Action pushes Alexis Thurston to achieve more. Whether she’s changing how stylists learn with her social learning platform Butterfly Circus, changing how color is marketed with her product brand Pulp Riot, changing the model of salon suites with UBungalows, or how a salon should be managed with Butterfly Loft, alongside her business and life partner, David Thurston, she’s always got a new project going that has the potential to move the industry into different spaces. We sat down with Alexis to talk about education, her outlook on social, and in the process, learned a little more about what a female role model looks like at the upper levels of beauty.
Idealogue x Alexis Thurston
Two heads are better than one. I’ve always thought you can achieve more as a group, than you can as an individual. Collaborating with other people gives you ideas that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and vice-versa. It kicks off this infectious upward spiral of energy. That’s how Butterfly Circus got its start.
You get these a-ha moments when you’re washing dishes or working out, and one day while David was on the treadmill, he said, “I’ve got this idea I’d like to discuss with you”.
At the time product companies handled education and called the shots – they told you how to do things, big-names would come in to teach techniques, you’d visit a couple events per year. But that’s all changed. We [the beauty community] are the ones starting the trends, we’re the ones trying new things with clients, and thanks to social media, now we’ve got the channels to communicate those ideas from wherever we are. Instead of getting all our information from above, I’m looking to my peers for inspiration. When I would scroll through my feeds, I’d see things from people and think, “wow, I’d pay money to learn from them.” So together we thought, why not get a handful of these awesome, unique, independent stylists together and create soundbites that anyone can learn from?
LBP: Was it hard to get off the ground?
The difference for us is that we don’t just have an idea and say oh that’s great and we’re done with it. We get an idea and we act on it. For some people, the hardest part is just taking the risk, you know? But for us, together we’ve learned that once you take that step, it’s funny how things fall into place. Each step gets easier and easier and brings you closer to your goal. It’s amazing how the universe brings people, places and things together when you embrace the risk and take a step. If you overcome the fear, the risk is worth it.
Butterfly Circus was born from seeing a change in the industry, fulfilling a need and creating a platform for new voices to be heard that might not have been otherwise. It’s really based in this idea that the way we learn is always evolving. When was the last time you sat and watched one person give a tutorial for three hours? Anything come to mind?
LBP: Not quite. That’s a long time to be sitting in front of a computer screen.
Exactly – if anything, you probably watch 10 minutes, skip forward a bit, maybe another five minutes and you’re done. It’s just not an effective method any more. Butterfly Circus is our project that is set up with this new way of learning in mind. We give 20-30 minute sound bites of information from 6 instructors, then comes back together at the end with a finished result. We’re changing the way education in our industry works.
It’s the same philosophy we have with our salon Butterfly Loft, and our color brand, Pulp Riot. I think it was Jim Collins who said, when everyone rows in the same direction, they row farther, and it’s more or less been our mantra for all our businesses. When someone starts or partners with us, we say, “jump in, the water’s fine.” Go for the ride, have an open mind, and go for it. Our job as owners is to set up an environment where everyone can achieve success, and then our team utilizes their passion and drive to make amazing things happen. That’s why we built our Ubungalows salon suites differently. We wanted people to have the ability to do things on their own, but with access to a community. Everything should be a win-win, and even if you’re an individual in the business renting our bungalows, you should feel like you’re a part of a greater community.
LBP: Sounds like there’s a lot going on.
To be honest, it’s challenging to manage sometimes. I’m a mom, wife, a business woman, salon owner, mentor, VP of two companies – that’s an understatement! There’s so many balls in the air — I’d be lying if I said things never slip through the cracks. But daily prioritization and a great support group is key to making it all happen. I’ve got two phones, but when I need to remember things, I write it all down. I write on post-it’s, I text message myself, but now I mostly use little notebooks that fit in my purse that I carry around everywhere. The last time David was in Miami,, he picked up about 15 of these cool R and Co. notebooks for me because my current one is almost filled out with notes and to do lists. I have so many notes and know where to flip to to find them. We joke about how despite all the resources of today’s technology world, I still use my little notebook to write things down. – it’s almost comical!
LBP: And so how does social media fit in?
Online, the connections between the services make it easier for us, because we’re so busy. I’m 41 years old, and I didn’t grow up with these things. For me, embracing social media was a mind-shift. Did you know I almost closed my Instagram account two years ago? It was when our salon account was building and I didn’t want the focus to be on myself. But soon enough I realized that as an owner and a leader, if I was going to tell other people to embrace technology, and the value in it, to help them showcase their work, I needed to do it too. I think I was the last person planet to join Facebook. As the channels have matured, we’ve seen that Instagram was the most important for our industry, but so many people are on Facebook, so I couldn’t just skip it completely. It can be overwhelming with all the different social media outlet channels, but now it’s all about baby steps – when we’re trying something new, we start small with one thing and keep adding.
In simplest terms, my perspective is, Instagram’s for showing your work, Facebook is for giving your content reach, and Snapchat’s for showing personality, but they all work together to connect people and bring opportunities. We use that understanding to our advantage with Pulp Riot. On Snapchat, we’ve got Riot takeovers that give stylists from all over control on our account to show themselves using the product and share their voice. We also created short videos of empowering stylists as artists and using Pulp Riot as their paint to create masterpieces and works of art through hair color. We’re constantly trying to stay ahead of the game and innovate ways of using social media. Probably by the time this article gets written we will have come up with something different. There’s a big advantage to those companies who are forged from the social media community, who are natives to it. It allows us to reach people faster – and make an impact in such a shorter time than others might have in the past. Social media isn’t going anywhere. And it’ll continue to evolve, so it’s important for people to see it as an opportunity instead of fear it. The latest is Instagram Stories. We know it’s sort of like Snapchat, but slightly different so we have to try it. How’s that going to shake out? I’m not sure, but you can bet I’m going to use it.
I am somebody who can operate in both the creative and business spheres and I’m very lucky to have those skills, because I can empathize as a stylist, an educator, as well as a business owner. I’ve always wanted to be a bold positive female role model in the beauty industry – and I think coming from the perspective of someone who wasn’t totally into social media at first has helped me a lot. I’ve seen how it’s helped my businesses, me personally, my staff and brought opportunity to all of us. It’s all back to the community/team aspect in our network and what we’re doing everyday…we win together. It’s about embracing change and not turning a blind eye to new platforms – although nothing makes you feel older than your 13-year old daughter teaching you how to use Snapchat.
Want to hear more from Alexis? Follow her on Instagram at @alexisbutterflyloft, her salon @butterflyloftsalon, her color brand @pulpriothair, on Snapchat at AlexisPulpRiot, and the Butterfly Circus events by searching #butterflycircus. See her speak live at the Social Sessions, the first of Luxury Brand Partners’