Jessica Begonia



L + A: So you started doing hair when you were 19 - how did you get into doing hair at that point?

My first job ever was being a shampoo girl at Mario Tricoci in Naperville, Illinois. I wasn’t in beauty school at the time or anything. However, a bunch of my friends worked at the salon so I was like ‘YEA I want some extra cash!’. The hair world to me seemed like all the girls that were hair stylist, had cool hair and were going out and partying. It just seemed cool! So yeah, I wanted in, of course.

I started assisting and spent all of high school shampooing hair, and after a while, I just didn’t know if this is what I wanted to do. And, at that point everyone seemed unhappy and it was a last resort for everyone working there.

So my eighteen year old brain decided to get an office job, and by office job, I mean I worked at the bank [laughing]. For a year I felt like that fucking guy from “Office Space”, Milton! HaHa! I was doing such mundane repetitive work. So I eventually moved into the city and went to beauty school.

Hair is my thing and always will be.

L+A: So tell us about your first professional experience in the beauty industry.

After beauty school I did an apprenticeship with a salon, I was offered a full-time job after a year and a half. I worked there for eight years before moving to the Big Apple.

L + A: What would you say is the best part of your job?

I’ve met some of the coolest people especially in New York. Coming to New York I didn’t know anyone, so a lot of my clients became really good friends of mine. A lot of my clients are women and it's so refreshing to have these conversations and meet these people that I probably wouldn’t have, in the places I was hanging out.

To have them sit in my chair and us be from two different worlds, and still have these conversations is amazing. Some of my favor clients are 60 plus years old that I have nothing in common with.

L + A: Any crazy stories at work with your clients?

I don't necessarily have any crazy stories, but one of my clients who I do house calls for right now, she’s like one of my aunties to a point where I’m like “I need advice help me!”. She’s amazing she does social work - She usually works with homeless people, so I’m sure when I come to her with a problem she’s like “shut up Jessica” [laughs].

But I had a client once he was an older white male and we got into a conversation and he said he voted for trump and at that point In my head I was like yeaaaa we can’t get along anymore. I’ve never tried to swiftly change a conversation before like I did in that moment. So for me it’s things like that when sometimes your differences come out, because obviously I’m meeting people from all walks of life.

L + A: How do you finesse your way out of an uncomfortable conversation?

Because I talk to people all day long it’s kind of easy for me to just insert a joke and just change the conversation or just walk away and act like I have to grab something and comeback to a completely different conversation. A lot of “yea’s” and “uh huh” and eventually sweep it under the rug and move on.

However I have moments when I want to make it as uncomfortable as possible because I’m like, I don’t want you to come back to me anymore and I don’t want to talk to you anymore. But of course you have to remain professional because at the end of the day you're paying me for a service not for my opinion.

L + A: Would you say thats part of the hardest part of your job?

Hmmm, the hardest part of my job I would say is being of service to people. Sometimes I don’t mind but then other times is like okay I’m not your servant. I remember when I was assisting this woman, and she was closer to the garbage then I was and she literally held out her plastic cup and says, “excuse me” and shook it at me and made me come over to her to get the cup to throw it in the garbage for her, I’m like “hmmmm no”.

Or when you get clients that are not interacting with you or you can just tell they’re not interested in having a conversation. where you’re just there to do a service on them and not really engage person to person. Which I would say is weird! Because I’m touching you and all in your personal space “lets get along!” [laughing]

L + A: What would you say is your speciality? Bread and butter?

Bread and butter is hair color technically, but for the first 10 years all I was doing cuts so I could literally close my eyes and cut someone's hair now. My favorite thing to do however, is a really tight fade on a dude, it's the most gratifying thing to do. You know the very interesting thing is when I first started doing hair, I found out guys are so much more high maintenance and picky about their hair than women.

L + A How would you address someone of a different race asking if you could do their type of hair?

I feel pretty comfortable saying no if I feel it’s something I can’t execute how they’d like. For example I can braid pretty well but I can’t do the really tight cornrows, and I’m not even going to pretend to know.

If you don’t feel skilled enough to do it be honest. I think it’s cool to just admit you can’t do something but you can suggest them to someone.

L + A : Who's a dream client?

I don’t really have a dream client, but if I wanted a super cozy life it would be someone on the caliber of the Kardashians, obviously just because the way those girl catapulted the careers of their team and turned them into these celebrity stylist. They fully support and always give them credit. When Mario does makeup classes Kim is still his model to this day, which is insane to me, but goes to show you their loyalty.

L + A : Are there any challenges as a women of color in your career field?

I wouldn’t necessarily say there are any challenges but I do love that I get to speak to so many different women and how you can really seep into people's lives and see how other people think and their views on certain topics.

Although I have had people call the salon and say oh is the “oriental girl there” and I’m just like ‘whatttt? I’m not a rug!’ [laughs]. Miriam, is another girl I used to work with and she’s Korean, and we look nothing alike but somehow people always got us mixed up.

L + A : What advice would you give your younger self?

Just to relax! I was very awkward when I was younger and very antisocial. I also went through an insecurity of thinking I wasn’t good enough. But now I’ve learn to say no to things and be comfortable and confident in my craft and let my work speak for itself.

L + A : What's the one time you’ve felt vulnerable whether in career or in life?

It was definitely moving to New York! I was leaving a life I knew as far as a clientele that I’ve built at the salon, my friends, family, etc. I struggled for about two years. It would take me about two paychecks to pay my rent at the time which was $750, I lived off bread and peanut butter most days.

L+A: What's something you’ve accepted?

Being a Brown person! I grew up in a suburb that was predominately white. We had 4,000 people in my high school and we had black and asian people but it was still again, predominately white. So when I was in school I of course adapted to my surroundings and began to act like something I wasn’t. By the time I got to junior high school I wanted nothing to do with my filipino culture I wanted to be “americanized”. I didn’t like having people over my house and smelling our food and people hearing my parents speak, I was embarrassed.

L + A : What is something you love about yourself?

I feel about I’m pretty confident in talking to anyone now, which is a big thing because before, talking to strangers was not my strong point. So just being able to hang out with stranger or go on a trip by myself. I just did a two week trip to Italy and Paris and it was amazing! I met a couple of people and we had dinner and just chilled but it was nice to enjoy myself.

L + A : What's the best advice you’ve received from a woman?

My former boss who was a very strong headed woman. She was actually giving advice to someone else that was having man problems, but she kept saying “you’re a woman, you’re a fucking woman, and he’s a man, that's not shit! You’re a woman!” And not that it's necessarily advice but it's amazing to have other women support women and help build that confidence.

L + A : What's something that you would like to improve?

I need to work on my communication - but that's just hard. I’m constantly trying to Improve things about myself and make then better.


Past Work

Photo Credit: Jessica Begonia