Welcome to SEJ’s first Inspirations feature where we talk to 3 different inspiring individuals. In this article we meet Jessica Carson as our Inspirational Learner who has just completed her Cert Ed qualification and is continuing her growth as a professional; Kirsten Steward as our Inspirational Professional with a long career as a beauty professional and who has shifted her business into a skin heaven for clients and finally; our Inspirational Academy, Signature Academy, owned by the expert educator, Tracy Fensome.

There is a resonance between all 3 of these women which I didn’t realise when I asked them to be our first Inspirations. They’ve all taken their educational journeys at different rates and during different times, all of them have continued to grow through building their families and working and learning in between life changing situations. This is a common theme across our female dominated sector and I know we’ll see many more stories that have this resonance too. You’ll see that they have also never stopped learning and that any one of them could have been any one of our Inspirations either now or at some point in their career! They are true inspirations to all those who walk the same pathway in their footsteps.

Thank you, ladies, for joining us for our launch issue and we look forward to seeing your continuing journey in the salon industry!

-Sue Davies, Editorial Direct: SEJ

Jessica Carson

At the age of 16 I had decided the career route I was going to take. The Hair and Beauty options jumped out at me, and I enrolled into a local college studying VTCT Hair and Beauty. My tutor on the course was young, supportive and a great inspiration. I knew then, teaching would be part of my career plan.

By the age of 19, I had completed my qualifications to Level 3 standard, including my VTCT qualification in nails. Having these qualifications has opened many career opportunities for me, and I was able to gain valuable experience from working in spas, salons and being self-employed.

When I was 21, I had a one-year-old and was pregnant with my second daughter and I had made the decision to take my education further and enrolled to study an Ofqual regulated PTTLS course. This would enable me to teach others privately. Although I did learn a lot from this course, I knew I was missing a huge

part, this was the experience. I did not feel for me this was enough.

My next career steps included attending university to study my Cert-Ed level 5. Due to life and having my children, it was a long journey and was on hold for 7 years.

During this time, I continued to work both in salons and as a self-employed mobile professional building up my clientele and growing my skills. I started university aged 28 with four young children. Being completely honest, this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career.

I managed to secure a ROLE delivering regulated qualifications, whilst also studying my university course, juggling children, home life and my clients. The course was two years long and I have recently completed it.

This is by far the proudest career moment I have had!

I learnt so much in this time as the course required a minimum of 100 teaching hours. I gained practical experience and had the opportunity to work with some amazingly skilled educators who shared expert knowledge, tips, tricks, and support throughout my time working alongside them.

I recently left my teaching position to set up my own salon and academy where I will use my teaching qualifications to enable me to teach privately.

I have proudly joined Nabuno and the theory for my courses will be delivered online through their learning management system, followed by practical sessions in the salon academy.

The beauty and nail industry has allowed me to have a career that I have worked around my children. For anyone who is looking to begin their teaching journey, I would strongly recommend gaining the regulated teaching qualification as you can progress through the different levels to grow your knowledge and skill.

Kirsten Steward

What made you choose the pathway of salon professional?

A visit to the careers tutor at school to discuss work experience led me to be placed at a beauty salon. It was 1983 and I literally had no idea what a beauty therapist was or did! Back then there were only about six salons in Cambridge; they were purely for the middle to upper classes, certainly not a place my mum would’ve frequented or introduced me to.

As requested, I arrived in my brand-new white outfit and was immediately transported to this amazingly tranquil world; the smell of surgical spirit and essential oils filled the air and everyone spoke in hushed tones. I immediately fell in love with this magical, peaceful environment and shortly after arriving I had my first ever epiphany; the course of my life changing forever! One of the therapists wasn’t busy so I had a Cathiodermie facial; my fourteen-year-old self was in heaven and in a lightbulb moment I knew that I HAD to become a facialist and make everyone feel as amazing as I did in that moment! Here I am forty years later & nothing’s changed!

How long have you been qualified and what was your route into industry?

I qualified in 1988 after a two-year full-time course, gaining both City & Guilds & International Health & Beauty Council diplomas in Beauty and electrical epilation. In those days there were only 10 colleges in England offering Beauty Therapy and only 15 places on each course – we had to have good ‘O’ Level results and interview well. How times have changed! I did my City & Guilds Level 3 in Artificial Nail Techniques back in the 90’s and I now hold Level 4 Aesthetic Practise and Level 5 Clinical Skin Science.

What challenges have you faced?

After working for Glemby International for a year and earning a measly £75 a week, I was offered the opportunity to rent a treatment room above a hair salon in 1989; I went to every bank with my business plan but no joy! With time running out, I changed tactics and asked for a £5k car loan instead. The following week I was on the first ever UK Dermalogica training course with Eve Taylor! After a few years, two salons in Cambridge and teaching part time at Cambridge Regional College, I opened the first ever beauty salon in Chatteris. My biggest challenge was being a ‘boss’. I wasn’t great at it and learnt after six years, just days after an emergency caesarean section, that I hadn’t prepared my staff for my absence. Everything quickly fell apart, and I realised I much prefer working alone! Some of us really aren’t cut out for a big salon business, and that’s ok!

What lessons have you learned and overcome?

