Before Nicki Minaj’s first album went triple platinum, she waited tables at Red Lobster. Beyoncé Carter once famously swept hair in her mother’s salon before becoming Queen Bey. Trace back the meteoric arc of any star, and you’ll likely find a humble start. That’s what makes these 20 stylists so thrilling to watch. Nominated by a well-established peer and each boasting five or less years of professional experience, all are on the cusp of greatness. Meet the new mane artists shaking up our industry.
Salon: Amanda Lynn & Co., Davie, Florida
Why I became a stylist: I was so honored when a coworker asked me to do her wedding hair several years ago. My mom saw the results, and encouraged me to go to beauty school—proof that mother knows best.
Proudest accomplishment: Being recruited as a brand ambassador for Celeb Luxury. I thought it was a joke when I first saw their message! Two years later, I travel to shows, educate on stage and create content.
Styling specialty: Dry cutting.
Why she's a star: “Gabbi has created a brand for herself within our industry, and she squeezes every benefit from the opportunities that come her way. Her consultations are thorough, so clients always leave feeling ‘Gabulous.’” —Olivia Smalley @omgartistry, OMG Artistry, Davie, Florida
Salon: Be Scene Studios, Rockville, Maryland
My mentor: Linh Phan. I didn’t know what to do with my life after graduating college and met him just after realizing that hair is my passion. His unconventional approach to styling opened my eyes to the diverse possibilities of this world.
Styling specialty: Bobs, the number-one cut my clients request.
Fun fact that might surprise you: I never went to beauty school. I apprenticed and got my license by learning the hands-on, old-fashioned way.
Why she's a star: “From the start as my apprentice, Maayan has faced each challenge with a determined spirit that makes her stand out in our industry as one of the most respected talents I’ve had the honor to mentor. I now ask her questions on extensions.” —Linh Phan @bescene, Be Scene Studios, Rockville, Maryland
Salon: Parlour e.lev.en, Huntington Beach, California
Proudest accomplishment: Braiding martial artist Cris Cyborg’s hair before a fight. It was a major fangirl moment. Hardest part of being a new(ish) hairdresser: Perfecting all my techniques. You know how you have to master the rules before you can break them? I look forward to the days of breaking them. Fave trending technique: Intricate styles on complex fantasy colors. They show off so much hard work.
Why she's a star: “Jacey is our salon’s master braider, always crafting new looks. She’s a pursuer of continuous education, and was the first to volunteer when I recently needed a model for a big event.” —Franco Hernandez @hairbyfranco, Parlour e.lev.en, Huntington Beach, California
Salon: Loft No.5, St. Petersburg, Florida
I love what I do because: It allows me to connect with people in intimate ways, from donating haircuts to at-risk communities to styling models or exchanging tips and methodology with fellow stylists.
Fave trending technique: Shapes with grandeur; slick, sleek, volume without apologies; styles that embrace innovation and experimentation without being too pretty.
I find inspiration: In history, politics, painting, textiles, weaving, fashion, architecture, and even culinary arts.
Why she's a star: “Amanda’s work is reminiscent of legendary stylists, though she has only two years’ experience. Her portfolio displays incredible diversity while remaining cohesive. Some of us work for years to perfect our skills; others are born with that gift.” —Lynn Ouellette @theconfidentcolorist, Alchemy Day Spa, Sarasota, Florida
Salon: Karma Salon, Wellington, Kansas
Why I became a stylist: I struggled with depression and low self-esteem until I discovered that styling others was an excellent way to inspire myself. I’m passionate about making people feel beautiful and secure.
I love what I do because: I have the flexibility to control my schedule and the means to support my family. As a wife and mom to three girls, getting to manage both my personal and professional lives truly means having it all.
Hardest part of being a new(ish) hairdresser: Realizing that success takes time.
Why she's a star: “Newer stylists are sometimes heavy-handed with color, but Kalyna is a total pro at subtlety—both blending and using soft tones. She has special blonde-toning mastery—ashes, pearls, silvers—that I don’t often see in novice colorists.” —Ursula Goff @uggoff, Karma Salon, Wellington, Kansas
Salon: Be Scene Studios, Rockville, Maryland
My mentor: Philip Wolff is the Bruce Lee of hair. His cuts, styles and blowouts astound me, and I strive to be like him some day.
Hardest part of being a new(ish) hairdresser: Creating the perfect bob. Still working on it.
Fun fact that might surprise you: I used to be a government officer, until the man above made me realize there was something better waiting.
Why she's a star: “When Gabriel says he’ll do something, he does it. When he promises to be somewhere, he shows up early. Gabriel works on his days off, and is often last to leave the shop. If he hasn’t booked a client, he’ll go find someone on the street. The man is an all-around hustler.” —Philip Wolff @philipwolffhair, Salon Republic, Hollywood, California
Salon: Jacob K Hair, Atlanta
Fave trending technique: The ’70s French girl vibe: wing-y curtain styles with fringe.
