Building a star-studded clientele as a hairstylist is no joke, and for Suyen Salazar, it took a year of serious hustle with a sprinkle of good luck. Now, the 26-year-old is one of the go-tos of Manila's It girls, including Isabelle Daza, Georgina Wilson, Iza Calzado, Martine Cajucom, and many more. Below, Preview sits down with the Bacolod-born and New Jersey-bred talent to find out her secret to becoming one of the beauty industry's sought-after names:
Did you always want to become a hairstylist? How did it start for you?
"I never really thought of hairstyling as a career when I was younger. I always thought of it as just this fun thing you did for your family and friends, and I wasn’t really educated on the career opportunities until I got a little bit older. So no, I didn’t always want to become a hairstylist.
"It started really when I graduated high school and I didnt know what to do. I [went] to college but I wasn’t really attending any of my classes. I was taking liberal arts just to go to school 'cause, you know, everyone goes to college right after high school. So my mom told me, 'You know, you're good at hair, so why don’t you look into hair school?' I didn't even know there were hair schools, but I went."
What was hair school like?
"I went to a hair school called Arrojo Cosmetology in New York [for] a nine-month course. I was living in New Jersey but I would take the train to New York to go to school from Monday to Saturday, nine to five. It was actually a lot of work, I had to complete a thousand hours, which is basic if you wanted a state license to work at a salon like anywhere in the States. After, I took my state board exam, my practical exam, and then I got a license. It was pretty intense.
"I didn’t have a focus when I went to school; they basically taught us all the basics like hair cutting, blow drying, coloring, perming, everything [related to] hair, and even got down to learning how to do nails and a little bit of makeup. A little bit of everything—a lot of health hazards, how to properly stand, exercises for your hand so you don’t get carpal tunnel, things like that."
How did your career here in the Philippines start?
"My career in the Philippines started when I was on vacation [here] and my friend Kylie brought me out to lunch—that’s when I met Isabelle Daza. She asked me what I did and when I told her I was a hairstylist, the next thing I knew she’s at my Instagram looking through my stuff, and she's like, 'Oh my gosh, I have an event later can you do my hair?' I didn’t really have all my proper hair tools since I was on vacation, but I did her hair anyway with my personal hair stuff.
"She loved it and said, 'You know, you should really think about doing hair here. You're so good, I think you would do great here, we need you."
How long have you been working in Manila?
"I think it’s officially been like a year, because I really started working end of February, beginning of March . So yeah, a little bit over a year."
You’ve built such a big clientele in a short amount of time. How do you think this happened?
"Well I’d like to think it happened because people really like what I do so they spread the word saying 'There's this really cool, great hairstylist that can give you what you want, what you guys have been asking for.' I’m really lucky with my clientele actually because they’re all super nice, they’re all really helpful, they know I’m new here.
"And Belle, she was like my promoter. She would message a bunch of her friends and stuff, saying, 'You [have to] use Suyen,' like, 'Check this girl out, she’s new.' That, and I guess my own way of doing waves, and I know people wanted to get their hands on that kind of look. So maybe that also had a big part of it."
What would you say is your aesthetic when it comes to hair?
"Definitely not avant-garde, people won’t go on my page and you know, see these big extravagant hairstyles. My aesthetic is free-flowing, easy, living, something pretty casual."
From your experience, how different is the working environment here compared to the US?
"The weather and the type of hair texture that I work with here are very difficult, so I actually find that working here is a lot harder than working in the States. When I was working in the States I got to play with so many hair textures like blondes, brunettes, bleached hair, highlighted hair, while here it’s usually mostly like dark brown or black. So it’s really different, and it’s so humid [here] and we all know that black hair is one of the hardest to keep a hairstyle in.
"Working with people here, everyone's really nice. I must say it’s a lot more laidback than when I was working in the States. My life in the States was always on-the-go basically, like every minute I felt like I was always doing something, I guess here is a little bit more relaxed."
Who do you look up to the most in the beauty world?
"Oh I have so many, I mean I think the most basic thing I can say is Jen Atkin, but really I do look up to her. She’s such a girl boss and she really pioneered the hair industry and how it’s seen and portrayed right now.
"I also have this idol named Ahn Co Tran and he owns this salon in LA and his haircuts are pretty much what I love. We’ve got really similar aesthetic and I’m always going through his page looking for new ideas and what kind of cuts are in and stuff like that."
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned while working as a hairstylist?
"Being a hairstylist, especially freelance stylist, is not the easiest thing in the world. I always tell people that you [have to] be persistent, you just have to keep moving. When you don't have anything in your schedule and some jobs pop up, take it. Don’t be lazy 'cause no one's just going to hand you work. Go out there and promote yourself.
"I think also one of the best lessons is just surrounding yourself with good people, people that you can learn from. You don’t necessarily have to go to school to learn certain things but maybe if you have a cool mentor you can look and see how to cut hair, style, whatever—you can learn from everyone.
"But the best lesson is you always have to value your craft and yourself. Don’t underestimate your worth."
What other advice can you give to new hairstylists who want to excel in this career path?
"Just be persistent. Never give up. Call as many people you can, Instagram message—I mean, you don't know these people, they don’t know you, so the worst that they can say is, 'No, I can't have you assist me.' That’s not the end of the world so you really have to [keep going] forward.
"Because once you start getting to the point where you feel that this isn’t for you, then your craft is going to suffer. Just keep doing things to keep you motivated. Look at videos online, look for inspiration, and try to get yourself involved in as many things hair as possible."