’t do that bad a job!’”

Top Hair School Graduate Ashley Budden

Ashley was sharing opinions about her and her friends’ appearance before she’d even started high school. The essence of a hair stylist was already within her. 

“When I was about 12 I was watching a lot of MTV and Much Music. I became inspired by the fashion I was seeing. I could tell when people had outdated styles. It bothered me. ‘You have to get your Mom to stop feathering your bangs! You can’t walk around like this!’”

Ashley graduated and put her plan into action. She moved to Vancouver and enrolled in her first choice Hair School.  

“I wanted live in the city and make people happy. The way to do that was to go to the best school. That was Blanche Macdonald.”

As soon as Ashley reached the School Salon, she started making people happy. Once she’d overcome her own nerves.

“Seeing my first client was terrifying!” she laughs. “But our instructors were by my side the entire time and I could ask if I was nervous about anything. You can panic when you first start cutting on real people because you don’t want to mess it up. But at the same time it’s so exciting. You get to change people’s looks. I was able to experiment and make big changes in the Blanche Macdonald Salon. Clients tended to be young people and when I’d make a suggestion for a big change they’d often say, ‘Sure! Be creative!’

“Blanche Macdonald educates you on so many different things. We were taught how to interact with people too. The etiquette training we did made us feel more confident to approach people in a professional manner.”

Top Hair School Graduate Ashley Budden

Ashley graduated from Hair School and went straight to her first job at the Hennessey Salon in Oakridge Mall. After a year she moved to Whip, a concept salon in Yaletown. It was there Ashley made the connections that allowed her to put what she’d learned on the Hair for Film and TV modules into action. 

“I was working with a hair stylist who had worked on The Vicki Gabereau Show and was close friends with one of the Makeup Artists at CTV, Rebecca Simmons. Rebecca needed stylists for the morning show during the Vancouver Olympics. I had an interview at CTV, which was challenging as they gave me a newscaster to blow dry as fast as I could. I remember thinking, ‘You’ve got this – don’t mess it up!’ They liked me and gave me a contract for the whole Games. 

“I worked 1am to 9am every morning during the Olympics. We were on air from 3am, because we were broadcasting across the entire country. I was a big MTV fan and used to watch The Hills, so it was exciting for me to meet and style the talent that I once looked up to. I built a rapport with them, which was cool. There were random celebrities and medallists coming and going the entire time, which was really exciting. But I also missed being constantly busy like I would be in the salon.”

Top Hair School Graduate Ashley Budden

Ashley had decided on exactly what she wanted from her hair career. She just needed the right salon to make it happen. 

“Because we were committed to one line of products at Whip I felt limited with what I could use with my clients. I wanted to express my creativity and wear what I wanted to wear. That’s the best part of being a stylist. You get to be who you are, and people come to see you because of that.”

The salon she was searching for was Ka!Boom. She’s been a star member of the team ever since.

“It felt like home from the start. We’re a bunch of friends who work together. We try to keep up on cutting edge fashion. And we like to experiment. I love to make someone’s day or give them a change that they never knew they had in them. I understand that certain things work or won’t work for people. Or at least, something else would suit them better. People put a lot of trust in me. It’s a big thing for someone to give me the reins to let me transform them. That’s an awesome privilege.” 

Top Hair School Graduate Ashley Budden

Clients instantly appreciated Ashley’s commitment to excellence. So did the industry.

“I’ve become an Educator for Moroccanoil! They approached me. My boss, Amy Stollmeyer, is one of the Moroccanoil educators for North America. We had a class at Ka!Boom and Amy was showing us old Hollywood glam looks and I was super enthusiastic because I do a lot of weddings. So she and our modern rep put my name forward to be an educator in Vancouver. Now I’m going to salons around the city teaching product knowledge and styling a couple of times a month. It’s fun to teach people and see them learn new things.”

At the root of Ashley’s successes are a desire to help people feel good about themselves and a passion for creativity. That tattoo you see on her arm is there for a reason. 

“My tattoo reminds me to be innovative and never fall behind. I’m always educating myself and learning new skills. I’m never going to become a cookie cutter stylist. This job is about expressing your creativity. People think being a hair stylist is easy. It’s really not. Don’t give up and always follow your dream!”

Ashley Budden's Top 5 Hair Products

Thu, 19 Feb 2015 00:00:00 PST