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Hair seems to be a growth industry in Central Oklahoma. Within the past 18 months, both Anthony David and Paul Mitchell partner schools have opened academies in the metro. The reason, stylists and teachers say, is the harsh economy and the opportunity to earn upward of $2,000 a week while setting your own schedule.
“I think this is a market that’s finally opened up,” says Melissa Bennett, admissions leader at Imagine Paul Mitchell partner school in Norman.
The schools offer the 1,500-hour course work needed to prepare for the Oklahoma cosmetology exam. Tuition fees range from $10,000 to $20,000, she says, depending on specialties.
In her 13 years in the industry, Bennett has served not only as a stylist, but also as a platform artist and national educator. Platform artists are paid to share their experience on stage for other stylists to learn and copy.
“I was so excited to have the opportunity in Oklahoma when I found there was a school here,” says Bennett, who is originally from California. “They are completely different. The standard of the professional beauty industry is higher, as well as what they have done with the cosmetology school.”
Full-service academies train students not only how to cut and style hair, but the entire cosmetology line, including skin and beauty treatments, nails and makeup.
“I think the misconception of the beauty industry has been because schools don’t prepare for the professional side,” Bennett says. “A lot of schools are testfocused. The idea of Paul Mitchell is that’s a small part of your career. You have to get the license, but you have to be ready for the day after, and that’s what we do.”
Nationwide, the cosmetology industry is growing. According to the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, salaries range from $30,000 to $48,000, and at the time of its most recent survey, 53% of salon owners were looking for stylists.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites that 48% of cosmetologists are self-employed and expects the industry to grow by 20% from 2008 to 2018.
Outside of attending a 1,500-hour program, the only other educational requirement in Oklahoma for cosmetologists is they must have completed the eighth grade.
“Everyone belongs in this industry,” Bennett says. “It’s not just working behind a chair. There are so many opportunities: There’s salon ownership, there’s management, there’s sales, corporate work, distribution and education. Whether you have pink hair and are rocking out the liberty spikes, or doing long, pretty Miss America hair … there is a place for everyone.”
Heather Wyatt, who teaches cosmetology at the Moore Norman Technology Center in Norman, has watched Anthony David and Paul Mitchell schools open within 10 miles of her, and says she’s not surprised.
“The economy is going up again,” Wyatt says. “This is going into my eighth year, and we’ve always had anywhere from a 100- to 200-person waiting list. I think (the academies) have caught wind of that. They know we can’t possibly service all those clients, so they think they can come in and take up part of the gap.”
She credits television shows such as “Tabatha’s Salon Takeover” and “Shear Genius” with putting the profession even more in the public’s consciousness.
“All little girls at one time or another like to play with hair and makeup,” Wyatt says. “Some … never grow out it.”
Historically a mostly female field, Wyatt says she’s seeing more males enroll.
“I think they have found that women like to be told by a guy what looks good on them. I think they’ve figured out there’s a huge profit there for them,” she says, adding that cosmetologists not only make money by cutting hair, but also by selling the store’s products to clients and recommending or even performing other skin and beauty treatments.
Both Bennett and Wyatt say the sky’s the limit on each stylist’s earning potential, based on how much they want to work and the type of clientele they specialize in.
“I think the industry is recession-proof,” Bennett says. “Everyone still needs to get their hair done.”