Sharing Voices: David Stanko talks to Stephanie Kocielski

David Stanko and Stephanie KocielskiRedken 5th Avenue Consultant and Master Colorist David Stanko interviews Stephanie Kocielski, John Paul Mitchell Systems vice president of education, Robert Cromeans Salon artistic director, performer, speaker and educator.

On typical day for Stephanie, she takes risks, finds inspiration in everything she does and gets super excited about the future of industry education.

Get inspired yourself with this informative and uplifting conversation with Ms. Kocielski.


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David Stanko:  Stephanie, why don’t you walk us through your typical day.

Stephanie Kocielski:  It depends on what hat I have on, on a typical day; I wear a couple of hats. The hat I have on today is vice president of education for John Paul Mitchell Systems. My day usually starts on the phone with a team member, kind of reviewing, goal setting, checking in, seeing where we’re at. We have so many departments and so many moving pieces that need to come together in order to bring education and new things to the hairdressers behind the salon chairs. My second and third conference calls were with the regional sales manager and our global sales manager. We are trying to put together some new programs to help reassure hairdressers as to why they should belong to a specific manufacturer, so we’re looking at how we can reward them through education and prizes—whether that be a ticket to a show or something else. We are brainstorming and that’s what I love about this job.

As a hairdresser, I brought in computer skills for Paul Mitchell and they hired me as VP. I feel that everything that I’ve had the pleasure to do in my career has brought me to this position. It’s networking, it’s checking in with the people that can make the progress, putting that progress into hairdressers’ hands and letting them go forth. Usually when I’m Stephanie The Hairdresser, I travel around and get up early to make sure I’m taken care of. For me, I have to do something to get my juices flowing. Either it’s a jump in the pool or I head to the gym or yoga class so that I’m in balance when I start to interact each and every day. When I have to be in for the long haul of 10-hour days, it kind of keeps me going. Then I pack my lunch and get everything together and go greet people in the salon. I bring their hair color, their haircuts, whatever order of the day is to them. I also interact with a team of young hairdressers who make our salon, Paul Mitchell salons and Robert Cromeans salons succeed every day. And I still wear the Art Director hat.

DS:   You talk a lot about taking risks. What kind of risks do you think have helped define you?

SK:   I love the word ‘risk’ because it means being prepared to say goodbye to the person you were 10 minutes ago. When I look at risks, I think the first one is stepping out of who you were to move forth. So for me, I was a kid who was born in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey. I stepped out of that kind of demographical hold and moved to California, and then took a risk to divide myself between being a salon hairdresser and going to school to become a platform artist. I got a really great education, but I was risked losing my business as a hairdresser.

The risk I just recently took was slowly leaving the art director’s role and moving into a vice presidential role so that I could have more time to work on what’s important for the future of our company. I think if somebody succeeds at something, the risk is to give it away and succeed at something else, and allow other people to succeed in different roles.

Each and every day I’m prepared to throw out what we did yesterday, to really concentrate on tomorrow and where it can bring the youth and the current flavor of the industry. Risks are great if you’re prepared to let go. If you want to see a new and better you, you’ve got to risk who you were. Some people are so fearful of jumping off the grid, but I live for it every day.

DS:   Like I always say, there is freedom on the other side of fear and it sounds like that’s your daily mantra.

SK:  Well it’s kind of great. I get bored easily, so I love being in the salon because every guest is a new risk, so to speak. I grew up in an area where my grandparents did the same thing every day and I love that they had that and that’s what their mindset was, but what if you could do something different every day to become a better person? As a hairdresser, you are always going to have this multi-faceted career to fall back on, and I think that’s one thing hairdressers need to celebrate: how faceted our jobs are and that we’re never bored. You also have to take a risk to stay in balance each and every day so that you can keep your mind focused on the new instead of the now.

DS:   Does that mean you’re stepping away slowly from the artistic director role?

SK:   Well, I think when somebody gives you a position, the position is the carrot; you’ve got to grow into it. I think my role as vice president of education is really what I should have been doing as the art director. I think each and every day you learn more and more of what facets you have. For me, the role of art director meant permission to jump outside of who I was as a team member and to take that to other countries and places and develop teams there. So will I stop doing that? No, I think I’m going to do it with more people. I think art director was a bridge to move to this position. Will I be traveling, doing 86 events every year? No way. I’ll probably stop off at 5 or 10 well-produced ones and train the next regime of people to do what I did in all those other events. So I think I had to go through that position to understand what this position means. For me, art director was a training ground to get ready for the next development and I think that’s where I’m at right now.