From staff nightmares, recessions, not to mention, keeping positive during a pandemic to IT skills and social media marketing in a digital age when you’re clueless. Staying current & relevant by continually learning and finding your tribe by networking and reaching out to other lone skin professionals so you can support each other in this crazy paced industry! I’ve embraced TikTok too, and regularly talk in depth about skin on there.

What type of treatments do you offer?

I’ve made the choice to only take on skin & electrolysis clients now and I offer blemish removal, microneedling, RF and peeling but I mainly offer bespoke treatments that incorporate both holistic & aesthetic treatments such as CAP (Cold Atmospheric Plasma), Mesotherapy, LED, Electroporation etc. I firmly believe in this approach and am disheartened to see leading Aesthetic industry figures who dismiss the benefits and referring to it as ‘fluffy’! Devices have their place but can be blended with hands on too. My natural face lift massage is relaxing but you’re also going to leave looking 10yrs younger too!

What is your biggest achievement or proudest moment to date?

I’ve never been ambitious; I’ve never entered any competitions & I’ll certainly never be Businesswoman of the Year! So, I guess my proudest career moment was finishing my Level 4 and 5 qualifications last year, with a post-menopausal brain at 53 years of age! If I can do it, anyone can! I hated science at school and A&P at college was challenging but Skin Science changed everything; I loved every second of this module! Knowledge is power & I highly recommend every Level 3 therapist does it. It ups your game more than you can possibly imagine and in our constantly changing industry we need to have an enquiring & educated mind to ask the right questions of potential suppliers & educators. Of course, you’ll also need it with the impending regulation of the aesthetics sector.

What is your favourite part of being a beauty professional?

My favourite aspect of being a skin care therapist and electrologist is making such hugely impactful differences to my clients’ lives; hearing them contentedly snore during a facial and telling me it’s the best facial they’ve ever had!

If you have one, what would your Top Tip to a successful career be?

Being successful isn’t about being rich, Insta famous or winning awards, it’s about loving what you do, being able to sleep at night and being appreciated by your clients who have been loyal for decades.

Signature Academy Luton: Owner - Tracy Fensome

What made you take the leap from professional to educator?

I became a qualified teacher around 29 years ago and I have a passion that can transform people’s lives and as a natural educator I wanted to share my knowledge with others.

How long have you been in the education pathway?

I started my education pathway after recovering from a serious illness, which debilitated me for some time. It became the catalyst to take foundation qualifications and then entry to teaching and assessing leading to my Cert Ed and the PGCE. That all started when I was 26 years old. Yikes 33 years ago! So, I’ve had a lifetime as an educator.

What challenges have you faced in becoming an education provider and starting your education business?

I needed to get some entry qualifications to start the education process so that alone was a challenge and time consuming. At school I was amazing at anything creative and involving my hands. Despite that my dyslexia and ADHD were just put down to, “Lacks focus” which explains why I had to begin with access qualifications.

One of my biggest challenges was starting university with a three-year-old and a three-month-old, breastfed baby. That was a very hard time, and my time management and organisational skills became streamlined. Whilst at university I set up my first academy teaching software and management leadership. I later sold this business and started my reskilling journey into beauty, holistic therapies, and later permanent makeup.

Signature Academy Ltd was born in 2012. Beginning with 1-2-1 training and progressing to 2/3 trainees per course with individual trainers. In 2016 we took new premises and registered as a VTCT/ITEC Centre. This allowed us to provide both accredited and regulated training courses and business mentoring.

One of the most frustrating things I see are the training academies that pop up delivering training without good practice. When talking to potential trainees, it can create challenges in them understanding the level of training they need to be able to work safely and professionally and how this is paramount to success. Quick, cheap training will backfire on them, and they often end up coming back to us to start again! I am pleased that regulated qualifications came in for PMU and will continue to be adopted over the next 18-24 months. It’s happening already and I believe that Permanent Makeup will be included within the new proposed roadmap.

What lessons have you learned and overcome?

I learnt early on that the mentoring, support, marking, and assessment days take a lot of time outside of teaching. Ensure time allocation in your work and life schedule – don’t forget to factor all these in with your course pricing. Also remember that your passion for creativity is what will make you a great educator but do not forget you are a business and processes, procedures, and marketing should be just as important for success and growth.

Having successfully set up two academies and being a previous salon owner, I have the blueprints to starting and scaling a clinic salon and academy and the best route to becoming an education business. Signature Academy will have a great opportunity in 2024 for five prospective educators to academy owners.

What type of courses do you offer?

We run a variety of accredited and regulated VTCT and ITEC training courses in subjects from beauty through aesthetics, PMU, education, and business. I have also created a comprehensive beginner course for PMU as I felt it was missing in the sector.

What is your biggest achievement or proudest moment to date?

  • I was one of the first judges in the first ever PMU Championships in 2015 and have judged several times since.
  • I’ve created and scaled five businesses since I was 23 years old. Three I sold and the other two I am still CEO of.
  • The proud list must include seeing my trainees become successful, and sometimes award-winning, business owners, especially the mums, as that was me at 28. I’ve lived it for 3 decades, so I can help them overcome the challenges and reach their goals quicker.

What is your favourite part of being an education provider?

Seeing smiles when a skill or some knowledge clicks, the passing and graduating is exhilarating. It’s such fun getting to see their businesses thrive on social media and the visits when we go on the road to capture their updates for our YouTube channel. I’m a proud educator with a great team, many of whom are also past trainees.