The Strength of Self-Belief | Sheila Abrahams

March 22, 2024

Meet the doyenne of the freelance hairdressing industry…

Hi, I’m Sheila Abrahams. I’m the founder of the FHA and have been recently awarded an MBE for services to the hairdressing freelance sector. Thirty years ago, when the Freelance Hairdressing Association launched, I never would have believed that such a thing could happen.

My career started at the age of 13, when I was a Saturday girl in a local salon. Even then I loved every aspect of the job, which as a Saturday girl was very limited! I did my training at the London College of Fashion and after two years I achieved my City & Guilds. My first job was in a salon in North London. Initially I wasn’t allowed ‘on the shop floor’, but about six months later I was allowed to start a column. I was on my way! I worked there for several years and then left to open my own salon.

I had my own salon for eight years, but by then my life had moved on – I had a toddler and a baby and needed time for them. However, I still loved hairdressing and I was afraid that I may lose my nerve to ever come back if I stopped working completely, so I started working self-employed.

Unfortunately, I discovered that there was no place for me as a self-employed worker in our industry; people had a very different attitude to mobile hairdressers 30 years ago! Whilst being a salon owner, I had many salesmen calling on me from various colour houses and wholesalers, but I was suddenly ostracised by going freelance; the salesmen no longer called and many wholesalers refused to serve me. This is when I discovered that ‘mobile’ hairdressers seemed to be hated by salons and the industry in general. We had a reputation as being unqualified, unprofessional, uninsured and didn’t pay tax – basically unregulated and unwanted.

Having already been a salon owner and becoming freelance at a time when freelancing was frowned upon by the industry, I decided there should be a voice for the professional self-employed hairdresser – and with that the Freelance Hairdressers Association was created. I founded the FHA in October 1993, and with its launch a standard was set for the freelance sector of the industry. To join, members simply have to prove their qualifications and experience, as well as having PL Insurance. As a member of the FHA, you are automatically provided with a bespoke insurance policy with a practical skin testing protocol for those on the move. Being self-employed, our members work in all sorts of situations – home salons, salon spaces, care homes, mobile – and we look after them all.

Training is something that is a high priority for our members. We work with top icons in our industry who run exclusive training days and courses at membership prices. We also hold annual events that merge education and friendship. We understand the needs of the freelance hairdressers and have become the ‘one-stop shop’ to turn to for help and support. Pricing issues are always a hot topic, for example, as well as understanding tax and offering each other support.

When we launched, we were warmly welcomed by freelancers from all over the UK and gradually won the support of the major colour houses. Even today, we still hold great relationships with these colour houses, as we have the audience that they want to reach – plus our members have built a fantastic reputation for wanting to keep their product knowledge up to date. The members of the FHA have become like family, we have created a wonderful, warm community where working on your own no longer means you have to be on your own.

Since the beginning, it was my wish to make sure the freelance hairdressers were able to access all they needed to ensure their businesses were successful and their businesses were successful, and their skills were always at the cutting edge. We have an incredible community that I am so proud to be a voice for.

Freelancing is an integral part of our industry – in fact, many hairdressers will freelance at some time in their lives as it works so well in the work-life balance that we all want today. Knowing that we can move from salon to freelance and vice versa is a good omen for the future of our industry.

Over the coming months, I will be providing valuable insights and guidance to empower each one of you in the freelance hairdressing industry. Whether you are a seasoned professional or contemplating the leap into freelancing, I will be sharing essential information on what you need to know about navigating this dynamic industry. From best practices to the practicalities of setting up as a freelancer, my aim is to equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary for success.