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Asian Beauty Pros on Bringing Their Authentic Selves to Work

Asian beauty Pro Mary Tran StyleSeat

In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, StyleSeat is spotlighting some of our Asian beauty Pros who make it a point to show up as their authentic selves at work. Read their stories below on how they connect with StyleSeat Clients on a deeper level by educating and providing hair, nail, and makeup services that boost confidence.

Mary Tran

Stylist and salon owner Mary Tran jokes that she got into the hair industry by accident. “I wasn’t one of those kids that did hair when I was 3. I didn’t know anything about hair or makeup,” she says.

When the California native was in high school, her uncle suggested that she sign up for beauty school. Tran did but completely forgot about registering until she received a phone call. She explains, “They called me up before I graduated and said, ‘Hey! You’re next up on the list. You’re still a high school student, so your tuition is paid for. All you need to do is pay for your kit.’ That was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Tran fondly remembers when her beauty school teacher put her to the haircutting test and his response was, “Wow! You did it on your first try. You’re a natural at this.” This immediately led to her being taught advanced haircutting techniques.

“Thank goodness for my teacher because he really pushed us,” says Tran. “He made us go to all the hair shows, signed us up for competitions… he just threw us out there and that’s how I became passionate about hair.”

That same teacher advised Tran to leave her small town of Stockton, CA to launch her career. She eventually set out to the Bay Area to continue her education under the guidance of senior stylists. And when she’d return home for family gatherings and barbecues, her mother encouraged her to practice her skills. “She would tell everyone, ‘Ok, line up. Mary will do your haircut.’ To me, I was just doing a haircut and thought everyone could do it because it just came so natural to me.”

Tran adds, “When I was in beauty school, I would always have my scissors with me. I would go to parties and people would ask me what I do. When I told them I was a hairdresser, I would just give out free haircuts. It would break the ice. At the beginning of my career, I got so much practice.”

After spending four years fine-tuning her craft as a stylist in the Bay Area, Mary set down roots in Los Angeles and is now the proud owner of MARE.LA @ Salon Republic in Santa Monica. The five-star rated StyleSeat Pro has built a loyal clientele because of her sharp haircutting skills, as well as her personable and professional demeanor.

This Client review sums up Tran’s talents perfectly: “Mary is friendly and easy to talk to. She looked through photos and listened to exactly what I wanted/my past haircut traumas. Most importantly for me, she took the time and had the expertise to make my extremely long, thick, wavy hair feel manageable and shapely instead of the bulky tangled mess I walked in with. No small feat!”

Read on to learn what other skills separates Tran from hairstylists in the biz, why she chose StyleSeat to stay organize as a businesswoman, and the impact she hopes to make on her clients.

What differentiates you from other Pros?

Going into the career, I was a natural at cutting but color took me longer to understand. It was something in my mind where I felt like I had to learn this. When I was working in the Bay Area, I was spoiled with the way I was taught hair coloring. The team I worked with was very family oriented and a senior stylist would help me formulate color with my client.

But when I moved to LA, I worked in a salon that was the opposite of a team environment. It was the worst and best experience, because I was kind of thrown into the shark tank and had to learn everything on my own. I messed up on everyone’s hair. That made me a way better colorist. I know exactly what not to do now. I’m really good at color corrections.

When clients sit in my chair, either they went to someone who totally screwed up their hair and I have to slowly fix their hair. Or I tell them, “Your hair is really fried.” I’m not going to give them unrealistic hair goals.

How do you celebrate your Asian American heritage and culture through your work as a beauty professional?

A lot of people don’t understand that Asian hair can be really dark, really straight. We have different densities, every strand varies in coarseness. Using the right products will be better in hair care goals. I know it because I’ve colored my own hair and experienced it.

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How has StyleSeat impacted your life as an entrepreneur?

StyleSeat has been with me since the beginning, since I started my own business. In the beginning, I was so embarrassed, felt like I wasn’t going to be busy, and people would see my schedule. But it was the best thing. I got booked right away!