DS:   Here’s a classic question about inspiration, and it’s a hard question to ask because sometimes it comes across as disingenuous: Inspiration is an intangible kind of item, and as an art director you have the responsibility of exciting and motivating the young ones around you, but also coming up with collections or something new that’s interesting. Where do you draw from to make that happen? What is your well of inspiration?

SK:  For me, inspiration is all around me. I can hang out with people and that inspires me, I can go to a museum and that inspires me; but more importantly, it’s what I stumble upon and how I look at it. Inspiration always comes out in everything I do, so I’m kind of on this great inspirational path right now. But it begins with yourself first and what you do to keep yourself true, and secondly, how you want to better yourself and what’s the next chapter of your life.

There’s a day where all of a sudden something comes up on my computer screen, or I’ll turn the page in a magazine and all of a sudden something will be right there in my face, and it’s consistent. This year, it’s this lady—her name is Yayoi Kusama—and she is an artist that was around in 1957 in the United States and everything she did was polka-dotted. As I researched polka dots, I found that its pixilation, which is what cartoons are in motion; so we’re starting to look at how motion affects people. Right now we’re looking to put together Paul Mitchell’s website, which would become an interactive newspaper for educators. It’s built so that if you’re a salon hairdresser, you get to see pages 1-10, if you’re a starting educator, you get to see 1-20, if you’re a specialized educator, you get to see 1-30, and if you’re a platform artist for Paul Mitchell, you get to see pages 1-100. It’s all about motion right now, whether it’s in a picture, getting people moving to the next level of success behind the chair, or an active change in daily routine.

DS:   About inspiration and those that you surround yourself with, do you currently work closely with Robert Cromeans?

SK:   I do—past, present and future. I had the opportunity to run into Robert probably 20-plus years ago at a hair show alongside Paul Mitchell. I’ve never met another hairdresser that is as out-of-the-box, and I owe a lot of my career to Robert because it was almost a dare; can you do it, and can you do it when it counts? I think that my affiliation with him is like a brother from another mother, so to speak. We work closely together. As a matter of fact he was just at my house yesterday and I got a new ‘do because of it!  We are always bouncing things off each other. We always say we’re of a like-mind.

I work really closely with Robert, just as I work really closely with the owner of our company, John Paul. I also work really strongly with Angus Mitchell and the legacy he’s creating in our company. We have a fine quality of art directors and people that are heads in the office, so it’s kind of osmosis: The more you work with people, the more you start to think alike. When everybody has this communication, we all move forward. It’s quite an honor.

DS:   So, let’s say you meet someone in the elevator. You’re going to the 32nd floor and they find out you work for Paul Mitchell. What’s your 30-second elevator pitch that makes the Paul Mitchell brand so different from others?

SK:   Well, I think that when people find out I work for Paul Mitchell, the first thing they want to know is if I can get them some shampoo. Then they ask me why I work for Paul Mitchell. I say it’s because each and every day Paul Mitchell gets to preserve the planet through changing people’s lives—whether it’s behind the chair where hairdressers help communicate the message of feeling better and looking better to a guest, or what Paul Mitchell does on behalf of hairdressers for the planet. Why Paul Mitchell? Paul Mitchell gave me a chance in life to do something different than ever before. Product-wise, my 32nd floor pitch would be “How do you want to feel different today? Because by feeling different today, you’re going to create a better today and a better tomorrow.” 

DS:   I wanted to talk to you for a minute about travel. You mentioned 86 events—and I know you weren’t kidding because I’ve been on those circuits—and the older you get, the less you want to do it. So the evolution into a new role is fascinating, but when it comes to travel, do you have a favorite business destination?

