The Tortoise & the Hair: The Rise of Slow Beauty

At first blush, the idea of slow beauty isn’t at all appealing. After all, why do something slowly when you can get it…fast?? Fast is fun, fast is sleek and fast is sexy. No one tacks posters of sensible sedans on their pre-teen bedroom walls. That honor is reserved for those that can go zero to sixty in under three seconds.

Our unquenchable thirst for “new-now!” has giving rise to an entirely new industry: fast fashion, where quick and cheap is prized above long-lasting and high-quality. There are plenty of arguments and studies that show how simultaneously damaging this can be for our ecology while greatly boosting (some) economies, but the long-term effects of fast fashion and beauty are still a bit unknown.

As it so happens, the worlds of fashion and beauty often run on a parallel course; there are tastemakers and trendsetters, forecasters and critics and all of them work furiously throughout the year to discover what’s new, hot and ahead of the curve. In short, there are teams and teams of people scattered throughout the globe whose sole purpose in life is to determine how we can all look better—now.

What’s more, with the rise of social media and the all but instant delivery of information, the concept of a season has essentially gone out the window. Now, new and innovative looks are expected on a constant basis. If there isn’t a “hottest trend” each and every month, the insatiable internet beast will roar out in agony and start clawing at whatever ingenuity it can wrap its claws around to toss into its gaping maw.

This has not always been the case. Sometime in the later half of the 1900s, speed became prized over and above quality. It used to be that consumers would gladly wait months and shell out greater percentages of their hard-earned paychecks to have a look handcrafted for them. It took in-depth consultations with a barber, hairstylist, makeup consultant and tailor, to create something unique, stylish and long-lasting—a look that would grow and change along with a lifestyle.

Copy of In-Article Quotes_Artboard 5Some shops still practice “slow beauty.” With the rise of hipster culture and all things artisanal, certain factions of the beautysphere have once again embraced the quality-over-quantity approach. After all, you can charge more for a service that your clients deem to be worth more, and if it’s handcrafted, it’s worth more.

At Beardsgaard Barbers, the price of men’s haircut is relatively high. I say relative, because while $24 for a men’s haircut may not seem like much, the barbershop is surrounded on all points of the compass by nation chains, constantly touting their $7.99 sales. In the land of soccer dads and sports guys, you’d be hard pressed to convince a stable clientele to consistently pay three times more than the going rate for a haircut that they will likely need every 4-6 weeks.

But, as we saw in our Anatomy of a Salon, Beardsgaard has not only a stable clientele but a three-month waiting list for new clients. How? Why? In a quiet suburb where men don’t care as much about what’s in fashion as they do about getting home in time to cut the lawn, how did this barbershop manage to break the proverbial sales sound barrier?

By taking their time. The average Beardsgaard appointment lasts at least 30 minutes, usually closer to 45. By keeping a meticulous standard of quality, the shop is able to bill itself as being staffed by “expert craftsmen” and charge a premium for their time and services. While they may not be churning out three clients an hour, in the case of Beardsgaard Barbers, less has definitely given way to more.

The slow beauty movement has experienced a bit of a resurgence lately, thanks in large part to the meteoric rise of the wellness industry. Unlike the “fast fix” era of the crash diet and meal replacement shakes of the 1980s and 1990s, today’s fastest growing health and wellness categories focus on a return to natural practices and systems.

Taking a more holistic approach is the cornerstone of the slow beauty movement, one that celebrates “self-love and care” above simply looking good. The idea is, if you are healthy and confident, beauty will naturally follow. Obviously, this takes a little more time than simply slapping on a little blush or bleach, hence the term “slow beauty.” The growth of this mindset has caused a bit of a divide in the beauty industry—those who are embracing this newer, holistic approach and those who prefer the tried and true traditional methods of trendspotting and forecasting.

The concept of “new and novel” is not a bad thing. Creative industries, like beauty, need fresh ideas and inspirations to keep them running. Much like a villain in a Grimm’s fairytale, if the young lifeblood of innovation is not consistently pumped throughout the various pipelines of the industry, it will wither up and fade away. New territories must be explored and boundaries broken in the name of beauty. There is nothing wrong with such exploration; it is a creative necessity.

However, at its current rate and left unchecked, such an approach is not sustainable. There is no sense in breaking new ground if you don’t plan to build something that is long standing. Which begs the question—where has all of this trendsetting led us?

Now, more and more products and services are being developed to produce results faster. Quicker turnaround times mean more money after all for stylists, and the more services you can pump out in a given day, the better your bottom line, right?

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Not necessarily. You see, stylists have a choice to make. They can choose to learn the craft, do it and do it well, charge the going rate and go home at the end of the day. Or, they can opt to become a master. Neither approach is better than the other; they both have their pluses and minuses. The difference between mastery and mere existence is the same in beauty as it is in any other industry: those who choose to master will invest, those who don’t will spend. 

Becoming a master craftsman in any industry takes an upfront investment of time and usually money, in the form of not only training but of your time as well. After all, time really is  money, let’s not forget that—we operate under that premise every day at Industrie, as we essentially charge by the hour. Once you’ve reached a certain level of skill, you can take on less work, fewer appointments, fewer clients and charge more for each of them.

Conversely, you can choose to take the time to build a larger client list, and charge a little bit less per service—it’s actually the same difference that we covered between our mass and niche brands—it’s just, in this case, we are talking services and skill level as opposed to basic marketing tactics. Neither approach is good or bad and they are equally needed to balance the industry.

Niche brands and slow beauty practices don’t work for every client or market. All across the world there are clients that simply want to sit down in your chair, have you make them look better and leave to get on with their lives. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s actually the norm. If that’s the approach that works for your business, area, and passion, more power to you.

There is a plethora of new trends, products,  and methods that pop up almost constantly for you to try your hand at. If not, if you would much rather master one or two skills and keep your shop and client list carefully curated, then kudos to you. You are electing the road less traveled and more precarious and that in itself is admirable. Either way, as long as you take the approach that truly speaks to you and your passion for your business, you can’t go wrong.

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