Successful Hairstylist Reminisces On The Experiences That Have Shaped Her Life Today

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Beautiful brunette woman with long hair at the beauty salon getting a hair blowing. Hair salon styling concept.

Ximena Alvarez, Contributor

As Gloria Rodarte sets up for her 11 o’clock appointment, she can’t help but think how different her current day-to-day reality is than the one she imagined when she first arrived in the U.S. Just graduated from high school, Rodarte wanted to strive for a better future and took advantage of all opportunities that came her way. She began attending Santa Barbara City College with the initial aspiration of becoming a math teacher — “Mrs. Thompson, my high school math teacher, always said I had so much potential and said I would get far in life. I found inspiration in that, especially as an immigrant.”

Taking charge of her future with minimal help from her family, Rodarte felt it was her responsibility to make something great out of herself. Becoming a teacher looked good and promising to the

 eye, but she had a desire to venture out into other options. Upon beginning basic college courses, she befriended a student who worked at a salon and together, they both indulged in the details of being a stylist. “I would go to get my hair cut by her and found myself having more and more questions about this profession every time…It definitely sparked my creativity!” Rodarte remarks. Soon enough, with the help of the college’s career services, she was applying to Santa Barbara City College Cosmetology Academy and began her courses within a few months. 

2002 will always be marked in her head as her jump-start year. Officially certified to practice her profession, she secured employment at a local salon in Camarillo where she spent the next 18 years of her life. This job brought her significant experience and she learned to navigate the methods in which she works best. The pungent smell of hair solution, toner, and color mixtures as well the strident noise of hair dryers weirdly gave Rodarte a “homey” feeling after some time. 

Out of all of her siblings, Rodarte was one of the few who attended school in the U.S., but she feared the stigma around her career choice. It is common for immigrant families to hold the desire for their children to become doctors or lawyers. However, she was not bothered too much by this pressure as she recounts that her parents did not even know about her career choice until she was already licensed and established — “My mom had no idea until she asked me if I could do a perm on her.” One would also expect for family members to be lining up to have their hair done for free! But that wasn’t the case for Rodarte either as she recollects that none of her siblings trusted her enough in the beginning, but now they fully indulge in her services.

The pandemic brought rough times, but it was also a moment of enlightenment for Rodarte. Breaking away from the salon had always been a thought in her mind, but she never brought herself to do it until the hard-hitting reflection she had. “I had a realization that we were not as tight-knit as I believed we were…No one really had my back unless it directly benefited them,” Rodarte recalls. She knew the value of her work and took a hopeful leap to strengthen her abilities. Although venturing out to start her own business was an intricate climb, she had security knowing she had built up a long list of regular clients, close to 200, during the nearly 20 years she worked in the Camarillo salon. So, starting from the small, renovated shed in her backyard, Rodarte began down the path of owning and operating a business.

The feeling of being unheard or taken advantage of in these hectic environments are quite common. In a survey conducted by Nina Tulio, former stylist and salon owner turned international business coach, the top five reasons as to why stylists decide to leave their salon center around a lack of leadership and organization in the workplace as well as overall issues with the owners. For example, it might be that owners are simply too in their heads about growing the business in their own quick way that they do not care for any feedback, they do not assist any work environment issues, they do not invest in salon education, and they resort to playing favorites. These details only reiterate how important communication, problem solving, and teamwork is in the workplace.

The feelings of doubt and wariness flew out the window once the advantages of independence came rushing in. Rodarte felt a new sense of freedom once adjusted in her private rented space in Oxnard — “I am able to build my own hours, choose the type of products I want to use, be in better and closer contact with clients, and more. I am certainly thriving in a less overbearingly controlled and demanding environment.”

The even more juicy details of dealing with difficult clients and the “Karens” of the world is another job within itself, but inevitable as Rodarte puts it. “I simply do my job and go along with anything because I prefer to avoid problems, although I have had to fire a client once,” she remarks. While this occupation is aesthetically glamorous to the eye, it certainly comes with its challenges, but Rodarte claims she would not change it for anything and is grateful to be practicing her passion.