Today we’d like to introduce you to Leah Vandever.
Hi Leah, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
As a child, I couldn’t keep the scissors away from my dolls’ hair (and my own) and felt such a thrill when I made that first cut. Luckily, my parents supported my curiosity and over the years, I would eventually trade haircuts with my friends and family. I visited salons a few times and while I loved parts of the experience (like the shampoo), I didn’t love the results. I found high school uninspiring and barely graduated. Unable to figure out what I loved and wanted to do, I moved from Ohio to Austin, got a job at Whole Foods, and continued to cut friends’ hair in my living room for fun. I became pregnant at a young age and subsequently lost my job. As a young single mom, I struggled to find work. My brother pointed out my love for haircutting and I enrolled in cosmetology school. While in school, I started to feel like I might not fit in with the industry. I grew up in a healthy household. We ate organic food and were always very conscious of our impact on the earth. The idea of working in a traditional salon with daily exposure to services with potentially harmful ingredients broke my heart. But as a single mom with a child in daycare, I was looking for a salon to work in that would help launch my career.
In school, I became close friends with a girl who introduced me to organic haircolor. After school, we both reluctantly ended up working in salons that did not align with our shared vision of practicing our crafts in a clean, relaxed, and nontraditional environment. We learned a lot about what we would and would not do if we had our own business and used these experiences (along with our experiences as salon clients over the years) to give us the courage to do something different. I knew then that I was destined to be a salon owner! We decided to break away and create a salon in a spare bedroom in my home. We bartered with friends and received generous help from family to completely transform a carpeted bedroom into a little, functional salon with two stations. We wanted to create a space that we would want to get our hair done in. A welcoming place that valued health and family and could be accessible to people of all backgrounds and income levels. My business grew at a great pace, mostly by word of mouth. I was able to have my child home with me, which saved money on childcare and also modeled for them the value of working hard and enjoying yourself in the process.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
My friend/partner and I started out as color and cutting specialists, respectively. We were a great team. When she made the hard decision to move to California to start her family, I suddenly became the sole proprietor of the salon and took on the challenge of doing both cut and color. This was the greatest learning experience for me! I have since had another child and have added a new friend and partner to the salon. Brittany and I have been working together for six years now and our partnership has continued to grow right along with our business.
Running a business in my home has presented a number of challenges. Prioritizing a healthy balance between maintaining a casual, welcoming space and a professional environment can be tricky and I have had to create and enforce some boundaries that I hadn’t recognized the need for initially. We also renovated the space in 2019, which closed the salon off completely from our home. I have been thinking a lot about expanding by creating more small, two+ stations around Austin and other locations throughout the country that would stay true to our cozy, comforting vibe but will allow us to expand and better meet our clients’ needs.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I do it all (!) but specialize in cutting curly hair and doing natural looking, organic hair color. My work is inspired by my personal interest in healthy living and diy hair/beauty. I love lived-in color that is low maintenance and allows you the freedom to touch up only once or twice a year. Accordingly, I like keeping my prices affordable so anyone who wants to can come to the room. I also love helping folks grow out pixie cuts and the challenge of correcting a bad or home haircut. I am most proud of the comfortable, welcoming space I’ve created and how that makes people who visit the room feel.
Do you have recommendations for books, apps, blogs, etc?
Right now, I am into the book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers. Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect. I have always loved breaking the “rules” of haircutting and color. To see beauty in each individual, with their own quirks, and to play on that in their style.
Also, the book Counter Clockwise – Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. I love this book because it makes you think about the power of positivity and the desire to be healthy for as long as possible. My industry can take a toll on the body and nurturing physical longevity means I am more likely to have the option to retire when I’m ready.
Instagram was a wonderful way of connecting with hairdressers all over the world during the pandemic. It was difficult being a business owner with no real direction from our local government on navigating Covid-19. I felt especially vulnerable working out of my home and it was nice to be able to see what other stylists and owners were doing at that time.
Destroy the Hairdresser is a great industry podcast. I especially loved the episode titled Vibrational Color with @roxiedarling. Her take on hair color and the whole experience she creates is lovely and inspiring.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: theroomorganicsalon.com
- Instagram: @theroomorganicsalon
Portrait/space photographs by: Ali Ditto @alisonedenphotography