The Competitive Creative: Jake Thompson

Last year, we gave you the opportunity to meet and get to know stylist and salon owner Jake Thompson during our 5Qs interview. This year, we’re going to shift gears a bit and take you on an in-depth 1ON1 journey and let you peek inside that creative and competitive mind of his.

The timing for this interview is actually quite perfect because this weekend I’ll be in Vegas for Cosmoprof attending NAHA (and a few other events like Wella TrendVision Awards), and while I’m sitting in a mega Mandalay Bay ballroom, Jake Thompson will also be sitting there anticipating whether or not this color collection of his that has been nominated turns into yet another win and another trophy on his shelf. So out of all the finalists nominated this year, why did I choose to interview Jake Thompson?


Here’s why…

A couple months ago, Industrie was given the opportunity to judge Wella’s regional TrendVision hair competition in Philadelphia. After seeing the amount of applicants and finalists and being backstage for hours witnessing the various stages of prep, excitement, stress and emotions, it got me thinking, “Why do people do this to themselves and why aren’t more people doing this to themselves?” After exploring the mental, physical and emotional benefits of entering live model competitions, it got me curious as to why people create collections, specifically collections to enter into competitions like NAHA, BHA and Hair Expo. What are they getting out of it? Why are they doing it year after year? At what point in their career do they say, “This, this is the year I’m going to commit to a concept and photo shoot and fill out the entry form.”

So many questions need so many answers, which is why I contacted Jake. You see, Jake Thompson is a constant creative. He is continuously creating collections, not just for himself or for other projects, but for competitions. I know everyone does it for different reasons and get something unique and individual out of the whole creation and submission process, but I need a place to begin the understanding (and nosyness of it all) and Jake is my starting point. And Jake is cool and we have known each other for about five years now and he’s that guy that if I hit him up and say I need something, he can turn it around and get it done or send me what I’m looking for.


Another reason I wanted to talk to Jake is the fact that he is a hairdresser, a colorist, and also a photographer. He’s coloring, cutting, styling and shooting his own models all the while collaborating with his makeup artists, models, and fashion stylists.

During this interview, he shares some insight into what drives him to create and compete and what’s going on inside that head of his along with a nice copious amount of his collection images.

Okay Jake, tell me, how many collections have you created in your career?

I’ve created about 45 collections so far.

And out of those collections, how many of them were created or used for competitions?

I would say about 25-30 of them.

And out of those collections submitted for competitions, how many of them have landed you a finalist and how many have won awards?

I have had eight nominations and three wins.  

Are the collections you’re creating primarily being used for competitions?

No, not really. I shoot to keep my mind fresh and creative eye strong. I do enter a lot of competitions, such as NAHA, AIPP and the Southwest Hairstyling Awards, primarily the North American Hairstyling Awards Hairstylist of the Year category, but I love to shoot just to shoot being a hairdresser and a photographer.

Jake-Thompson-Southwest-Hairstylist-Winner Jake-Thompson-Southwest-Hairstylist-Winner Jake-Thompson-Southwest-Hairstylist-Winner

Since not all of them are used as submissions for competitions, what else are they being used for?

I use them for magazine submissions, salon advertisements, and personal use and for my website/portfolio.

How do you determine what gets used for something else and what gets reserved for a competition?

I guess when the shoot is done, I assess my work and see if it is still relevant with the idea I had before I went into the shoot. If it does not, I will exploit it in another way via magazines, industry websites, social media platforms, etc.  

Why do you do it, create collections that is? What are you getting out of the whole collection creation process?

Well, I guess you could say it is what drives me. I’m a creative through and through. I’m never satisfied with my stuff or it gets old fast, so my mind is onto the next as soon as I’m done with the post-production. I’m usually thinking of the next idea. It may be a certain lighting technique or a texture I want to create or a color placement I’m into or a model I want to shoot. I do it for the love of my craft and I love sharing my creative distorted mind! What I get out of the process is personal fulfillment; I need to be moving in a forward momentum. If I haven’t created in a few, I start disconnecting from my life, personal and professional and I turn into someone I’m not happy with. I need creations of things in my life. It keeps me balanced. I don’t go to church; I go to my creative studio.

