David Stanko: Congratulations, this is your second North American Hairstylist of the Year award! Why don't we just start with - take me back to the moment they announced your name, what happened?
Allen Ruiz: It's a funny thing - I've done awards shows for the past five years. The first time I entered was in 2007 and that's the first time I won. So since then I've entered every year into different awards shows from Naha to Canadian Hair awards to International Stylist. So there's this point where I totally resolved to whatever happens, happens. When it happened it caught me totally by surprise. I went there with no expectations and left feeling incredible. And to be given the award by one of my biggest mentors, Antoinette Beenders that was even another highlight for the evening. So it was a double highlight. It was crazy.
DS: How do you feel differently now on a day-to-day basis? Is it always sort of running through your mind, this new accolade?
AR: You know, David, it hits me - it kind of comes in spurts. Like everybody else, we're just normal people. It's just, every once in a while, these spurts of energy hit you - I won that award again! It's always really exciting to draw from that. I think the first time I won it was such a fluke to me. A lot of people kept saying, "How does it feel to be a North American Hairstylist of the Year winner?" And I was like, "Honestly I can't even tell you because I've never done this before," so it was all new. So I think this second time around, having been five years since I won the first one, I know what it feels like to be a NAHA winner and I like it.
DS: So how has this affected your salon work? Do you try to integrate pieces of your collection into your daily clients or do you keep that separate and treated as a different sort of art form?
AR: That's a great question. There's a two-part answer to that for me. One is that I feel like there's sort of a bit more pressure for me trade-wise to perform. What comes with that title, I think there's a really high expectation. When I'm performing I want to not only hit that expectation - I want to exceed it… Whatever the expectation of what the North American Hairdresser should be. I feel like the same thing with the guest experience; when I'm working with a guest - whether it is a current guest or a new guest - there is that pressure to meet that expectation.
As far as collections, [whether] creating collections for NAHA or any collection, there is that part that feeds your heart and soul, and those are the things that sometimes you would like to do on clients. We have to inspire hairdressers, and in actuality you can't really do every single one of those looks on the clients. Part of it is you inspire the hairdressers who then take the influence of what you do and inspire the guest.
DS: It seems that the beauty industry moves so quickly. As soon as a company or one of the mentors in the business creates a collection, they're moving onto the next thing - that collection, or that look, or that spirit of hair work hasn't quite filtrated throughout the whole country. So I'm wondering, since you've won this award, if you'll take the next 6, 9, or 12 months using that as the backbone of your influence when you're out there on stage or in salons?
AR: I will. I'm presenting at Aveda Congress in Minneapolis on October 20, so I will use part of that in the hair show and add to it. So once we've done it, we can add the next elevation of that collection. We'll use little bits and pieces, and it's just sort of a springboard into what's next.
DS: We did a little research and we know that you were kind of bit quite early with the hairstylist bug. Sort of curious - what's your story? What turned you on to the industry initially?
AR: I feel like I've always dabbled in hair. I used to play with my sister, and she hated playing with [dolls] so I was like "I'll fix their hair." I kind of always grew up around doing things like that. I think I was twelve years old and I was watching a makeover show - I remember it as clear as it was yesterday. He took this one woman and he transformed her to this other woman - and I saw how happy she was and how great she looked - and I looked over at my dad and I said, "That's what I'm going to do." Ever since then, I think I never really looked back. I went to high school and sort of worked hard to make great grades and kind of dabble into this whole college entry thing. And my mom was like, "You know, college is going to be there - go do what you want to do." And I haven't looked back since.
DS: That's a great lead into the support structure - you mentioned your mother, your father, even your sister. I'm wondering what other mentors of the beauty business that you can cite.
