4 December 2021

A Passion for Teaching – Up Close and Personal with Industry Legend Sam Villa

Sam Villa is a man that needs no introduction. From hairdressers to consumers, his face and voice is one recognized as a leader in the mastery of beauty and hairstyling, planting seeds in the minds of generations that now build up this craft-based industry.

His encouragement to stylists is unrivaled, as he genuinely wants each one of them to reach deep to identify how they can make a change to promote their own growth.

Global Artistic Ambassador for Redken 5th Avenue, Sam Villa is known for teaching things differently to challenge, inspire and motivate change. His talents stretch far beyond his brilliant cutting and finishing skills; he has a plethora of business skills that enliven stylists to think about how they speak to their guests to add value behind the chair. Last year, this true legend received the  Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 NAHA and shared with us the journey that lead him to this momentous event.

He speaks of changes in the industry, what needs to shift and, of course, how his journey in hairdressing has sprouted from the desire to educate. Sam is a true messenger sharing his knowledge with stylists in hopes that they too will share with others to enrich the hairdressing world… upgrade the industry by respecting and supporting one another – #ArtistsSupportingArtists.

What did it mean to you to receive NAHA’s Lifetime Achievement Award?
It was such an honor, I’m humbled, and it shows me that even after all of these years, the hard work has paid off. Being in this industry for 40 years is amazing.

Who do you look up to?
There are so many people I look up to as mentors! My early mentors were Robert Lobbetta, Trevor Sorbie and Anthony Mascolo. Those were the top in my youth as a hairdresser in the 80s. Now my mentor is the computer. Most people ask me what I mean by that… it’s an object that doesn’t speak. But actually, I think it speak many different languages of teaching, and it serves as a language of resource for me. I’m not an inventor. I’m a teacher that researches. I’m constantly looking and looking for things that you can see and say, ‘well what if I twist this the other way? Or if I do what I see in a different way.’ Also, one of my big mentors is my buddy Chris Baran, he’s a great coach, he’s a great teacher and does things with his heart and his soul. He’s been really close to me in the past 10 years. I think there are so many great mentors in the Redken Artist network. I’ll never forget the day Kris Sorbie said, ‘you can really cut some hair but you are a lousy finisher, so here’s the deal, you teach me how to teach and I’ll teach you how to finish!’ And it was amazing!

When did you discover that you had this gift for education?
It happened some years ago with Redken. Christine Schuster, the VP of Eeducation at the time, had us go learn from Blair Singer about the Art of Facilitation and he taught us how to teach and present. Then we took it. I remember Chris saying, “how are we going to apply this to the hairdressing industry?” And I said, I don’t know, we’ll make it work, and sure enough. I got something revolutionary here that can be delivered from a stage and can help people grow in this industry. When I first got on stage it was all about flash, don’t even talk, just loud music. And don’t get me wrong, those were great days! The industry needed that! I’ll never forget when I was spinning the chair and cutting the hair, and the hair was flying and the audience was going nuts… but did they learn anything? No! But did they like it, yes. What happened is the industry started to change, we started to realize that people stopped coming to shows. Now on the show floor you can hear the sound of teaching, the interested gazes, not just throwing t-shirts off the stage with lights and loud music. I really believe we woke up and noticed we need to educate. And Redken was one of the few that trained us in the art of facilitation. People were laughing at us because we were using flip-charts. You can’t just speak to people, because there are all kinds of learners. Really, there are four types of learners; there are the prisoners, who are forced to be there because their salon owner says, ‘it’s mandatory to go to the show’; you have the students, those are the people that want to be there and sit in the front row; the vacationers, they end up at the pool half the time of the show; and then the masters, that sit there and want you to prove something to them. When the graduate raises their hand I know he will ask, ‘Well in my salon, we do it like this,’ and I can see the question coming. Identifying the learners is not just teaching what you learned, but being able to teach to all four types of learners.

