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Being Inspired by a Blind Hairdresser by: Arthur DiGiacomo

As a whole we our own a group of talented individuals in an industry full of amazing creativity, but the individual ego and our competitive nature sometimes does not allow for the true meaning, of why we are who we are to shine through.

As I waited for everyone to join me in the conversation on a conference call, I could not help but think how a person without sight, might be able to have a career as a hairdresser in the beauty industry. It was when I was a creative young upcoming hairdresser that I use to kid with my clients and say I could cut their hair with my eyes closed. (Yes, I would shut my eyes and take a snip).

As you know hairdressing is a visionary profession. A profession where the work needs to been seen to be appreciated and especially to know completely about facial structures, hair texture, color and motion to create the looks that get published and win awards. We preach that education, is the key to success in the beauty industry.

I am here to add it also takes a determination to bear the brunt of a bad marriage, money, drugs, alcohol, abuse, depression, and especially the will to live through life and what it bestows on us on a personal level, from time to time.

I have said many times to my children, friends, and colleagues that it is life’s experiences that give you wisdom. But to gain that wisdom we need the desire to learn – “It is important to go through life being a good speaker and teacher, but it is more important to be a great listener and student”.

The longer we live the more we learn. Wisdom is gained through Experience !

Every time you think you have enough Wisdom to Teach – You Learn

Every motivational speaker who encourages us – Listens

Every Educator who instructs us – Is Inspired

Those that do this in their youth will be the ones who will lead others, down a path of fulfillment and happiness.

This brings me to a woman and future hairdresser of courage 25 year old Stephanie Lay, her salon owners (Alice and Doug Campbell) and Redken educator’s (Chris Baran and Jillian Wise) who were inspired enough by her desire to learn from the courage of this young hairdresser, and the pain she endured. They and she wanted to share the experience to the beauty industry, that which has given everyone one of us a career of creativity and inspiration.

With the support of her friends, salon owners and industry educators, Stephanie Lay has begun the task of rebuilding her career, her life and her ambition to help others in various states of depression see the light again. All while fulfilling her dream of becoming a hairdresser.

e Lay was a married woman who gave up another career, to go to beauty school and

become a hairdresser. She was also working as an associate / assistant to Alice Campbell at her salon “The Penton House“ in Pace, Florida. At this time she had her sight and was becoming a very efficient assistant and hairdresser. A dedicated, loyal employee, who was eager to get her career going at the Penton Salon. Like most of us, life has a way of throwing you a curve ball where you miss and all of a sudden you feel like you are striking out. Unknown by her employers and friends Stephanie’s personal life was taking turn for the worse. As she stated to me, her marriage was going through extremely hard times. She and her husband seperated and Stephanie became even more depressed about life.

Anyone who has ever had a death in the family, lost a job, or just depressed about not feeling loved by someone, knows that the feeling of depression once upon you, is hard to overcome. What can make matters worse is the use of drinking and or drugs to give you the feeling like there is no reason to go on.

Well it was at this time Stephanie became so depressed she stopped eating and enjoying life and decided just that – there is no reason to live and while drinking shot herself in the head. She was rushed to the hospital, where is the weeks ahead she endured surgery on the wound and Stephanie now learned she had severed the nerves to her eyes and was blind.

Alice and Doug Campbell, were unaware of what had happened and after a few days of Stephanie not showing up for work, went about the task of finding out about their dedicated employee. Through their love and devotion Alice and Doug gave Stephanie reason to carry on, to work towards her goals and to inspire others that there is life after depression and pain.

Now the question I had for Chris was: “How do you now teach a blind woman to see, to cut and style hair” and to continue in this field of vision. Chris said: "Stephanie’s determination to learn, gave him determination to teach". And teach he did.

With the help of Jillian Wise who worked closely with Stephanie who began by placing her own hands on Stephanie’s face, to show her how to feel the structure and understand where she would be working on the mannequin.

In speaking to Chris, Alice and Doug I heard how a tragic situation, can turn into a positive learning experience for others. There is another philosophy I often mention to my children and friends: “In every negative there is a positive, sometimes it is painful and hard to find - search hard, as it is there”

Stephanie has found the positive and now wants to share it with the beauty industry and the world.


