industry icon:

Sonya Dove

Sonya Dove, Global Ambassador for Wella®, Intercoiffure North America Color Council Director, and Co-Owner of The Doves by DNA in Santa Monica, CA, talked with us about why she got into the industry, what it's like co-owning a salon and what being Licensed To Create means to her.

Sonya Dove

Global Ambassador for Wella, Intercoiffure North America Color Council Director and Co-Owner of The Doves by DNA in Santa Monica, CA | follow her on Instagram: @sonyadove

Q: You've been recognized as a leading educator in your industry many times throughout your career. What are your keys to success?
A: I'm one of these people who like to tackle challenges. I usually don't say no to anything, even if it's something I'm fearful about doing. I've been asked to do some things in my career that have made me nervous, and I thought, it's easier to say no and harder to say yes. But saying yes actually helps because it gets me past that fear. That's one thing. To add to that – I cut, I color and I style. People know me more for coloring, so I try to do as much cutting and styling on stage, as well. Which also creates a fear in me, because you're doing it in front of a couple of thousand people, and you know you're tackling something that's not the first thing you do. But in the salon, I think nothing of it. And when I do shows and classes, I cut and color behind the scenes all the time. We do a lot of red carpet hair in the salon – like the Grammys and the Emmys. So that has helped – facing my fears.

Another thing is to always know that if anyone asks you anything, it comes from a place of them not knowing. There are no silly things. As you get further along in your career, people get nervous about asking you the simplest of questions. And I actually prefer those questions than the really difficult ones, because I know it's taken a lot for that person to ask that.

And then always remembering where I came from. I'm from a small town in England with cows and fields. It was a dream of mine to even own my own salon in England. That was so far out there for me, let alone living in Los Angeles and traveling the world and living in different parts of America. Always remembering where you came from keeps you grounded.

Q: That's so inspiring. Speaking of facing your fears, do you have a favorite story about that?
A: Well actually, that has only happened in about the last four years. I used to be partnered with Christopher. So when you're a duo, you've always got one to lean on in times of fear. So when I became solo three years ago, that's when I really started to look at that challenge. I was asked to do a show for behindthechair.com. It was their color show. And they asked me, and I was without Chris. And I turned it down. I actually said no. Christopher and I had done it in the years before, and we'd gotten standing ovations. And I didn't feel that I would be good enough to do it. Long story short, I got persuaded. Both behindthechair.com and Wella got together and said they'd support me in any way. They said, "You can do it. You can do it." And it was the best thing I ever did, because that show was a big shift for me in the industry. I just did the show how I wanted to do it. I didn't have anyone telling me I should do this or that. I did an authentic show. And the thing that changed with is that I did a show for me, not for others. I thought, if I'm so frightened by doing this, I'd better do something that I enjoy. Then at least at the end of the day, if it didn't go down well, I at least had a good time and enjoyed it. And since that point, I've done so many interviews and so many classes on me as a person and individual, not just hair. It changed the dynamics of what I do. At the age of 51, not letting anyone know anything about my personal life 'cause that's not cool, it should always be about hair…and then I had an eight-page spread on my life featured in a magazine. And I got so much – I don't want to say "fame," but let's say it's fame – I got so much fame from that article, I thought, oh, it's not that bad that people know that I drink wine, and I go out dancing and I'm frightened just like anybody else. They thought I had it so together, and it's so not true! It's brilliant!

Q: It truly is. We love getting to know you on a more personal level. So tell us, where do you find inspiration?
A: I get inspired a lot by nature. Simple things. And the only time I really find inspiration in nature is when I stop and I'm quiet. Which is not a lot of the time. I have to make a concerted effort to stop and just be present. I still work on it daily. It's my biggest New Year's resolution and challenge, and it's been like that for a long time. The other thing I like to keep my eye on is the runway – Paris, Milan, fashion week. The clothes inspire me to think about styles to go with hair. Also, the hair styles that stylists do for fashion shows inspire me.