Do you remember when you discovered YouTube?
Yes. I was at a hair show in Chicago at ABS and two Redken artists were on YouTube. I remember asking what that was. We sat down and before I knew it, we had been there for an hour. I thought wow, this is really cool. YouTube is awesome as an educational resource and social tool. But I really believe that what needs to happen is for hairdressers to support each other. What really bothers me on social media is the way that people are knocking others down and saying bad things about someone’s work without knowing who you are talking to. I went into a beauty school and met this girl who said, ‘My mom follows you. I’m a hairdresser because of my mom and because of you, but I’m getting ready to quit.’ When I asked her why, she said, ‘I’m quitting because I tried to do what you do on social media and all I get is dislikes and comments like why are you even becoming a hairdresser?’ and she was tearing up! I said, ‘my dear, understand those people hide behind a computer, and they have no clue what is in your heart and soul. Right now, your hand is developing, your eye is developing and here they are thinking they are more developed?’ She stayed in the game, but it was the people on the outside that were negatively affecting her view about future of the industry, and that needs to stop. Social media is such a tool when used correctly, but it can also be harmful.

That’s where the hashtag #artistsupportingartists was born.
“Yes! My education director and I supported that because we were talking one night and he said to me, ‘you know what I love about you Sam? You are all about supporting the artist. You tell the social media team, post their work, and help them. We have to do something. That’s where it came from, artists supporting artists,’ and it was actually created by Andrew, he came up with the hashtag we use today. Now everyone is jumping on that. It is something we wanted to create, and It’s a message that I have. We need to wake up and realize that we all have a voice in this industry and we have to be very careful on how to use our voice.”

What would be your best advice for someone starting out?
Education the whoooooole way. I’ll never forget my friend Chris Baran asking me why I go to London every year. I always go to Salon International. Then I would get back from the trip and he would ask, ‘Wow! Where did you get that?’ And I’d reply, London! Students always ask me this question, ‘how they can get to where I got’…I always aim to say, ‘EDUCATION.’ Go to every show! Sometimes I go to a show and people say ‘man, I didn’t learn anything, did you?’ And I respond, ‘yeah, what NOT to do, what not to say!’ Some people never look at it that way. What I look at is the love I have for the little phrase she just used, or her posture. Sometimes it’s the position, the way they phrase things, and those little things. I have journals at home of all the educational shows I go to, and when I moved, my wife came across all these journals and photographs. She said, ‘Oh my God, you are still doing this today and you’ve been doing it since 1979!’ (Laughs) When I’m done you can sell the lifetime collection! I use some of these phrases today. It’s building your own archives, like I call it. It’s my hair bible, and it’s all about the things that I’m talking about for the whole year that I want to share with people, so that I don’t come back to the same area and repeat it again. They have been a great resource, because fashion is just a repetition of the old, so then I get to see that we’re doing shags again! I cut an Asian designer’s hair and I asked her, where she got her inspiration from. She said, ‘Sam, when something is 20 years old, then it’s fashionable again.’ We started talking about the 90s. Think about it, it’s been 20 years, and things are coming back, just a little bit tweaked. Sometimes I tell people, I’m going to put pleats in the hair. Vertically not horizontally. And just changing those words can inspire somebody.

How do you think the youth in hairdressing has changed?
I really believe that the industry is going back. What do I mean by that? We are getting back into discipline. Be aware of your over direction. A lot of these young kids, they are used to having everything readily available. So they see a cut online and they try it and then they are disappointed. Strong foundations is what we are coming back to. Getting back to discipline. In many parts of my haircut I am back to precision. I always tell them, you will need to listen to your professors because they are telling you things that you will need in your profession. The most difficult thing for these kids to do is cut a straight line, but if you ask them to texturize hair then they are a blur! These kids need to understand, at the beinning of this industry, you are not going to make a lot of money. But they’re so used to things being handed to them. They are renting apartments and not buying houses, but foundation is where it’s going and things are coming back to a full cycle.

Where do you see the industry in 10  years?
I am a little concerned. My concern is licensing and deregulation. I am totally against it. I think that everyone needs to join a professional beauty association, because they are fighting these lobbyist with these lawyers, and they want to deregulate this industry. I’m concerned about that, but we are going to get the message out there because this cannot happen. Can you imagine someone random just gabbing bleach and dunking it to a person’s head? Without books or studies. I also worry about the quality, standards of the industry. If we have to get the professionalism back, we need to elevate the industry together and talk about how we can make people understand that we are hair doctors. That’s why I really like what’s happening in the color world and what’s happening in barbering as well. But if there’s anything that I’m really happy for is that haircutting is back.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Estetica's official newsletter and receive all the latest news and information from the world of hairdressing - no charge, spam free!