The Introduction: In the words of Chris Baran

I was on the downhill side of a frantic show season. It’s like counting sleeps before your holidays …4 more, …3 more, …then 2 more shows and so on. I love the show itself, but the travel, hotel rooms and renting cars, gets old without a break. All the things that have little to do with the passion for hair…get in the way of the maxim -

It’s about the journey – not the destination.

I had just come off of 9 solid weeks of travel in and out of NYC, hitting 21 cities in 3 countries. It was 10 PM on November 5, 2011 and I had just landed in Pensacola, FL. Normally, when I land, I’m on my own with a car rental or a taxi to the hotel for some quick shut eye before the seminar. On this evening a wonderful lady, by the name of Alice Campbell, who owns the Penton House Salon and Spa, picked me up. On the ride to the venue we had the usual talk about the logistical set up and objectives - which eventually led to her team and how we would handle the class.

Here’s where she said. “Oh, by the way, I have a surprise for you.” Now, I’ve been hairdressing for 44 years and on stage for 35 of them. The little voice in my head kicked out an immediate response. Now, I don’t know if you have one that talks to you or if it has a name – my little voice’s name is Christopher and he talks to me like a 12-year old with black horned-rimmed glasses, tee shirt and flood pants. As I sat back in the passenger seat of her SUV, I took a deep breath while Christopher whispered sarcastically, “Right! Take your best shot, there aren’t too many things that surprise me.”

Alice went on to say: “Stephanie is one of our team mates. She phoned yesterday and asked what time the class was. Being as she just had brain surgery 3 weeks prior, I didn’t think she would be coming - but she is.”

That shows a great deal of determination but nothing that I hadn’t encountered to some degree in the past. “Cool!” I said with my outside voice. “But no surprise!” chimed in my Little Voice …anticipating more. Alice went on: “She’s been with us as an associate designer, meaning she’s not on the floor yet.” Sitting silently, Christopher, impatiently but curious screamed in my brain, “And…? Then came the kicker, “Errr! She’s blind!” (Silence)

She added, “I asked her if she wanted to come in and listen – there’d be plenty to learn just from listening – plus be highly motivational.” She went on to say, “Stephanie, said, ‘NO! I want to do the hands on like everyone else. If anyone can teach me to cut hair, it’s Chris!’”

Guess again, Christopher! When you’re not listening to what life has to tell you - sometimes it comes along and slaps you upside the head. OK, buddy! Time for your: A-game. The fact she thought I could help her filled me with a mix of pride and humility.

Quite frankly, Christopher was telling himself, “It won’t be that much different. She’ll probably play along for a little bit and opt out.” Whether we know it or not, our little voices are there to attempt try to protect us – They keep us from trying new things in case we make a mistake. When an idea comes to us in a meeting, it tells us to stay quiet because it’s stupid or people will laugh. But they lie! It was time to do the dasterly deed. So in my head, I said, “Christopher, SHUUUUUT UUUP!!”

The Training:

About 15 minutes before the class started, Stephanie arrived. The team helped her into the room and got her seated, made her comfortable with bagels and coffee. No extra fuss. If I hadn’t noticed her take someone’s arm, her entrance wouldn’t have been perceived as anything out of the ordinary.

The Hands on training started which in our tribe takes place in a SEE / DO environment. It’s not rocket science - you SEE a portion of the cut …then you go DO it.

During the class Stephanie sat where the team positioned her. As we got into the hands on portion, Alice brought Stephanie and a chair up to the back and left of my side. To a sighted person – a terrible spot, to an unsighted one – the best. She could hear me perfectly and as we talked about the shape. I could position the scissors on her hands or touch her face so she could feel the lines I was talking about.

The first day the hands on were done in a Symphony style, meaning everyone cut the hair at the same time. Jillian Wise stayed with Stephanie the whole time, giving her the audio cues so she knew where she was in relation to the mannequin and tripod, as well as giving her positive coaching with her progression.

Never once did Stephanie complain. She admitted that she got frustrated on occasion when she couldn’t find a guideline. And she persevered where others may have quit. To have the rest of the team get some perspective, we had them all close their eyes for one small portion of the haircut. As much as you knew the team was on her side prior you could sense that, without uttering a word, after that they had a better understanding of what she was going through. You could sense her determination but I could see Stephanie’s confidence grow with each passing hour.