SK:   Travel to me is exciting no matter where I go, but I’m a little strange, a little unusual. I like the strange and unusual in people, in places, in what I get to see. I feel that I would rather look at something than listen to it, to be honest. So my favorite business travel destination that I enjoy, first off, is the country of Spain. I love Spain: the people, the art, the music, the freedom, the pulse. I love it. There’s a history rich in color, rich in art, rich in family. I just love all of it. My other favorite place to go is Greece because of its history and purity. In the United States, I just got back from New York and I love its pulse and its people and its rawness and how it’s ever changing, based on the people that have the pleasure to flow through it.

I just like travel, plain and simple. But I also think you need a little balance so that you’re ready to go to the next place. I’ve traveled around the planet for the past 18 years, solid. After a while, you’ve got to step back and appreciate where you’ve been, but also look at what you’ve gained from being in all of these places and give that back to the people that might not have had the opportunity.

DS:   Sounds like a bit of passion is in there. I have a question about passion: Do you think it’s something that you’re born with or is it something that can be developed?

SK:  Passion to me is kind of like a hunger you supply yourself with. Something like traveling can reward you in a growth aspect, in a vision aspect. When you travel, the little things mean the most, but you also become more simplistic. It makes you a better human because you kind of piece everything together. So I think people that have passion have had exposure. I think that you can teach somebody to be passionate; but more importantly I think you have to expose people to create passion, because you can only have passion when you have compassion. When you see how people are in India or China, in different areas, you can be passionate about it but you’re not going to have a hunger for it unless you’re compassionate to make a change. Once you feel how good it feels to help other person, that’s when I think a passion grows because then that feeling can recharge you constantly.

DS:   Well that almost brings up a question about education: You mentioned that helping others can recharge you. How do you get recharged in front of an audience? What do you find to be the biggest challenge in the classroom today?

SK:  I think the biggest challenge is when you look at individual groups. We’ve done shows all over the world and if I were to look at a 200-person audience, I would say that probably 60 percent of that audience is over 30 years old. The remaining part is the new kids on the block—the kids in the beginning stages of their careers. They are still in school; they’re still in their starting level. There’s disconnect in the industry: There’s an old way we run salons and then there’s a new way we run salons. Some people look at computers. A lot of people are busy working behind the chair and don’t have the time to tune into the Internet; they don’t have the time to be on Facebook or participate in the social media frenzy. So In the classroom, I think it’s the connection of old and new. You can’t take the industry on a ride on a webpage because I’d say half of the people don’t even know how to get on a webpage.

The biggest disconnect for me is bringing the generations together. The age on a driver’s license doesn’t mean anything in this conversation really; it’s about old and new. If you’ve been doing the same thing you’ve been doing for 5 years, that’s a challenge to me because technology and ingredients and products have changed. Look at the Internet and how quickly that has changed. There is a new way of teaching hairdressers. It’s definitely still visual, but so many people make the mistake to write it down. When you look at hairdressers, no matter where we are, there’s a certain attention span. For me, that’s the disconnect: keeping attention, training the different demographics of individuals from the computer savvy to the routine individual who has to do it the same way they’ve done for 10 years.

In the 1980’s, everything was brand new because manufacturers were coming out with products and philosophies. And then in the ‘90s, everybody owned the philosophies. Then 2000 comes—the computer age—and we have people trying to build an educational program that suits the faceted individuals who are in our industry. Whether it’s on the Internet or not, people want things quicker right now, so a 2-hour class can’t happen anymore. You’ve got to get the information to people faster. Some people can assimilate that pace and some still need the 2-hour class, so that’s the challenge. How do you connect the past and the present and make it meaningful for both at the same time? I think that’s the biggest challenge right now.

DS:   Yeah, that’s huge. I couldn’t agree more with what you said, and we noticed that the younger generation was never told that they did anything wrong. They thought time-out was the most severe penalty they ever had to endure. Sometimes in a color class you don’t mean to insult anyone but you have to try to get them to understand that they have to do some research on their own.

SK:   Oh yeah!

DS:   And then you have, like you said, the folks that are 30-plus or 40-plus. They were there in the ‘80s doing cellophane and colored mousse, Sebastian Spritz Forte, Krystle Carrington hairdos and spiral-wrapped perms. And they’re like “This is the only thing I know.”  How do we reach out to those folks? I mean with the younger kids we have the Internet and motion and education, but what do we do to engage the folks that are more seasoned?

