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Conversations with the Inspiring Mia Esterak

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mia Esterak.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. Ever since I was a young girl, I have been fascinated with art, make-up, colors, and fashion. Having grown up poor, I always had a strong admiration for cool styles, trendy clothes, and unique hairstyles. Naturally, I ended up working for a fashion retail company and even went on to open my own little clothing shop. After a while, I had decided that I wanted to see more of the world, and ended up studying abroad for 3 months in Boston. I fell in love with Boston, it was a beautiful city, and I made many lifelong friends, it was truly a life-changing experience. It was in Boston that I was able to grow as a person, from a shy and quiet girl into a confident young woman. When I returned to Japan, I was set on going back to the states to continue my education. My mother was extremely supportive of my decision and because of her strength and courage, I was able to save up enough money to make a massive leap in life.

I arrived in Los Angeles in 2007 with very little money and rough English. I studied at Santa Monica College and it was there that I was exposed to and fell in love with hair styling and design. My teacher was everything a great teacher should be: experienced, talented, patient, cool, charismatic, kind and passionate. I continued my education outside of class, learning advanced techniques from top hair stylists through books, videos, social media, YouTube, and classes. Eventually, I interned at a Japanese-owned hair salon in Santa Monica. That experience was everything I needed to continue my education, and most importantly, it was a place for me to practice! It wasn’t easy though… going to school was expensive (about 10 times as expensive per unit for foreigners), and interning for free took up all of my time. On top of that, I was living in Simi Valley with my boyfriend (now husband) who had to drive me to and from both places almost every day. We had many financial hardships along the way, and it seemed like an endless road, but after several more years, I finally found myself completing the final hours needed to obtain my cosmetology license. Much to my surprise, I passed the test on my first attempt. I cried. The journey had been so long, but I made it! It seemed like fate when my husband introduced me to friends who worked at another Japanese-owned salon in Santa Monica where I’ve worked for 5 years. I continue to learn and progress every day, and most of all, have fun doing what I love.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It definitely hasn’t been a smooth road, in fact, it was a fight for survival. My top priority was staying in the country legally to pursue my dream of becoming a hair stylist. This meant that I had to maintain a minimum number of units per semester to keep my student visa. This was extremely and unreasonably expensive. I had to maintain good grades, which meant that I had to learn English, as my beginner’s level was not good enough to understand the coursework. So, I took English classes and studied at home almost every night. English is hard. There are so many exceptions to the rules in English, and I’m still learning new things every single day. I’m very happy that I pushed myself so hard when it came to English, because the better you understand your client’s needs, the easier it is to communicate ideas and solutions with them.

I also wasn’t authorized to work in this country during my schooling, so my partner and I had to survive off of his income and my small savings. We had broken down cars and lived in small apartments with razor-tight budgets for food and basic needs, but we somehow had pulled it off.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Hair by Mia story. Tell us more about the business.
While I love and appreciate the entire spectrum of hair design, my specialty is with hair coloring, highlights, and balayage. Hair is my canvas and I get to be an artist! I’m often faced with seemingly impossible challenges and requests, and it is my job to make it happen.

I guess what sets me apart from many others is my constant pursuit for perfection, collaborating with co-workers and icons in the industry, never being satisfied, always learning by going to conventions and classes, and always giving it my all.

It would be great to hear about any apps, books, podcasts or other resources that you’ve used and would recommend to others.
My favorite app is Instagram! I love being able to share my art and my life with my friends and see what inspiring things other people are up to. I’m also getting into Yoga, so I have tons of Yoga apps on my phone. My favorite book is Tuesday’s With Morrie, it was recommended to me by my first English teacher. It’s a beautiful story about what is important in life, and it’s always stuck with me.

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