As a shy kid growing up in South Auckland, Roxanne Scanlan was hampered by a fear of making mistakes and a “terrible” inability to converse. So how did she end up becoming a hairdresser who’s not only skilled in her craft, but also a star when it comes to interacting with clients? 

When Roxanne Scanlan started hairdressing, it was love at first cut. 

“Honestly, I just fell in love. I didn’t realise how natural it came to me,” she says. “It comes down to being hands-on. I’m a creative, visual person and my medium is face and it’s hair. I love to create and I love to sculpt.”

Roxanne channelled her creative talent into makeup artistry for more than 10 years before deciding to upskill as a hairdresser.

Roxanne, who’s a married mother of five, works two days a week at Bay Hair Design & Beauty in Onehunga to help support her family while she’s studying a Certificate in Hairdressing (Level 4) at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT).

Being in a real salon has shown Roxanne that hairdressing requires much more than the creativity that first sparked her interest. 

“You need creative flair, definitely. But being willing to learn is the best attribute. The minute you stop learning, the minute you think you’ve learnt everything and you’re the best, it’s over.”

Her boss, Kerrie Chalmers, says Roxanne’s teachability and listening skills are pure gold in the eyes of an employer. 

“When she’s in the salon, she’s so proactive and focussed on her learning, always wanting to know and understand things. I’ve had a lot of trainees over the years; she’s without a doubt the best one.” 

Cutting through self doubt

But Roxanne, who’s of European and Niuean descent, didn’t always think she had what it takes to be a good hairdresser.

“It’s funny because I was a completely shy kid but if you put on some music, I’d perform. My happy place was being on stage. Outside of that, I was shy.”

Being reserved and afraid of making mistakes held Roxanne back from pursuing her real passions for years. She trained in beauty therapy but decided to “go the safe route” by working in retail. 

“But I was terrible at retail — I could not create a conversation or build rapport,” she jokes.

Even so, Roxanne’s confidence grew as she worked her way up to a management position at The Body Shop, where she enjoyed the creative side of makeup and cosmetics.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that I am worth something and that I have something to say, and I have something to give back. So, whatever your skill is, use it. Don’t waste time — use it.”

While still working full-time, Roxanne became a qualified makeup artist in 2007. She then took the leap to start her own business, Roxanne Hair and Makeup, as a makeup artist and hair stylist. 

“I often did hair styling for clients – that was part of the job. But I had no knowledge of cutting, colouring, correction work, or anything.”  

Roxanne says hairdressing and makeup work are all about finding ways to enhance a person’s natural beauty, without changing who they are.  
On the right course

That all changed in 2018, when Roxanne heard about two things: the hairdressing course at MIT, and the MPTT scholarship. 

“By that stage, I wanted to explore something new that still had the creative side to it, and that complemented my existing hair and makeup skills.

“I could see there was a tonne of work and clients out there needing their hair done, so the option to study was the obvious choice.”

But, at 37, and with a husband and five kids aged between two and 10, she couldn’t afford to take on debt to retrain.

“I was not in a position to do that. I’d already studied so I wasn’t eligible for fees-free from the Government.”

But her cousin was doing a hairdressing course, and mentioned the MPTT scholarship.

Roxanne took the leap and did her Hairdressing Level 3 programme at MIT in July 2018, and is soon to complete the Level 4 programme.

“MPTT’s allowed me to do something I enjoy and I don’t have that worry at the back of my mind, going, ‘Man, I’ve got to work full-time to pay this debt off’. It’s really taken away that stress.”

True colours

Despite her former shyness, Roxanne’s discovered that not being overconfident actually makes her better at the job. 

Working with each client to find out what they want is a priority for Roxanne, rather than simply rushing ahead with what she thinks is the best cut, colour or style. 

“If it’s your way or nothing, you’d lose clients,” she says. 

She also loves hairdressing because it allows her to express her natural empathy to clients. 

“When clients come to the salon, it’s often a healing time for them. My clientele is women, who often have stories to share and offload. So it’s about giving them space to talk and feel heard.”

Being a busy mum of five kids, Roxanne makes the most of any rare opportunities to practise different looks on herself.

Kerrie says Roxanne’s calm approach is a huge asset. 

“Roxanne just handles pressure so well. She knows how to handle people in-store and she’s not flustered by anything. Also, as a mother, she knows how to juggle her time.”

And although hairdressing is often seen as a glamourous industry, Kerrie says it involves a lot of hard graft, which Roxanne’s not afraid of.  

“Some people think hairdressing is some kind of glorious job, that everybody looks good. And yes, the clients look really good, but it’s actually quite hard work to achieve that.”

Weaving her future together

Once Roxanne completes Level 4 in June, she’ll work towards gaining more experience in the salon, building a clientele, and then registering through HITO (NZ Hair and Beauty Industry Training Organisation) to complete her final assessments to become a fully registered hairdresser. 

She also wants to continue doing makeup and hair jobs on the side, through her existing freelance business.

“Bringing my skills of makeup and hairdressing together is kind of a harmonious alignment of two passions.”  

Roxanne says she’s excited about the range of career opportunities available as a hairdresser.

“I’ve opened up way more  than when I was just doing makeup. As a hairdresser, you could be touring with a production company as the main wig stylist, or you could end up doing film, television or commercials.

“Hairdressing is also a skill that’s easy to travel with. You just need your comb and your scissors — ok, maybe also an extra suitcase for your colours. Everyone’s going to need their hair done. You’ve always got clients.”

Learn more about hairdressing and the MPTT scholarship at www.maoripasifikatrades.co.nz/hairdressing