AR: In addition to the Aveda Global Creative Director, Antoinette Beenders, who I mentioned previously, I have mentors that I know [personally], and mentors that don't even know I exist, thanks to social media. I love just the works of a lot of editorial hairdressers. There are photographers that inspire me. The big names like Luigi and Orlando Pita and Eugene Souleiman - there are tons of those guys who mentor me from afar. Then there are those people, like my sister, who's been there for a large part of my career. And then there are people who I work with who on an everyday basis - educators and people that I educate inspire me. As well as clients - I feel like clients are [some] of the biggest mentors to me because they're the ones who are actually wearing what we put on them. They're saying, "This is kind of what I was thinking" and in your head you go "This is what I was thinking" - so you put the ideas on top of each other. I think it's inspiring all over.
DS: I like what you said about having clients that are mentors. You know I worked behind the chair as well in New York, and sometimes clients wIll offer up a comment or they'll make up some sort of talk track and they don't even know how much they're influencing me or are changing my philosophy or opinion at the moment.
AR: So true.
DS: I think it's great when clients come in and say, "Let's just try this" or, "Cut here and cut here" - and suddenly you think, "Wow, this kind of evolved into something cool."
AR: It's so true! I love that.
DS: So in the beauty biz, what was your first real job?
AR: The first job I ever worked at was as an intern at a salon - the salon I actually toured when I was in beauty school. It was the only salon I ever got a tour of, and I walked in those doors and I was like, "This is where I'm going to work." It was this huge, three-story old home and it had been remodeled and turned into a salon and spa. [It was] an Aveda Lifestyle Salon at the time, the first of it's kind. I thought, "This is really great." Then, when I started working there, the business owners really taught me the balance of a hairdresser owning a salon. You have to be creative, but you have to be smart. So during my career, they really were my biggest influences, Beverly Cox Miller and Dwayne Miller, who owned the salon 22 years ago. They just were always [talking] about using the right side of the brain and then the left side - there's creative and there's business. To this day, I still feel like there's a pendulum between in my career- the more creative I get, the more I dive deeper into my business; the more I dive into my business, the more creative I feel I need to be.
DS: I think that's a really wise statement. I think a lot of the folks reading this will appreciate that balance. I'd like to kind of take you to Aveda for a moment. What is your role with Aveda, the company, right now?
AR: I am the Aveda Global Artistic Director for Hair Styling.
DS: For everyone reading this, what would that mean?
AR: It's constantly evolving and changing. [We have] a team of four others [with] our own domains: I'm the Artistic Director for Hair Styling, then there's Makeup, Hair Color, Hair Cut and Textured Hair. And then our Global Creative Director, Antoinette Beenders, gives us the creative vision.
We create two collections a year for Aveda and then we teach them to our Purefessionals and global educators, and they take it out to the network. I also work with the team to create styling curriculum, from beginning hairdressing and hair styling, to more advanced runway stuff - how to create shoots, how to train your staff, to creating a training program for styling and shows and events for Aveda.
DS: So let me circle back a little bit. As far as the curriculum, you mentioned that you developed, where does that get implemented?
AR: We offer classes at Aveda Academies and then we offer salon classes. I teach it to the global educators and then we offer it in the different markets and networks throughout the world. Just like haircutting and coloring can be systematic, styling can be systematic as well. There are fundamental starting points, building all the way up to runway work or editorial work. Another part of my job is getting to do editorial work and working with Aveda campaigns.
DS: That's exciting. Would you agree or not agree with saying that you're sort of the "it" styling guy for Aveda?
AR: I would probably - you know, based on my title, I would say [I'm] the "it" styling guy. It does take a team, though, to create what you do. I'm so fortunate to work with an amazing team of hairdressers, colorists and makeup artists that make what I do look easy and great.
DS: So what's the creative process would you say? Do you all get together to brainstorm what the collection is or going to be? Does everyone have input in that process?
AR: Absolutely. We get a creative brief from the Aveda Creative Director, Antoinette Beenders. She sends the creative brief to the Global Artistic Team. We have about two-to-three weeks to pull our inspiration based on that. So I pull all style ideas and textures that fall under that genre and my colleagues will pull all the things that fall beneath their genre - whether it is makeup, cutting, texture or hair color. Then we get together and we meet to discuss what it is, the overall vibe of the collection, what we bring to it, and how it's going to work with each other's ideas.