What do you hope or expect others to get from your collections?

Inspiration, blow their hair back and a “wow how’d he do that?” kind of feeling. I also aspire to talk with anyone who likes my stuff to share with them how easy it is to create. I never had a lot of personal mentors to show me their tips and tricks. I would love to show hair dreamers how they can be rock stars in their own way!  


Why do you compete?

I compete for me. A lot of people do it for the wrong reason, for the nomination or the win. That’s short-lived you guys. I do it to see if I can really create what I had in mind. Don’t get me wrong, being nominated is a huge honor and winning is f*cking amazing. But creating a legacy that will live on longer than me is the icing on the cake.  

Have you always been a competitive person?

Yes and no. With hairdressing, yes, because I did not start out a good hairdresser. I had to work my ass off to become a good hairdresser! Loss of relationships, long nights and no weekends, endless research, watching and reading every hair DVD, book, and magazines I could afford, so I take my craft very serious!

What is the first collection you ever created? What are you most proud and what would you do differently with it?

It was this collection (seen below) that I did with a great team, a very elementary team, including me, but still a good team. The photographer shot with film, so there weren’t a lot of shots fired, as it was super expensive. The models were all my clients at the time. One shot really good, the other two were ok. The hair had good flow from picture to picture but wasn’t super strong from model to model. One image was strong while the other two were just ok. Looking back it’s like, “Wow if I knew what I know now,” but you can’t think that way. I’m truly happy I just started creating collections instead of a lot of hairdressers who never start because they’re just too lazy or afraid of failure. I’ve had more fails than successes.

Jake-Thomspon-Hair-Collection Jake-Thomspon-Hair-CollectionJake-Thomspon-Hair-Collection

Walk me through the collection creation process. First comes inspiration, and next comes…?

My creative process starts with an idea. Then I take that idea and make mood boards. Once those are finished I’ll send to my team involved—stylist and makeup artists. Then I usually get together with my designer to discuss more about my direction with the hair. This meeting is where we can really break down my light concept for the shoot, my hair shapes, color, finish and any detail that needs to be addressed. From there I will set a shoot date. Once that is set, it’s for real baby—no going back. Then I start making contact with my models, booking my team, assistants, models, and anyone involved. This year (2016) I shot over three days. I had to plan way in advance to make sure everyone I needed could and would be available.      

Are you primarily photographing your own collections?

Yes, I shoot all my own collections now. Not saying I will never have another photographer shoot my stuff, I just love having all the creative control. It helps me bring all the pieces together for my vision. I also love shooting other hairdresser’s stuff for competitions or just for personal to help them build their brand. I’ve also been hired to shoot two hair care brands campaigns and an industry publication cover and spread. The thing that’s a win for me is that I’m a hairdresser first and a photographer second so it’s a win to shoot hair-related stuff because my eye gets the perfect hair shot.  

What is the most money you’ve spent on the creation of a collection?

The most I have spent on a collection is $5K. At the time, that was a lot of money because I didn’t have a ton. The interesting thing about that collection is it was the one that projected me into shooting my own stuff, as it was a collection I hated, especially the post-production. The photographer botched it!

What does your average collection cost?

They usually cost around $5K, and that is with me shooting it. I try and pay my team of models, stylists, makeup artist and assistants well because I truly rely on their expertise and knowledge to bring their talent!

Jake-Thompson-Avant-Garde-NAHA-Collection Jake-Thompson-Avant-Garde-NAHA-CollectionJake-Thompson-Avant-Garde-NAHA-Collection

Are you primarily paying for collection expenses out if your own pocket?

Yes, I have never received money from a company. I have never been sponsored by a hair extension company, a color company, etc. Everything I have created is all me.

If so, how do you budget for this?

I just make it happen. There is no choice for me. If you want something bad enough, you make it happen. I know where my priorities lay. I will contract out my team months in advance, and if I know it is going to be a bit pricey, I pay them over a period of time so it’s not so much at one time.

How do you keep costs down?

If I’m using extensions, I might recycle them from a previous year. I did that for my nomination in 2012.


If you were really hoping to get the color formulas for Jake’s NAHA 2016 Color Collection, you’re just in luck because we’ll be sharing them on our Instagram!

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