Insights from creative hairdressing judge, Sally Brooks

Cathy Davys recently interviewed our creative hairdressing judge Sally Brooks, co-owner of Brooks & Brooks salon in Holborn, London. She’s won some 60 awards with her creative team including London Hairdresser of the Year three times.

Cathy asked her about preparing for competitions, what inspires her, and what she looks for as a judge. Read the full interview below to see what Sally had to say..

You were named British Hairdresser of the Year in 2020, what inspired your collection?

You can imagine being nominated for an award when you’re in the middle of lockdown and you say “How on Earth do I do something?”

I try to always shoot a collection of pictures that I feel represents how the industry is feeling. Every collection I do is completely different – I don’t have one style or one way of doing it. It’s really where my head is at a time. 

I’ve wanted to shoot mannequin heads for quite a long time and this seemed like the right time to do it.

Lockdown is actually doing something quite creative. I think as hairdressers our creativity is something that keeps us going.

How do you prepare for photographic competitions?

I usually have an idea of a feeling or an idea of which direction I want to go, but sometimes I just like to challenge myself. 

Awards force you to take that idea in your head and put it on a piece of paper. Whereas the idea sometimes can just sit in the back of your head for months. It’s forcing you to actually do the idea that’s in your head.

There are different ways that I work and different channels that I get creativity from and different ways. I set myself budgets and I stick to them. This year was all about spending no money, and sometimes that is more important to me than winning something. It’s actually setting myself something and seeing if I can deliver what’s in my head.

What do you look for as a judge of photographic competition?

There are so many amazing hairdressers across the whole world. But what I’m looking for really is something that captures the imagination of what we’re feeling. Or it’s that one hairstyle that makes you look not just twice, but three times at it.

Do you recommend people enter competitions?

I don’t think it’s a must, but I do think it’s a discipline. I honestly feel that it’s really, really not about winning something, but it is about challenging yourself. It’s a deadline, and it forces you to try something different, and it teaches you a different discipline.

It’s one thing creating a hairstyle in front of you, but it’s another thing putting it in print, and that is a completely different discipline.

So yes, I do think it’s good to enter awards, and I do think it’s good to be told it’s not good enough.

How should someone get started in competition work?

Don’t spend loads of money. It’s not a money competition. If you wanted to enter a competition, you could shoot it on your phone. I do. I honestly believe if you have got a great model with great hair, simplify everything around it so that the hair pops.

We are in a whole different era at the moment where I feel it’s very, very exciting to try new things as we come out of a pandemic and a lockdown across the whole world.

It’s a time to allow the youngsters to have a voice. It’s time to come out with new ideas and new ways of working.

Have you had many mentors and what have they done for you?

Mentors are really important, and I think it depends on what somebody says a mentor is. I still feel like I’m being mentored at the moment by my team, because anytime somebody challenges you or teaches you something, that to me is a mentor. I’ve had amazing people that I’ve surrounded myself with, and we all have a beautiful relationship in this industry because the one common factor that we all have is a passion for our craft.

It is really important to surround yourself with people that are passionate about their craft, passionate about their industry, and passionate about caring about the craft of the industry that will mentor you through your career. If you surround yourself with negative people, people that aren’t as good as you, you’re not going to get better.

What’s inspiring you right now?

I think probably what inspires me at the moment is that I had a chance to sit back and think. I’ve never had children so I’ve never had a sabbatical. I’ve never had time off.

I’m not saying I enjoyed lockdown, but it was a chance for me to try different creative things.

I tried doing pottery, I tried painting, I tried different things. And I think what inspires me at the moment are the people that have used the time wisely to learn something new to keep their positive energy. I think I’m really inspired by that type of person at the moment, and it’s probably made me look at things a little bit differently.

Tough times and challenging times can make you stronger and can also make new avenues for creativity. Take each day as it comes. Get up in the morning, be really positive. Put a smile on your face and whatever gets thrown at you, suck it up. That’s my advice.

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