On the second day, we did the traditional approach to the hands on, where people watch first, then do the look. This particular haircut involved some scissor over comb and razor work. To remind you – she had never done scissor over comb or worked with a razor before. I asked her if she wanted to use a scissor instead of the razor. She responded, “No, I want to learn” …tough enough for a sighted person to do the first time. Now, imagine someone holding their hands over your eyes, and saying, “Go for it.”

Although she impressed the hell out of me on the first day, this day, I saw her blossom. Her energy was high, although she would lie down for a bit of recovery time at the breaks. When we would call time in and I would think she would stay sleeping …up she would come and get back into it – just like the rest of the team.

Of the two looks, the second one was much more complex with more intricate partings. And she blew me away with her results. Was it perfect – no! Was it better than what some people do with sight …absolutely!

Chris Baran’s Thoughts:

For anyone that wonders what it must be like to be unsighted and work in a situation like this, let me paint you a very small comparison. It’s nighttime, you’re at your bedroom door, you just turned off the lights and everything went black. You had to negotiate the room, around your bed, turn the bed down and get in before your eyes adjusted to the darkness. Only seconds – right! But in the mean time you stubbed your toe, banged your knee and pulled back the duvet but not the sheet. Imagine it being like that all the time. I can’t imagine what it was like for Stephanie.

"Personally, it made me think of the sense of sight that we take for granted every day until it is taken away from us".

I have been blessed with so many training opportunities – some lessons came easy and some hard! I thank God for every incredible training lesson in my life. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not the brightest candle on the mantle or the sharpest tack on the board (Apologies for the mixed metaphor) – but I am a great gatherer of information and observer of human kind.

One of my greatest teachers and mentors and a man I call friend is Blair Singer the best-selling author of Little Voice Mastery and Sales Dogs – a part of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad group. One of the many learning experiences I gathered was from him. He taught us to teach to the blind – meaning talking with exact purpose so if a person who wasn’t looking up at you, perhaps while they were taking notes, would still get a visual picture and be able to understand. Great concept for a sighted person – absolutely necessary for someone without it! The up side was that Stephanie had sight at one time, so I felt she would still have a great visual imagination as to what the shapes would look like.

From this point forward, anyone in one of my seminars who complains about it being too hard or not willing to risk a mistake, will hear Stephanie’s story. There was no quit in her.

I have to admit, years back, while working a show as the “guest artist”, as we were called at the time, I was persuaded (for lack of a better word) to be involved in a blind haircutting competition. I was forced …errr, the rules stated to do a haircut blindfolded. I got a tiny glimpse into what it was like to use the skills of a sighted person in a world meant for the blind. The frustration and confusion went on for 30 minutes. I became disoriented as I tried to feel my way around the head, feel for the guideline and hope I was cutting hair and not the client or my hand. The experience was painful and yet it made me appreciate, if not just for a short time, this wonderful gift we have, called sight. And if you’re still wondering – no, I didn’t win.

What do I sense Stephanie is about? If anyone had a reason to quit or use excuses to say, “I can’t!” “I’m afraid!” or “I quit!” – it’s her - but she didn’t and she won’t.

What I learned out of this experience can be summed up in a simple quote from Lance Armstrong who said, Pain is temporary, Quitting lasts forever.


In speaking to Chris, Alice and Doug I heard how a tragic situation, can turn into a positive learning experience for others. Let’s all take something from Stephanie’s experience and desire and learn gather some Wisdom to take and teach to others who will listen.

We will be bringing you an interview with Stephanie Lay, Chris Baran, and Jillian Wise as soon as time allows. In the meantime Love one another and remember every time you want to give up find the positive and move forward. This is exactly what Stephanie is doing – Moving Forward and becoming what might be, the first Blind Hairdresser.

My Best to All,

Art DiGiacomo


As a foot Note:

Chris said something to me that made me think hard about the times I am frustrated and want to just move away and forget it all… “Although we are no longer children, we are all in a the sand box, where we can play and share together” Can we play Together ?

Arthur DiGiacomo - is the President of, Hairdresser and Salon Owner (30 years)

Chris Baran - is the President, Fuel Education, Artistic Director, for Redken

Jillian Wise - is a Redken certified coulourist - design certified

Alice Hampton - is a hairdresser and co-owner of Penton Salon and Spa

Doug Hampton - is a co-owner of Penton Salon and Spa


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