DS: In the world of styling what is your absolute must-have Aveda styling product?
AR: I think the one product I couldn't live without is Aveda Control Force Hairspray, because it's amazing. It's a brushable hairspray - it can be super, super rock-hard solid, and you can brush it. I've done hair when it was misting outside, we were doing this campaign - it was in Hawaii - and it held through, it's weatherproof. It's just one of those things that I know I need.
DS: So do you do any hair color?
AR: I don't do hair color. I mean, I say that, but the truth of the matter is [that] I do hair color, I just don't touch it. When I opened my salon 15 years ago, we decided to be a specialized salon, because I went to a color show called Color USA. I remember seeing people like Gina Conn and all of these other amazing colorists and I thought, "It's so amazing what they've done with hair color, where they've taken hair color." At the time I was a generalist - I was doing both. I just think there's something really amazing about being a specialist. You can only do the same thing over and over again for so long [before] you have to start digging deeper into it. I think that's when you find the magic, in specialization. For me, I don't color hair but for my guests I can say, "I think you need to be a little bit deeper red. I think you should have a couple highlights." I talk to my colorist and I usually have an idea of what I want them to do and they take it to another level. So it's just partnering up with people who color and get what you're doing and also take on their specialty and make it even better.
DS: That's a powerful duo to have. You were talking about Hair Color USA in Miami - that was one of my favorite shows that I got a few awards for. So I fully get it when you say you need to find someone to partner with that knows how you cut a base or layers or do a fringe so that they can customize color. So you like to set the framework and let someone else do all the dancing around the color work, is that right?
AR: Absolutely. I think a true artist knows what they want to see and sometimes it does take having that other person to say, "I get what you want to do, but let's take it a step further then you're going to get this which is more exciting," and I say, "Okay, got it. Do it."
DS: Right. Well, I'm sort of a corporate hair guy, like you are, and I'm wondering, what is too much travel? You know, if you would give a number of days or percentage of travel that is your max before it starts taking over you life?
AR: I would say every weekend is too much. An ideal balance would be home a weekend, gone a weekend. Sometimes it works that way, sometimes it doesn't. I'm not really sure there's a number. I just find that there's a point where I'll be gone for two weeks straight, then I'll be home for a week and then gone for a weekend… and I'm not really sure what's ideal. This might sound cheesy, but I love what I do and it's what drives me; it's not work, it's fun. I'm excited and I'm blessed to get to do what I do, to go to some really great locations. I just got back from Australia, and I was in Hong Kong and Tokyo [earlier] this year. It hasn't gotten to the point yet - knock on wood - that I'm like, "Okay, that's too much."
DS: You mentioned some really beautiful parts of the world. Do you have a favorite place so far [where] you really enjoyed the work?
AR: I think London would have to be my absolute favorite place - there's art, there's fashion, there's history, there's culture. It's beautiful. There's such a melting pot of different cultures that you get to experience the whole world right there. It's one of my top favorite cities in the world.
DS: Now let's pretend that you were able to take one month off. You had no hassles from the salon, your travel schedule slowed down, where would you vacation?
AR: That's a tough question. There are so many places I'd love to go… I'd love to go back to Thailand. I love the people - everybody is always eating there! I love the beaches and the city of Bangkok, with all the interest and crazy culture and art and history.
DS: Wow, that's a great country too. Now let me bring you back to Austin, Texas - are you ready? What makes Jackson Ruiz such a standout salon in Austin?
AR: One of the [best] things about this salon [is] teamwork, good quality work and customer service. And I think one of the bigger things is having a leader who experiences so many things outside of Austin, and wants to bring it back. I've had people come in and say, "This feels like I'm in a salon in New York," or "I'm in LA." What doesn't come with that is an attitude; no one is treated better or less than [anyone else]. We really try to create a salon experience that's very much like a spa experience. But at the same time, my team is skilled - you know we do New York Fashion Week so they're skilled in that sort of thing - we do tons of work here in Austin as well. It's such an important of being a business. The biggest thing I can say is that we have such a viable team that understands the importance of education. They just get me and they get what we're trying to do as a company. There's teamwork, there's customer service, but the main thing is they get the vision for the company, which is bringing this whole outside world to Austin. I hear young hairdressers say, "I want to move to New York to do editorial," or "I want to do celebrity hair," and at the same time, you know, you can do what you want to do right here. Go out and get it and bring it back. That's the team that I have, they get it.
