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Conversations with the Inspiring Teddy Baker

Today we’d like to introduce you to Teddy Baker.

Teddy, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Trained in Austin, TX, and refined in Manhattan, NY, hair and its natural beauty has always been a passion of mine. I believe that low maintenance hair is not only achievable but the wave of the future. My passion for hair fashion has been a lifelong journey stemming back to the bouffant hairstyles my grandmother would get done every week when I was a child. Each one a unique creation. I loved listening to the gossip and hearing about the new trends from my grandma’s friends. Most of all, though, I was intrigued by the stylists’ intricate creations. I would try to recreate these styles on my Barbies by carefully braiding, sculpting, and setting their plastic hair on twist ties and various objects I’d find lying around. My mom jokingly called them my bondage Barbies because of the unusual way I’d bind their hair to set it. At a young age, she could tell that I badly wanted to cut hair. Finally, when I was almost 11, she handed me a pair of scissors that she used for my father’s hair and allowed me to give her a trim. I gave her bangs like Nico from The Velvet Underground and a blunt line in the length of her fine hair. At that moment, it was exhilarating to finally find a way to express my passions for art, fashion, and creating things.

In high school, I was a rebel. I loved photography, drama class, singing, art, and surrounding myself with creative people. I was lumped in with the eccentric weirdo art students and the goth/punk crowd even though I never felt like a part of either group. Taking inspiration from skate videos, MTV, and heroes of mine like Andy Warhol, I started cutting my friends’ hair to emulate the false idols of our youth. My creativity finally had an outlet I could pour myself into. When word got out that I could create the punk/alternative hairstyles our parents forbid us from getting, I became the stylist for my school’s alternative crowd’s shaving and dying needs. I got in a lot of trouble, but hey, what’s more punk than that?! Let’s just say, most people don’t want their daughter to have a purple trihawk, but this practice would end up serving me well when I began my career in Austin, TX. I was great at “Keeping Austin Weird.”

In Austin, I learned to hustle and soon gained a reputation for cutting hair at parties, bars, and pretty much anywhere and on anyone. It had never occurred to me that I could make a living doing it, for me, it was a form of guerrilla art. Pretty soon I was cutting everyone’s hair at the restaurant I worked at. My passion was ignited! Imagine: being creative, making people feel good, being social, AND getting paid for it?! Sounds too good to be true, right? I wasn’t sure what I’d do with a cosmetology license, but I was going to get mine! In beauty school I was a quick learner, often sharing what I’d learned with my peers. In fact, the beauty school I attended offered me a job as an educator when I graduated, but I knew there was a big world waiting for me. I loved my days in Austin, styling all of my friends in bands and creating signature looks for scene kids. I became addicted to the adrenaline of creating something for a client that not only empowered them but transformed them into the best version of themselves. I worked at some of the most popular salons in Austin and collaborated with various artists. I loved doing all the rocker fashion mullets and sleek cuts of the early 00’s, but I quickly noticed that clients with curly hair often had the most trouble finding a style or even just getting a cut that they didn’t have to straighten. A new inspiration was ignited! I had to know everything. Why was it so hard for our curly headed friends? I worked with a woman that had mostly curly clients and she agreed to mentor me in the ways of our wavy/curly clientele. Mix that with every class about curls that I could get my hands on and within no time the word got out that I was doing something fun with natural textures. Business was booming, and I had made quite a name for myself in the Austin hair scene. However, after living there for 10 years… I got the ITCH. I needed new inspiration! I needed that adrenaline rush again. For me, a new city was my only option. So, I headed to the Big Apple!

New York was actually an easy transition for me. The salon I ended up working for, hired me based on my reputation in Austin as a curly hair specialist. I had rave reviews and quite the resume for someone that had only been doing hair for four-and-a-half-years. Unbeknownst to me, I also tons friends and clients living in Brooklyn and before I even started work I had clients on my books! I guess they saw my posts about moving on social media! New York is considered one of the meccas for hairstylists and my craving for knowledge was met with endless opportunities. I loved being behind the chair, but I took classes every chance I got. Ombre and Balayage techniques were relatively new at the time and I wanted to know more. I ended up mastering blonding and color correction techniques at the Wella World Institute in SOHO. Mixing these techniques with years of experience and cutting talent, word got out that I could replicate the low maintenance lived-in looks that were all over the magazines at the time. People were booking months out just to get a spot in my chair. I was on top of the world until 2016 when my life was literally turned upside down. My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.

