Modern Original People: Candy Shaw

Candy Shaw considers herself a street punk. “I was born with the desire to be somebody,” says Shaw, “but I had everything against me going in.” Despite being the daughter of Jamison Shaw – a salon veteran who didn’t let the fact that he only had an eighth-grade education keep him from building a multi-million dollar salon – Candy Shaw was a female in a profession that put men “onstage and in the boardroom,” not women. Still, she accepted the challenge of making it in what she calls “the world of suits” when the deck seemed to be stacked against her. Dyslexic—a trait she inherited from her father and has passed on to her daughter—Shaw never went to beauty school. Instead, she apprenticed for her father.

Like a lot of hairdressers with a calling, Shaw began cutting hair for her classmates in high school. Woodward Academy in Atlanta, a former military school that went co-ed, had a hair code—above the brow, above the ear and off the collar. As a visual learner who struggled with traditional book learning, Shaw traded free haircuts for help with homework and essentially became an entrepreneur at an early age. “Let’s just say that I found a way to parlay my personality and leverage my relationships to get where I wanted to go,” she says.

Shaw considers her dyslexia a gift, one that she’s used to her advantage. “I’ve started at the back and gone forward in everything I’ve ever done in my life,” she explains. “Knowing what the end game was, being able to visualize the end result and backing into it, has made me a better hairdresser.”

Shaw, who still sees guests at the salon she bought from her father when he retired three years ago, has used the same approach in business as well. An academy and a successful product line, Sunlights Balayage, are the direct result, she says, of seeing the end and coming up with a roadmap to get there.

For Shaw, education holds the key to success in a business her father described as a fast-moving train. “He always told me that you can get on at any station,” she says, “but the secret is to stay on the train. If you get off, the view never changes. Life goes on without you.” Shaw began teaching French haircutting and hair-painting techniques 20 years ago, long before most of us had ever heard of  the word balayage. For years she approached leading manufacturers about making a lightener that would hold onto the hair, and each time she was met with resistance. “They told me that balayage was a trend that would go away like everything else,” says Shaw, whose instincts told her that balayage, like the little black dress, wasn’t going anywhere.

“My father used to say that when you’re green you’re growing, but when you’re ripe you rot,” says Shaw. Not one to wither on the vine, she preaches the gospel of balayage to anyone who will listen. “I see businesses that are paralyzed because they won’t move forward. We’ve gone from frosting caps to foils to freehand balayage techniques, but some salons are losing staff right and left because they won’t embrace something new.”

Shaw is dismayed by what she sees as a trend in our industry to make icons out of hairdressers who have 400,000 followers on social media, but have only been in the business for a couple of years. “It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” she says. “For so many of these young people, being an original means doing something so outlandish that you stand out, but for me, shock value isn’t original. Being an original means changing someone’s life for the better, being a mentor, engaging with someone in person, not just liking something they posted on Facebook.” Want to foster originality in your own life? Shaw’s advice is to be touchable. “People need to relate to you,” she says. “Let them live in your story so they’ll celebrate your success with you when it comes.”