Looking around the bohemian chic and retro fittings of Edmonton’s Vanity Corner Hair Boutique, owner and stylist Erin Koslo is fully aware of how far she’s come. Seven years ago the idea of a career in hair had just come to Erin. Now she’s a successful business owner with a stunning salon whose biggest concern is finding new stylists to keep up with growing demand.
It’s been a journey that’s taken Erin from Edmonton to Toronto to Vancouver and back to Edmonton, all marked by a determination to succeed that began with the decision to attend Canada’s #1 Hair School.
“I grew up on an acreage 20 minutes south of Sherwood Park,” explains Erin. “When I was in high school I was the girl in the group who would experiment on her friends’ hair. I enjoyed doing it, but I never thought I would become a hair stylist. I left Alberta and lived with my Aunt in Toronto for four months. She works as an actress in the theatre and I got to see behind the scenes. The time and effort put in to the hair and makeup before each show was so interesting. That’s when I thought I might want to get involved in hair. I liked the excitement of it. I moved back to Edmonton and realized that if I was going to go to hair school, I wanted to go to the best of the best. I worked three jobs for eight months in Edmonton to save up for the move to Vancouver. I got accepted to Blanche Macdonald and went from there.”
Erin was used to hard work in Edmonton. Hair School wasn’t going to be any different.
“I guess I would consider myself a natural with hair,” she laughs. “There was a lot more bookwork than I expected though. Learning colour formulations and the reasoning behind them were difficult at first. I wasn't the greatest science student in high school, so it was rewarding to know that I could push myself harder and succeed. Once I really like something I practice it a lot, so when I started having clients in my chair I don’t remember being nervous. It felt natural.”
Looking back, Erin understands how her education provided an ideal springboard into the industry.
“The Pro Hair Program touched base on a lot of things. Since then I’ve met stylists who studied at other schools and I realized how much more you learn at Blanche Macdonald. For example, I can do so many different types of hair extensions. I learned that at Blanche Macdonald. I didn’t have to take an extra course. I was really happy with what I’d learned once I finished Hair School. I was ready to move on and watch myself succeed.”
Erin excelled on her four work placements, with all four salons offering her positions on their staff. She knew what kind of salon she was looking for, and explained to Program Director Phil Loiselle that she wanted to get on the floor and start cutting and colouring hair from day one.
“I wanted to be busy as soon as possible,” she continues. “I wanted to get good quick! Phil set up an interview at Hennessey salon in Park Royal in West Vancouver for me, and I got the job. They allowed me to be a stylist from the start. I knew I had practiced enough in school and I wanted to get better as a full-time stylist. It was a great spot for me to advance because they had so many walk-ins there. The people I worked with were amazing. I still keep in touch with almost all of them. We rocked that salon!”
After two years at Park Royal Erin realized that she was missing her family more and more. Hennessey has a branch in Edmonton, so she requested and received a transfer. A little more than nine months after Erin’s move back to Alberta a new arrival provided the catalyst for the decision to start a business of her own.
“I got pregnant not even a year after I’d returned to Edmonton. My boyfriend Jason is also a hair stylist and we thought it made sense for us to open a hair salon to do the best we could together for our daughter. In Hair School we’d made a portfolio of how we’d open a salon with a business plan, floor plan, budgeting plan, and so on. So when we started this process I went back and looked at my notes for references.
“We had to find a place first. Then we did mad renos. It was ridiculous. My daughter, Zoe, was six months old and my Mom had to watch her more often than not during the day for a few weeks. It was a really busy emotional time for me. If I ever open another salon I’ll give myself at least two months rather than three weeks to get ready. It was basically three weeks of not sleeping. The space wasn’t a salon before we opened. We needed to get an electrician, a carpenter, a plumber, a welder, and a group of friends and relatives. I changed my first toilet and hung imported Spanish wallpaper with my brother. That’s hard work!”
Equally important as creating the perfect space was deciding on Vanity Corner’s salon philosophy.
“Going into it we knew what we wanted it to look like in terms of colour and vintage pieces, although we didn’t talk that much about our salon concept. We just knew we wanted to have great stylists, reclaimed wood throughout the salon and awesome music at all times. We wanted to achieve a soulful boutique vibe. We knew we didn’t want to create a pretentious environment.”
Vanity Corner opened its doors over a year ago. Now it has four stylists (including Erin and Jason) and they’re looking for someone else to join the team.
“We’ve been busier than I expected,” smiles Erin. "It’s great, I get to make people look and feel good for a living! I like the creative aspect of styling, but I love the relationships I form with people even more. I have the greatest clients that have become such good friends. I hug almost all my clients at the end of their service.
“As the boss, I love being able to create a salon and the atmosphere how I feel it should be. For me the hardest part of this process was finding a happy medium when it came to speaking with my stylists, balancing professionalism and friendliness. And not taking too much of my work home with me. That’s my daughter’s time. I can look back at what I’ve done and feel proud. Before we opened we were on our knees scrubbing the floor, not knowing if we would make our deadline; now the salon is going great!”
As a successful hair professional and businesswoman, Erin insists that at the heart of her twin triumph is a desire to be the best stylist she can be.
“Practice makes perfect. And if you have a dream, never give up. When I came to hair school I knew I didn’t want to be a mediocre stylist. I was excited about working for someone to get to the next level. Blanche Macdonald, Hennessey Salon and Spa, and having my daughter were all steps in my life that helped get me to where I am today.”