DS: Let me put you into a different frame of mind. You're on an airplane, you're about to land in Austin, Texas - of course, you're in first class - and you have this really amazing woman next to you who says she's just relocating to Austin, Texas. You see a potential new client. What would your 30-second-upon-landing pitch be in getting her to come into your salon?
AR: Well, first of all I'd say, "Welcome to Austin, you're gonna love it!" Then I'd say we have a salon right downtown in the heart of the city. We've been around 15 years. I'd probably offer her a free service and tell her to come in and experience us then you'll know why you want to come back to us. I truly believe the proof is in what you do.
DS: You know what, as you were saying that, I was jotting down, "Offer her a complimentary service." I think what you just said speaks volumes about your salon and who you are in terms of pride and a way to welcome a new client. I love it, well done Allen. Well done.
Here's a question, finish this sentence for me: when I'm not working, I love to…
AR: Have brunch with my family and hang out with my dogs.
DS: Great. Now, do you tweet and Instagram and Facebook? Do you do all that stuff?
AR: I do.
DS: Do you have a favorite?
AR: I'm a huge fan of Instagram. It's basically capturing somebody's world through their eyes. If I were to follow you, I would be able to see your days and what you do and what you see. I'd get to see through your eyes, I love it.
DS: Now when I asked you when you're not working, you love to [do what?] - and you mentioned [being with] family. As a self-proclaimed "family man," you have nieces and nephews right?
DS: How do you spoil them?
AR: Well this holiday weekend we're headed to the beach. I take them on trips; I've taken them to New York, LA… I don't have children so it's nice to share that with them and have them experience culture. Our world isn't small - it's really huge. I think it's important to see different lifestyles and cultures and things that are bigger than Austin, Texas.
DS: Do they get haircut, color and cool styling products from you?
AR: They do. My youngest nephew is twelve would love to look like Lady Gaga. I mean, he's gaga over Gaga. It's pretty funny. Then the oldest one, I don't know if he knows he's doing this and I don't think he'd ever admit to liking One Direction, but he basically wants to look like one of the guys from One Direction. So cute.
DS: When I was a kid getting your ear-pierced was a big move, right?
DS: Now these kids are dancing and wanting to be in a boy band, that's great. So Allen, as we bring the interview to a close let us know, what's next for Allen Ruiz?
AR: I'm working on another salon. I had two salons, [my partner] took one salon and I took the other the other so I'm now working on rebuilding the second location. I'm also working on bringing an Advanced Academy to Austin.
DS: Beautiful. Well, I want to say, welcome to the club of interviews for StylistVoice.com. American Salon has been so amazing to allow me to chat with everyone from Stephen Moody to Stephanie Cave, Nick Arrojo, Rodney Cutler, all those folks. So I want to say welcome to the club and the biggest congratulations on your second time winning the NAHA award. It's such an amazing thing. And I look forward to seeing you in the papers, in the magazines, maybe on Instagram.
Is there anything you want to say to anyone reading this?
AR: When I got into this business I didn't know anything about the business. I just knew I wanted to be a great hairdresser and that's all I ever strived to do. They didn't have great beauty schools, they didn't have somebody to talk to in this industry, we didn't have these trade magazines that are doing such amazing work, we didn't have the Internet - dangit, I am that old. So I think that what you put into this business is exactly what you're going to get out of it; there's no shortcut to that. It's the best industry ever - you can do anything you want to do.
DS: Beautiful. Thank you Allen. Thank you StylistVoice.com. Allen, we'll see you somewhere soon.