SK:   Well I think that’s the hardest challenge because once somebody gets stuck in their ways, they don’t want to give up what they know because they’re making money with it. It’s about reaching out and creating programs for these individuals. They’re the same ones going to hair shows, buying all their stuff twice a year, and you don’t see them. They’re not on a distributor grid. So it’s developing programs for them. These are the guests that still like to go to workshops. These are people that possibly aren’t on e-mail and don’t surf the web or look at webpages every afternoon. They are the people who like to go to classes and have programs. We are trying to reach out to them specifically.

We also have people at Paul Mitchell who have been here for 33 years and they’re not the ones teaching class with a video. These are people that still love that one-on-one contact, so we’re looking at ways to help get them excited too. At a party, you don’t just make one dish, you make many dishes because people have different tastes and that’s what I think I bring to the party: I am one of those hairdressers from 1980. The only difference is that I have had a faceted career that has allowed me to get out and expand how I learn, so even though I’m going to be 49 years old, I still think I’m that kid in beauty school. Because of my affiliation as an educator, I never left beauty school; I’m still in it.

DS:   You still have a few mannequins in the closet, right?

SK:   My garage looks like a mortuary of mannequins. There are always three in my garage: one is what I did yesterday, one is what I will do today, and one is something that’s going to appear in a photograph hopefully soon. So I’ve always got something; the garage to me is my little lab, it’s where everything lives. You’d be surprised when you walk in there. When I pull into my garage and I have somebody in my car that’s not a hairdresser, I have to explain that I don’t pull people apart.

DS:   So Stephanie, what’s your take on the industry right now? You know we see that a lot of the heavy hitters aren’t going to the big shows, we see everyone trying to focus in on localized education or creating new, interesting hands-on workshops because of all the things you just mentioned: the different learning levels and different experience levels in the group. What’s going on in the beauty business right now?

SK:   Well in the ‘80s there were people to believe in; you had Irvine Rusk, Annie Humphreys, Trevor Sorbie, the Arnie Miller’s of the world, the Geri Cusenza’s, the Robert Lobetta’s—you had faces that had passion, faces that had talent, faces that had flavor and faces that people could align with. But when you look at the world today and when you look at a beauty show, you’ve got a fine, professional company in one area and then you’ve got lollipops for sale on the next table. When I look at the future, I think shows are going to have to change because the world is changing. Shows are no longer going to be a place where you get your two for $22; the hairdresser has to become more evolved. And where I think the future of our industry is going is a different sort of learning cycle, because of technology. The change might not hit our industry for a couple more years, but technology will have to bring people in. Haircolor is changing, products are changing, and it’s because of what we can do with computers.

For me, my goal would be to get everybody computer-literate, but also to look at what the touch screen is going to give us in a couple years. We’ll be able to do so many wonderful things. So when I look at shows, I see their contribution declining, and I think people want to get more personal. When you look at the world of television, at any given time you’ll see “America wants to dance,” “America wants to sing,” “America wants to cook.”  It’s more focused on what people need personally. So I think shows will move into a show-and-workshop format, but maybe on a more personal level. When you look at travel and how expensive it is to go from one city to the next, whether you’re driving or flying, and the time invested, we’ve got to make things more local. You need to look globally but act locally. I think there will be a big change in personalized education in the future too. You can get a college degree online right now, so you can go to work every day and do something, but at night, you’re becoming a lawyer; at night you’re becoming someone else. People are going to want different things in the future. We have so much at hand via the Internet, but it’s not personal. People don’t want to go into a group of people and see what they don’t know—nobody wants to be that vulnerable, so I think it’s taking the vulnerability out of it and being more personal.

DS:   That was a great snapshot of the industry. My last question for you: Would you rather have your name appear on Page Six of the New York Post or be seen on the red carpet somehow?

SK:   I think I’d rather be seen on the red carpet because I would rather have more people turn to me as a vision, versus something to be written about. I don’t even have TV in my house; to me my TV is the computer. If I’m reading anything, I want the cliff notes and shortcuts, because people want it faster and people want to digest it. I don’t think people judge anymore on the written word, but people like to be seen because they like to be remembered. They say a thousand words create a picture, but what do a thousand pictures create? I’d rather be in a picture than in a word.