Future game plan: Gain more success and confidence as an educator with my brand, KATEducation. Public speaking is intimidating, but the fulfillment I get from sharing knowledge and inspiring others far outweighs that fear.
I find inspiration: In anything that conjures feeling. My craft is a serious emotional outlet, and when I’m totally connected to my work everything else falls away.
Why she's a star: “Licensed only four years, Kate has amassed over 40,000 social media followers and is on her way to becoming a six-figure stylist booked by Cosmoprof for KATEducation, teaching classes across the country.” —Jacob Khan @jacobhkhan, Jacob K Hair, Roswell, Georgia
Salon: Independent stylist based in Los Angeles and Charlotte, North Carolina
Why I became a stylist: I’d buy box dye from the grocery store and sneak into my bathroom to emerge a different color every few months. My mom didn’t always approve, but that never stopped me.
Hardest part of being a new(ish) hairdresser: From ongoing education to traveling for hair shows to moving across the country, I’ve invested heavily in my career. But when you’re new, you’re not always taken seriously.
Future game plan: Open a salon where artists can come together to design and inspire.
Why she's a star: “It’s hard to stand out in an industry so filled with talent, especially as we’re easily exposed to great work on social media. It takes being fearless, unique and authentic—aka, Kelsey.” —Rebecca Taylor @rebeccataylorhair, salon suite in West Hollywood, California
Salon: Gina Bianca Hair, Plantsville, Connecticut
Styling specialty: I could highlight for days: foil work, platinum blondes, vivids, and color corrections.
Hardest part of being a new(ish) hairdresser: 2018 will wrap my first full year on the floor. Every day I learn something new—but also discover fresh challenges. Confidence is hard when starting out, yet also essential to feeling comfortable.
Fun fact that might surprise you: Before doing hair, I double-majored in mathematics and philosophy.
Why she's a star: “Megan takes excellent care of her guests and she shares tons of knowledge on social media in her breakdowns. She’s worth a follow and one to watch.” —Gina Bianca @the_hair_doctor, Gina Bianca Hair, Plantsville, Connecticut
Salon: House of Gold Salon, Netcong, New Jersey
Why I became a stylist: As a child, I played salon by cutting my American Girl dolls’ hair. I jumped into beauty after graduating college, and haven’t looked back.
Fave trending technique: Foilayage with a shadow root, because it’s best for max brightness yet also allows for softer grow-out.
Future game plan: Keep up with emerging trends, buy a house, start a family.
Why she's a star: “One of the kindest women you’ll meet, Marianne inspires with more than just hair—although her foilayage skills are incredible. Beautiful braids and blended blondes combined with her uplifting nature make her a true asset.” —Aly Davis @alydavishair, R Cribb the Salon, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Salon: RSalon PHX, Phoenix
Proudest accomplishment: The first time I got booked three weeks in advance.
Fave trending technique: Not everyone looks good as a level 12 ice blonde, so I’m loving that more warmth is being requested.
Future game plan: Help inspire colleagues to become creatives with integrity, and continue growing respect in our industry; no more hearing, “I’m just a stylist.”
Why she's a star: “Even while seeing clients, managing a salon of 53 people, and serving as our social media expert and education coordinator, Kenzie remains intentional about learning. She saves money to travel for cutting, color and extensions courses. She’s superwoman.” —Shannel Mariano @shannelmariano, RSalon PHX, Phoenix
Salon: REV Salon, Houston
Why I became a stylist: I was a makeup artist when I landed my first bridal job and became obsessed with upstyling. That led me to tour Paul Mitchell—and I was hooked.
Styling specialty: Full glamazon curls that are bouncy and teased. My mentor, Eric Vaughn, turned me into a voluminous-hair fan.
I love what I do because: I struggled with my own fine hair until tape-in extensions changed my world. I’ve had women come to me crying before later posting the wedding hair photos of their dreams.
Why she's a star: “Tiff does extreme transformations with extensions, and she’s great with bridal hair and makeup. As my first assistant, she left large shoes to fill.” —Eric Vaughn @realericvaughn, REV Salon, Houston
Salon: Larisa Love Salon, Studio City, California
Why I became a stylist: I was working toward a degree in English, but I didn’t want to become a teacher and knew I’d struggle to earn a living as a writer. I took a leap of faith by leaving college and moving to L.A. One day I walked past a Paul Mitchell school and had that “a-ha” moment.
Proudest accomplishment: Finishing cosmetology school at night while working full-time. It took two years and there were moments I wanted to quit, but I pushed through to the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
I find inspiration: In art, street style and fashion.
Why she's a star: “Hilary is a risk-taker who moved to L.A. without a job but with a dream for what she wanted. After she spent four months as a receptionist I hired her as my assistant, and now her work is burning up social media.” —Larisa Love @larisadoll, Larisa Love Salon, Studio City, California
Salon: Salt Hair, Cheshire, Connecticut
Styling specialty: Blunt, textured cuts. They’re modern and work on almost everyone. I also love balayage and foiling, melting and smudging—basically all 50 shades of blonde.