I started StyleSeat when I was working out of another salon and thought I could market myself so I could get my own salon suite. I just transferred all of my clients’ emails, texted them. They could just book and not have to bother me. I’m just a one-person businesswoman.

What is your favorite StyleSeat feature and why?

I love the email confirmations and I can send out blasts. There’s an email template that I can just work with and send out so easily. Clients will know right away if I’m moving or changing prices. I’m not very computer-savvy. I’m good behind the chair, building client relationships one-on-one. But computers… I’m just illiterate. StyleSeat has just helped me with that.

How can the beauty industry support Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals?

I think we just need to educate people more. Like on Asian hair, this is the right way to use this product and step by step. This is what happens when you cut Asian hair this way… you’ll get bluntness. More videos, more blogs. You have to see it! Hopefully, I can help with that by posting more pictures and videos.

Asian beauty pro Asian Tran

How do you hope to make clients who come to your salon and sit down in your chair feel?

I love cutting hair and doing hair, but my favorite thing is to communicate with my clients. Getting to know them on a deeper level and educating them — that’s my favorite part of the experience. I want to educate them in a way that they can go and have that lingo to say, “Oh yeah, I want my hair to not look brassy.” I want them to learn about hair but also to feel good when they come in.

I love to keep the conversations in the salon very positive and talk about how we’re thriving. I’m very lucky where a lot of my clients were thriving through 2020 and we’re not just surviving as we go into 2021. I like to help my clients have a positive mindset instead of a victimizing mindset. I get to help them with their hair needs, but also internally. I’m also like a therapist. They trust me so fast! I’m very empathetic… I love to help!

What do you want your legacy to be?

I just want to change the narrative when [clients] come into the salon. We can gossip all day, but I like to get deeper and find out how they’re feeling about life and how I can help them. We hug it out before they leave and they love their hair.

A lot of the conversations in the salon right now are behind Asian American hate, and we’re trying to figure out how to love ourselves. But a lot of my Asian clients will say, “Oh, we’re such people pleasers.” A lot of this comes from our parents and understanding how they grew up helps us understand ourselves. I love talking about that and, of course, giving them the best hair experience.

Sopheary Phok

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Sopheary Phok, better known as Sophy, has over 15 years of experience as a nail artist under her belt. Take one look at the photos on her StyleSeat profile, and you’ll see she’s mastered everything from simple French manicure designs to encapsulated nail art. But nail health is what actually set Phok on a path to becoming an award-winning nail technician.

“My dad is a diabetic and he didn’t speak good English. We would go to the podiatrist to get his nails cut because they’re really thick and we couldn’t go to the nail salon. When we went there, we had a really bad experience and it was friendly at all. Me being a teen, I told my dad to go to CVS, get a little nail clipper, and that’s how it all really started with me doing nails. I just taught myself ever since,” she explains.

The two-time Best of Gwinnett winner (2019 and 2020) has been booked and busy since joining StyleSeat in 2015. Phok has snagged the highly coveted five-star rating on StyleSeat, and she has hundreds of reviews that call to attention her “attentive,” “creative,” “on time” characteristics and the “clean,” “good vibes,” and “easy parking” her salon suite offers.

Keep reading to find out about the “great feeling” Phok gets from giving her nail clients quality service, how her Asian American roots motivate her, and why she credits StyleSeat as being her “personal assistant.”

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What differentiates you from other Pros?

I don’t consider myself a Pro because there are so many other nail artists out there that I look up to. I would say… just being my own individual person and taking care of whoever comes in to make them feel comfortable.

What makes you proud to be Asian American?

Well, it starts with my parents really because for me to be able to live and do what I do is because of them. They came from Cambodia and went through a lot just to get here and survive in the [United States]. My motivation is my family. I can’t let them down, but at the same time, I can’t step back. I have to move forward with everything that’s happening because at the end of the day, I have to take care of myself and my family.

How has StyleSeat impacted your life as an entrepreneur?

