Social Sessions: Hairbrained

Gerard Scarpaci and Randy Taylor have a long history in the business as educators, stylists, salon owners, and community-builders. With their network, they were among the first in the industry to think about using digital media as a way to connect people, and in 2008, by applying the principles of what they were doing  in the classroom to online, created Hairbrained,  which has become the home of craft hairdressers online, boasting 27,000 community members using the Hb app, 120,000 followers on Facebook, 210,000 on Instagram and 35,000 on Twitter. This is the first of our three part interview with them spanning community, trial and error, and the future of social in the beauty industry.

Idealogue x Hairbrained: Part 1

Gerard: This was back when Facebook was for college kids. We had MySpace, and we knew YouTube, so Randy started off by making videos of us. In 2008, I had to do those demos anyway – I was working for Aveda as an artistic director and an educator in New York, putting on traveling classes and running the NYC academy.

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Randy: And I was an owner inside the network. I loved using Flip cameras and photography to capture what I was doing – I’m kind of a techno-enthusiast. Gerard and I met through his classes, and we started messing around, posting things online.

Gerard: At first, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what social media meant! I barely used email at the time — but when Randy pitched me the idea of getting some classes online, I trusted him and thought, why not? So we started putting things on YouTube – and it was like, wow, we had 100,000 people watch this 25-minute demonstration? We might be on to something. We really flew under the radar for the first couple years and this was way before we had the community built.

There wasn’t a plan really – as an educator I was looking for a place to connect with my students. I noticed that when people would do classes, you spend a weekend with them and before you leave they’re hugging you, telling you that you changed their lives, and a year later, when you run into them on the street, it’s like ‘do I know you?’ It was such a missed opportunity. I felt that the follow-up connectivity was almost more important than the class itself, and we wanted to extend that indefinitely.

Randy: I also remember that feeling of having to wait in line.  As a photographer, it was this whole song and dance. Do a shoot, send it out to a magazine, wait three months, follow-up, wait another month, was it picked up? Wait more. It was kind of the old guard way of doing things.

Gerard: As hairdressers, I think we are naturally empathetic – it’s a skill you need if you want to be successful in this industry. Figure out other people’s needs, how to reach them on an emotional level. There wasn’t Instagram yet, and so people really didn’t have a way to show off their work. And yeah, Facebook was for college kids, so not many people we knew were on it. We wanted to have a place online where people could add their work and photos, ask questions, get likes and comments from members — those magical moments of connectivity that weren’t happening in the real world. That became Hairbrained.

LBP: Who are the kinds of people who join Hairbrained?

Randy: We have a term for our community — craft hairdressing. In what we consider craft, the first important thing is the work – the quality of what you’re creating is #1. The people who identify themselves as craft hairdressers think of what they do as a lifelong pursuit of mastering what you do with your hands

Gerard: The community has a huge age range – it’s so diverse. Hairbrained is for people who love hair. Maybe they got into the business thinking it was a job initially, but for our people, hairdressing is how they define themselves and their lifestyle. Scroll through their phones and 9 out of 10 contacts are other hairdressers, they’re looking at pictures of hair while they’re in bed, an new idea for a client pops into their head while they’re brushing their teeth.

It’s a big movement in this industry, and we’re going global year by year. The UK, Australia, Canada are our biggest markets outside of the US, and Germany is a huge opportunity for growth. There’s dozens of hundred members who have done special collaborations from meeting on the site.

LBP: When did you know you had struck a chord?

Gerard: Well, it wasn’t right away. But what struck me was how fast it all happened. Everything started out because we had a network in the real world. And in this industry, if people value you, they’ll join in and support you. We knew people at most of the major brands,Paul Mitchell, Aveda, Sassoon and Wella, so we sent a message to friends of ours in the industry. And you think, 25 of my counterpart educators, inviting 10-20 people each week after classes. That’s when it really started to pick up. Once we had 10,000 in theHairbrained community we knew we had something. There wasn’t a business plan — we just started, and right away those connective moments started to happen – we just built it and started inviting people.

Follow Randy and Gerard on Instagram at @randytaylorfoto, @gerardscarpaci, and @hairbrained_official. Join the Hairbrained network by going to hairbrained.me, and get live tutorials from both of them on the Hairbrained Facebook page. To hear from Randy and Gerard live along with other exciting movers-and-shakers in the industry, get a ticket for LBP Idealogue: The Social Media Sessions, focusing on how social media is changing our industry, happening October 21-22 in NYC. Get one here.

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