I love what I do because: I can change someone’s mood for the entire day with a single look in the mirror at the end of an appointment.
Hardest part of being a new(ish) hairdresser: Having an employer trust you with clients. Everyone has to start somewhere, but finding that somewhere can be tough.
Why she's a star: “Meg has truly got the hustle. She continually inspires her entire team, and she’s an amazing colorist who has found her love for blonding.” —Jamie Sea @prettylittleombre, Salt Hair, Cheshire, Connecticut
Salon: Radar Salon, San Diego
Why I became a stylist: My mom, aunt, stepsister, and cousins are all stylists, so it’s in my blood.
My mentor: Isaac Roberts is a hair machine who gave me all the tools I need to be successful. He helped me learn how to navigate Instagram, and the way he handles clients helped me through tough situations I didn’t yet know how to handle.
Future game plan: I wanted to be a teacher before I went to beauty school, so I’d like to start educating.
Why she's a star: “I have to routinely force Amber to take off days. She’s determined, honest, kind, humorous, and gentle. She grew from my assistant to my peer to my friend.” —Isaac Roberts @isaac4mayor, Radar Salon, San Diego
Salon: Muse Salon and Spa, Johns Creek, Georgia
Styling specialty: I have a way with curls due to a lifetime of experience taming my own waves. I like helping women embrace natural texture for styles that are both beautiful and manageable.
I love what I do because: The connection you create when someone sits in your chair is not simple; it’s deep and meaningful, authentic and real. And my colleagues are my family.
Hardest part of being a new(ish) hairdresser: Self-doubt. Fear of being too new can sometimes hold us back from taking risks.
Why she's a star: “Happy to come early, stay late and be here on days off, Kaycee’s work ethic is impeccable. She strives to be her best self—always head down in a book or taking classes. Clients are drawn to her.” —Daniel Mason-Jones @danielmasonjones, Muse Salon and Spa, Johns Creek, Georgia
Salon: The Mermaid SEAlon, Dallas
Styling specialty: Loose, romantic braids. I used to study photos to figure out how complex plaits were woven before crafting my own signature boho braid style.
Fave trending technique: Hair painting, because it’s so customizable. You can weave and paint, backcomb, brick-lay sections, take diagonals, paint-out hairlines—no two heads need ever look the same.
Hardest part of being a new(ish) hairdresser: Growing my brand and gaining clientele. Earning people’s trust takes time.
Why she's a star: “Cassy was in an ATV accident during beauty school, but though told she might be paralyzed, she recovered and returned to class in a neck and back brace to make up the lost hours—then graduated valedictorian. Her strength, passion and hunger are on a different level.” —Mickey Colòn @mickeycolonjr, On-Site Studio Hair Salon, Orlando, Florida
Salon: Salon Embellish, Phoenix
Proudest accomplishment: Mastering social media as a platform for sharing work. Having clients find me online and then seek me out in person is always a big deal.
Fave trending technique: Effortless, lived-in hair, and using balayage to create dimension.
Future game plan: Part of it involves doing hair for Fashion Week.
Why she's a star: “My last salon hired Sydney straight out of beauty school, and she soared from assistant to fully booked stylist in two years. Her customer-service skills are amazing, giving her their highest retention rate.” —Philip Ring @phildoeshair, Hairroin Salon, New York, New York
Sola Salon Studios, New York, New York
Styling specialty: I love to cut and style long, layered hair with loose curls. And I can give myself a pretty sick fade.
Fave trending technique: Backcomb balayage—I’ve manipulated it into my own style over the last four years.
Fun fact that might surprise you: Stay on the lookout for some hairdresser-related rap music!
Why she's a star: “Murat is one of the fresh balayage artists to watch. He works seven days a week, and he’s starting to teach his techniques across the country. His page is consistent—you can spot one of his photos from a mile away.” —Alfredo Lewis @alfredo_lewis, independent educator, Los Angeles
Salon: Nine Zero One, West Hollywood, California
Fave trending technique: “Dirty Brunette,” a color I recently created for Riawna Capri. Tones can range from honey to sand, but the key is to let brunettes feel natural without compromising their shades of brown.
Future game plan: I’d love to travel for clients and work with celebs on the regular; maybe get an agent and hair company sponsorship. I want to hit it out of the park!
Fun fact that might surprise you: I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I even have his lightning bolt and glasses tattooed in my lip.
Why she's a star: “Lauren’s kind energy first drew me in, but it’s her attention to detail and ability to create that continue to amaze. She’s an extremely talented out-of-the-box thinker.” —Nikki Lee @nikkilee901, Nine Zero One, West Hollywood, California
This story first appeared in the February issue of Beauty Launchpad magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
[Images: Courtesy of Artists]