It’s been amazing. It’s really my own personal assistant. Me by myself in a studio, it’s hard to pick up phones and chat… just a lot of things, in general. The only time I’m able to talk to anyone is super late at night or early in the morning. But having StyleSeat is so much stress-relieving because I can just send them right to StyleSeat and everything is just right there — from the schedule, service details, client reviews.

What is your favorite StyleSeat feature and why?

The best part for me is the reminders that StyleSeat sends out — I love that. And I love that I can set up my No Show and Late-Cancellation Policy and actually catch the clients that are serious, come in every two weeks.

Asian beauty pro Sophy Nails

How can the beauty industry support Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals?

Donating to the community and the families that have been going through a lot. All I can do is donate, spread the word, and tell everyone that the virus is actually hate. Even though a lot of this is going on right now, our community is finally getting together. Honestly, be nice! Stop hate!

How do you hope to make clients who come to your salon and sit down in your chair feel?

Yeah, you get to do great nails, but your client leaves really happy. That is what makes me happy… nails just started to become a hobby and not a job. It’s not really work and when I take a vacation, I miss my clients.

What do your want your legacy to be?

Letting my son know that I never stopped and never gave up… always succeeding and striving to be a better person.

Zahra Alarithy

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Many conversations with Asian beauty professionals often exclude the perspectives of people from West Asian countries. However, Iraqi-Arab American Zahra Alarithy is creating a space and body of work where all women feel seen and heard.

“I went to Iraq [the summer of 2014] and I got engaged,” says Alarithy. “My mom’s friend took me to a local makeup artist. She made me a couple shades lighter than my skin tone. Not only that, she gave me a monochrome green eye look, elongated my eyes with eyeliner, and over emphasized my lips with a purple lipstick. I was shocked and hated my makeup so much that when I came back home I wiped it all off.”

Instead of blaming the makeup artist, Alarithy recognized where the real problem lies. “The idea of colorism is embedded in the beauty industry, and so this concept is very problematic because women who want to feel beautiful think that they need to look a certain way and that is so wrong,” she explains. “Ever since that day, I vowed I will never allow myself to be ignorant in anything. I came back to the [United States] and started teaching myself. I started doing makeup on my sisters, cousins, friends. By 2016, I took my first client.”

Alarithy spent three years learning the fundamentals of makeup by putting into practice what she saw in Youtube videos. Then, she decided to enhance her hands-on expertise. She says, “I wanted to gain more skills because beautiful makeup application starts with having a great skincare regimen. I want to teach my clients how to take care of their skin.” Alarithy became a licensed esthetician and has a total of six years of experience.

Although new to StyleSeat, Alarithy has garnered positive client reviews for her glowing makeup looks that are sure to help her establish long-lasting relationships in Dearborn, MI. Keep reading to discover exactly how her heritage shows up in her work and how she found passion in purpose as an esthetician and makeup artist.

What is your favorite StyleSeat feature and why?

My favorite feature has to be the business growth feature. This tells potential professionals about how much money they’re making and the new and returning clients, which is great to see their progress.

Asian beauty pro Zahra Alarithy

How do you celebrate your Iraqi-Arab American heritage and culture through your work as a beauty professional?

I am proud of my cultural background because it makes me the person I am today. I am a refugee and first generation growing up in America. When I think about all the things my parents endured to be here in this country, it makes me want to do everything in my power to make them proud.

I feel I celebrate my heritage and culture through my work by showcasing some skills that are very popular like the smokey eye, contour, and having a flawless complexion.

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How can the beauty industry support professionals from diverse backgrounds?

The No. 1 [thing] that the beauty industry could do to support professionals is to make professional products that are all inclusive. In the past couple of years, we saw this happen more and more with foundation shades. It was beautiful to see because people whose skin type was never acknowledged now had foundations that matched their skin tone.

How do you hope to make clients who come to your salon and sit down in your chair feel?

My sole purpose is to make women feel and look beautiful. I want any woman to leave my chair feeling confident and beautiful. That she is capable of conquering whatever obstacle that comes her way.

