This issue, Phil talks to Michael Douglas – a self-confessed ‘hairdresser for the consumer’ whose knack of demystifying the world of hair styling has made him one of social media’s most popular hairdressers. Last year, he launched his own hair tools range, mdlondon to great success. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing…
TELL US ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CAREER CHALLENGE OR ‘FAILURE’ SO FAR… IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?
Going on TV at the start of lockdown and talking about home hair colour is what I would call ‘a big learn’. I’d been a guest on BBC’s The One Show for 13 years, and with salons under Covid restrictions at the time, they invited me on to tell viewers how to colour their hair at home. The implication was that I had said colouring your hair at home is just as good as going to the salon – what I actually said though, is that both products are essentially made of the same stuff and work in the same way. And I stand by that.
The backlash from the hair industry was huge and cost me dearly. There were hundreds of complaints made to Ofcom – none of which were upheld – and I haven’t been back on the show since. I felt a lack of support from the producers, it was like they’d hung me out to dry. I’ve never apologised for what I said because I was only telling the truth; if you stay true to yourself and to those around you, your conscience guides you. The only thing I would say or do differently today would be to add some caveats to the advice. The timing was sensitive, but what I said was true.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU LEARNT FROM THIS?
My greatest success came from that moment. It hit me like a lightning bolt and made it crystal clear that I was a hairdresser for the consumer and not for other hairdressers. It gave me a real sense of purpose that I could speak to millions of people, not just 30 clients a week. I had a social media reach already and now I understood what to do with it.
HOW HAS THIS EXPERIENCE HELPED YOU MAKE BETTER DECISIONS IN THE FUTURE?
It gave me enormous confidence to say what I believe to be true, and not to be a mouthpiece. I’ve turned down more money than you would believe to talk about certain products, but I’ll always say it like it is – if the £2.99 dry shampoo works better than the £25 one, I’ll be deeply honest about it. It can be harder to tell the truth, but I know I can stand by everything I say. There are no smoking guns, if I’m wrong, I’m super happy to admit it and I never bulls**t anyone.
IF YOU COULD START ALL OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
Absolutely nothing. I’ve really enjoyed everything in my career so far. The best thing ever I’d say was working for Wella as a technician, and the single most valuable thing I learnt through that job was how to communicate. Becoming a great hairdresser is ‘learnable’, but if you can talk to a broad audience in an easy way and express yourself, it gives you an edge.
WHAT CHARACTER TRAITS WOULD YOU SAY HARD TIMES HAVE TAUGHT YOU?
I’ve learnt that my life is ‘my fault’, there’s no point in playing a blame game. Knowing that strengths can be weaknesses and vice versa helped me enormously.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DOUBTED YOURSELF – AND HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THOSE FEELINGS?
Do I harbour a bit of imposter syndrome? Possibly yes, but I’d say that’s a healthy place to sit – that’s where all the growth is. The fact you feel doubt is a good thing – I would say I experience a moment of doubt every day. If you get a bad review, you can feel like you’re failing and then you get a five-star review, and it boosts you up again. Businesses and careers run hot and cold and I’m very in touch with that.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST DECISION YOU EVER HAD TO MAKE?
When we launched mdlondon, we had to raise £1.5 million from investors. It was a daunting experience and tough decision knowing that the idea we had in the pipeline wasn’t viable at the time and we had to change track. It was scary walking head on into fear and going back to the people who had invested in growth, expecting to see a return, knowing that I had to be totally honest.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST SUCCESSFUL MOMENT RECENTLY?
Thankfully, I can stand back now, still in business a year later, and feel proud of what we’ve achieved. We had no idea how many hairdryers we’d sell, and what started as a faint sparkle of hope in our first month, turned into something that exploded just a couple of months later. It was about more than just selling hairdryers, it was about building a retail shop, being autonomous and finding our own customers for mdlondon. We were walking blind, but we wanted a direct route to our customers without any middlemen. It was terrifying, but it was something I’d tried to do for over 20 years with varying degrees of success, and this time we had cracked it. After my experiences during lockdown and the disaster of the hair industry turning against me, this was a way to have business control, be open and genuinely help people learn how to make their hair look good at home.
ARE YOU A PERSON WHO TAKES RISKS?
Yes. If you’re a person running or launching a business, it requires it. You have to be able to take a leap of faith – most businesses on paper would fail without risk.
SUCCESS IS OBVIOUSLY DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE, BUT WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
It’s certainly not money. I think it’s about being at peace and having the right balance between work and fun.
WHO IS A SUCCESSFUL PERSON YOU ADMIRE, AND WHAT LESSONS HAVE THEY TAUGHT YOU?
Jamie Oliver is someone who has managed to transform the way we view cooking on TV – I would watch his shows and I don’t like cooking (being perfectly honest, I’m not that fussed with eating either), but somehow he took an idea and made it transcendent. I’ve always said, what Jamie’s done with cooking I’d like to do with hair – to make a show about hair that even a bald man would watch.
DO YOU HAVE ANY DAILY HABITS OR A PARTICULAR MINDSET THAT YOU THINK MAKES YOU SUCCESSFUL?
I write a list every day with ten things on it and then I number them in order of priority. I don’t always get them all done, but if you set yourself a target or goal, you’re more likely to achieve it. I try to exercise three or four times a week, which I’d highly recommend, and I also practice very hard at telling the truth.
WHAT THREE PIECES OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE AT THE START OF THEIR CAREER?
1. Don’t just learn to be a hairdresser, go and be an educator so you learn the art of communication.
2. Do something every day that scares you. If you fear it, that’s exactly why you need to do it. Those moments when you’re courageous and brave are when you grow, so you have to do stuff you don’t necessarily want to do.
3. Put yourself up for failure. It’s good to lose a lot – especially in your early career. If you win, you really lose, because there’s so little you learn from winning. It’s the failures that teach you the most.
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