Another thing is when I go to musical festivals and see young people. Young people inspire me. I see things that I would never do. Kids have great ideas with styling and coloring and cutting their hair.

Q: You've been involved with Wella for 32 years. How did you get involved with them?
A: I used Wella in beauty school in England. So back in cosmetology school, it was Wella. After getting my license and working in a salon, Christopher and I started to enter competitions. And one year, after doing it for five or six years and not getting anywhere, we won a competition in England. And we decided to enter every competition we could that year. And after winning several of them, we were approached by Kadus to do a show and presentation. So we did, and then they asked us to do a tour in England for a company they were affiliated with – Wella. So we did that tour, and that was that.  

Q: What are your must-have products and tools that you always reach for?
A: Koleston Perfect, Illumina Color, Color Touch  and Magma – I use them all in the salon and classes. Koleston Perfect is my go-to. I use it for everything. But I love Illumina because it's unique. It has more light reflection as well as hair protection. I'm a person who absolutely loves brighter colors, so I love Koleston's and Color Touch's reds and coppers. But my clients prefer more subtle colors. So I go between the two.

For styling and care, I have to say I like both Wella and Sebastian. I have both in the salon. I love Sebastian's Dark Oil. Oh my gosh, I use Dark Oil every day on my hair. I also use Malibu C Crystal Gel to remove unwanted minerals before I do some color services.

Q: What's your favorite part of presenting at shows and teaching classes?
A: The big thing for me is people. All of them have people involved. Whether it's a class for five people or a show for a thousand, I got into this industry not for hair but for people. I'm usually the last person to leave a place…when the lights come on, still dancing. I just love talking to people. I find them fascinating. I think we're incredible human beings, and everyone can learn so much from each other. Everyone's got something.

Also, feeling the energy from the audience. I've really felt that the last few years of my career since becoming solo. It's a great feeling. The people have really made me who I am today.

Q: What's most rewarding about owning a salon?
A: Well, I didn't realize it would be as difficult as it is. What I do love about it is that it keeps me grounded. I love my clients. I can't even call them clients. They're my friends. They know all my ups and downs, they know all about what I do. They're my therapists as much as I am theirs. And I love my team. They are incredible and such a support to me in many ways.

What I don't like is running a business and everything that comes with that. I don't like that the laws keep changing and keeping a commission salon open is getting more and more challenging.

Q: What advice do you have for those who are thinking of opening their own salon?
Really look at themselves. I'm 100% creative, but I thought I could do the business. If they're like me, it's best that they get a business partner or someone who does the business, 'cause it will suck the blood out of you. That's what happened to me. So now I have a business partner. Now, if you're a hairdresser like, for example, Robert Cromeans, who is creative and has an amazing business sense…if you're like that, then you'll do amazing. It'll be fantastic.

Q: What about stylists new to the industry – what advice would you give them?
Never forget the first reason why they got into the industry. Everyone has a reason why they got into the industry. What happens is, over time, you can lose sight of your dream. You know, whatever dream that was or whatever it meant? Never lose sight of it. Write it down and always look at that.

What I've learned is, when I started holding little classes in my salon, only teaching one person or two people, there's something really empowering about showing someone something. And when you see that light bulb go off, it's so self-satisfying; it really makes you feel so great. So always give back, whether it's through charity or teaching in a salon or just mentoring someone.

And don't give up. We all have bad days. Reach out to friends, reach out to people, and just keep going forward. Don't look backward and don't be too hard on yourself.

Q: Finally, what does Licensed To Create mean to you?
A: It's a license to fulfill your dreams. Because, you know, you can say "licensed to create" to anybody – create a nice life for yourself and your family. It doesn't have to pertain to hair. It's a very beautiful sentence for life, really. That's what it means to me. We've only got one time on this Earth, and "licensed to create," for me, is to make the best with my time here. It's a very big statement. I love it. It's not just about the hair industry; it's about life. We can create anything we want. We don't have to wait.

Posted February 1, 2017

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