What do your want your legacy to be?

I want my legacy to be my work achievements. I want my work to make women feel confident and I want my work to speak for itself.

Salina Néou

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StyleSeat Pro Salina Néou has worked with some of the biggest celebrities, including grooming the Kardashians during three seasons of their hit reality TV show and painting Cardi B’s stiletto nails bright red for the cover of her debut album “Invasion of Privacy.” But if you were to meet the nail artist, you’ll know that she is a very down-to-earth person. The values she learned as a child in her Asian American home instilled within her the power of humility.

Néou’s family owned salons since she was a baby, and she remembers helping out with the family business around the age of 16. What started out as a summer job she maintained when home from college breaks, eventually blossomed into a careers. “I ultimately fell in love with having positive client relations,” she says. “I adore the laughs, unique stories, and seeing them smile from loving their nails.”

Now the owner of her own home-base nail studio, Néou has people from near and far clamoring for an appointment to get their manicures decked out in one-of-a-kind designs. She even does house calls with rates starting at $300. And her clients can’t wait to brag about the finished masterpieces with reviews like, “Every design I throw at her she executes exceptionally! Love having Salina do my nails! She’s the best nail tech EVER! I’ll never leave.“

Read on to hear from Néou about how her family and culture keeps her grounded, the StyleSeat feature she enjoys most, and why it’s important to highlight diversity within the Asian American community.

What differentiates you from other Pros?

No matter who I’m working with, I’m still the same Salina. The beauty industry talks and you hear all the time about how so and so is only nice if you’re famous or have X-amount of followers. I take a lot of pride in treating everyone with the same amount of respect.

How do you celebrate your Asian American heritage and culture through your work as a beauty professional?

I’m Cambodian and grew up in a Buddhist household. It’s been taught to me at a very young age to be respectful and that no one is better than another — in my case, rich or famous. This molded the way I have interactions with others around me.

How has StyleSeat impacted your life as an entrepreneur?

StyleSeat has helped me organize my schedule where I know exactly what to do and when to do it. It takes care of client reminders and little things so I can focus on what’s important.

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What is your favorite StyleSeat feature and why?

Being able to write newsletters so I can keep all my clients informed on any changes or events.

How can the beauty industry support Asian American professionals?

I think this is a great start. There’s a huge misconception out there that “Asians are the same”, and we’re not. Country to country, we vary in language, dialect, beliefs, and physical features. Shedding light on us individually and allowing others to hear our story helps spread that message.

Asian Beauty Pro Salina Néou

How do you hope to make clients who come to your salon and sit down in your chair feel?

Happy and refreshed! I hope every client that leaves me knows I’m keeping their secrets, too.

What do your want your legacy to be?

I just want to inspire others to be better to each other. Especially living out in Los Angeles, where it’s the extremes of wealth and poverty. Help someone if you’re able to. Instead of leaving food behind at dinner where it’s going to get thrown out, take it to go and give it to someone who’s hungry on the streets. It’s little actions that we make in our everyday lives that collectively shape the next generation’s mindset into what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Suzanne Nguyen

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Suzanne Nguyen started doing hair later in life. In fact, she enrolled in beauty school when she was about 27 years old. She explains, “I didn’t know that I wanted to do hair until my mother actually suggested it to me. I was planning to go back to school for marketing. But she suggested that I have something to fall back on or as flexible as going to hair school.”

Taking her mother’s advice, Nguyen completed the standard 15000 hours, took her state board test, and passed the cosmetology exam on the first try. She started out as an assistant in a “really nice salon in Monterey,” then one year later she became a stylist. “My career skyrocketed!” says Nguyen. “I picked up a lot of clients.”

Fast-forward to today, and she is carving her own path as a colorist skilled in making StyleSeat Clients wildest hair color dreams a reality.  “I like to do blonding, but I love doing fashion colors and tones,” Nguyen says. “The silvers, the purples, the blues. I felt like I was a blonding specialist, but putting color on top so that when the color fades, they fade out into a really nice blonde.”