Suddenly, I had to figure out how to be there for my family through this crisis. I couldn’t handle not being there, but flying from NYC to Texas once a month proved to be too expensive with what I was making as a commission stylist. Bottom line, I needed more money! I had heard of places that rent individual studios to stylists, so I decided to check it out. There was no way I was going to let my mom down. She was my biggest supporter, my muse, and my inspiration in all parts of my life. I needed to be there for her, which meant flying home once a month and staying for an entire week while she was in treatment. Even though she was sick she still pushed me to take an offer I had gotten as an educator for an eco-friendly color line. She wouldn’t let her cancer stand in the way of my dreams of working for Kevin.Murphy a brand both of us had become obsessed with. It broke my heart that I couldn’t be there while all of her precious blonde locks fell out from the chemo. Luckily, after being on a waitlist for what seemed like forever, I was able to rent a private studio in Manhattan and my clients were surprisingly supportive. I’ll never forget when my boyfriend said, “I love that your version of simplifying your life is to open your own business in Manhattan.” The funny thing is, he meant it. We ended up getting married on the beach close to where my parents lived a few months later. Our wedding was literally the last thing my mother got to do. After arriving back in NYC on cloud nine from a magical week with our family and friends my mom informed me that her cancer had become untreatable and she was done the fighting. She would be entering hospice care and only had a few months left. Two months later, she passed. Her memorial was the day before my 33rd birthday. Returning to NYC was super hard. The stress of my mom’s illness was gestating in the four walls of our apartment and the thought of roughing another winter in the northeast had both of us at wits’ end. Plus, moving into another apartment in Brooklyn was going to cost us almost the same amount as moving across the entire country. So, after five long years, we packed up and headed west. Destination, sunny southern California.

Los Angeles just seemed like the right spot since my husband grew up in the Valley and I have a small clientele of ex-New Yorkers here. It took a few months to get settled, but we found a sweet home Mid-City. I was able to get an educator’s position with the West Coast distributor for Kevin.Murphy and a wonderful job booth renting at Taboo Hair Care in West Hollywood. It feels great to be back in a salon after a couple years on my own in a private studio. Taboo has been a staple in West Hollywood for almost 32 years! I feel like I have a new family of talented and supportive coworkers. Sometimes, a fresh start is all you need.

It’s been quite the journey and no one ever said it would be easy, but I love where I am. Building a clientele on the West Coast from scratch is my next step and I’m still taking every day as it comes trying to enjoy these slow times while they last. For now, I still make seasonal visits to New York to see my favorite clients to supplement my income while I build here, but you know what they say, New York City is a great place to visit but a beast to live in. I look forward to expanding my repertoire to bridal styling and moving up the ladder as an educator. I am grateful to all of those who have helped me along the way. There’s no way I could have gotten where I am on my own. To all of those who strive to take great leaps in this crazy/wonderful industry, remember the best way to move forward is in collaboration instead of competition. Share your knowledge with others and they will share theirs with you.

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?
Not exactly, self-promotion can be difficult when you start up in a new city. It’s especially hard when you don’t have many connections or friends.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into your business story. Tell us more about the business.
Being an independent contractor comes with a whole slew of problems, but also some great advantages. Paying to work somewhere while you’re building a clientele is always a risk. If you’re not making money, you’re actually losing money. However, it allows me to be flexible with my time in the salon. Teaching is one of my biggest passions. In fact, most of my clients leave with a trick or two to add to their home routine every time they see me. It’s one of the biggest reasons I am out in the field as a color educator. I think that anyone can be inspiring.

Do you have a lesson or advice you’d like to share with young women just starting out?
Always keep learning and share your knowledge with anyone who will listen.

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Image Credit:

Teddy Baker Beauty

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