This gradual hair color transformation technique is why Nguyen’s work is truly incomparable. And the five-star rated Pro’s emphasis on hair health is something her clients also find priceless. One review describes her attention to care as: “She puts a lot of consideration in how the cut and color grows/fades long term and, keeping the hair healthy. She also gives really helpful tips on how to maintain it between visits. My hair is always in good hands with her.”

What differentiates you from other Pros?

My emphasis is hair health. The way I color hair, I really consider the hair. Color is secondary to me. We can always achieve the color, but there’s no point if the hair is dead.

A lot of clients that come to me are those that have not done anything to their hair yet and understand that I do care about hair health. I explain to them that it’s going to take time to get their hair where they want it to be and I give them a really real expectation.

I have clients that have been with me the past five years, pretty much my entire career. They didn’t take a break because of the pandemic or stopped because they felt like their hair was damaged. They always come back to me because I’ve retained their hair health.

Keep reading to discover why Nguyen won’t compromise her client’s hair for the sake of rad colors, how she uses StyleSeat to highlight her skills and services, and the work that still needs to be done on training stylists to work on Asian hair.

How do you celebrate your Asian American heritage and culture through your work as a beauty professional?

My speciality in hair is doing dark hair. Of course, I can do every type of hair. But my main focus is doing Asian hair. I feel like myself merging both cultures, I was able to focus on women and men with dark hair. And I love the fact that I can do that. I feel like when clients come to me they say, “It’s really hard to find someone who can do Asian hair.” So we’re able to relate on a level of understanding each other’s cultures and backgrounds, but also with understanding our hair. I say our sessions are like hairapy.

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How has StyleSeat impacted your life as an entrepreneur?

I actually first learned about StyleSeat through my school. At the time, they were offering it free for students. But I didn’t use it until way later just because I was starting off as an assistant. When I did venture and start my own business, I did remember [StyleSeat]. I thought I should sign up because it would only add more value to my business, being able to have clients to book online as opposed to just texting or calling me.

I felt like it had a really positive impact because 1) clients were able to see reviews, 2) I was able to upload photos and this helped clients choose me as their stylist, 3) The interface is really friendly, and 4) clients can see all of the services I offer and just book it.

What is your favorite StyleSeat feature and why?

I definitely love the ease of changing up the services — whether I want to change the price or take off a service temporarily. I feel like a lot of websites can overcomplicate things.

I really like that there is a box to describe services, especially when it comes to hair coloring, because a lot of clients don’t understand. This allows me to give them a clear understanding of what they signed up for.

How can the beauty industry support Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals?

Providing more classes would be really, really helpful. I remember when I first started my own business, I sought out classes for professionals on styling dark hair. Like how to go from dark to blonde. Or how to get from black hair to silver hair. And there weren’t that many classes. They were pretty much how to make Caucasian hair blonder. Even now it’s still hard to find. I would actually have to seek out classes on how to dark hair and hope they do touch on Asian hair.

Asian beauty pro Suzanne Nguyen

How do you hope to make clients who come to your salon and sit down in your chair feel?

I definitely make them feel very comfortable to be around me because another thing I’ve noticed is that clients tell me when they’ve sat in other stylists chairs, they literally just sit there and they go through the process without knowing what’s happening to their hair. But when I sit down with my client, we actually build a relationship. So I ask them, “What do you do? Are you in school? How are you?”

As much as I like spending time with them, I would like for them to enjoy spending time with me as well. I also feel like it creates a bigger bond of trust because if I’m taking care of their hair, they’re understanding the process. As much as I’m taking care of their hair in the salon, at-home care is just as important.

What do your want your legacy to be?

I definitely want to be known for my unique way of coloring hair, but I think the way I color hair and keep hair healthy is very different. I do eventually want to create a team that will follow the way I color hair and then continue to grow this team to eventually educate and have people under me like my vibe tribe.

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