Hairdresser extraordinaire, Emma Quirke, is celebrating four successful years in business. Here she takes us on her career journey and explains why she doesn’t regret a thing.
By Georgina Downes
Who did you practice hair-styles on when you were young?
As a child, I was always doing something with hair, always tossing my nan’s freshly permed do, or trying things out on my cousins. Actually, my cousins are lucky to have any hair left on their heads at all! Thankfully, I never cut my own hair or a dolls hair, which is unusual, as I always wanted to be a hairdresser. My grandad used to cut hair for the men on his road so maybe that’s where the creative/hairdressing side came from.
I always went with Mom when she was having her hair done. It was a novelty watching what was going on in a salon. I used to enjoy going for the odd blow-dry myself. I remember, when I was fourteen, getting my first few highlights and after that I think I tried every type of cut and colour imaginable and I was always experimenting with something new.
You won a scholarship to train as a hairdresser when you were very young. Can you take me through that competition?
Sunday, August 20th 2006, is a day I’ll never forget. The competition was advertised locally in the newspaper. Mom mentioned it in passing and said “sure what have you to lose?” The competition was run during the weekend of the Rose Of Tralee Festival, in conjunction with the Hair & Beauty sponsors at the time: Bellissimo Hair & Beauty, Limerick. The winning prize was a scholarship worth €5,500 to attend Bellisimo’s Hair Academy for a year-long programme. They wanted a ‘creative look’ from head to toe on a live model (my model was my first cousin Carol Hurley). I ended up constructing a style that incorporated Carol’s hair into the halter-neck of the dress (secretly, I think she still hates me for this as she had to leave it in for the day and every time she moved her head she had to move her whole body). The styles were judged and I won! My whole world changed as I knew I was about to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a hairdresser. Everything went in a blur. I had such mixed emotions and I felt like a local celebrity for a few days after. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be chosen but they saw something in me at the time and I will be forever indebted to those people for making my dream come true.
You were only seventeen when you went to Limerick to train. Did you take advantage of your new found freedom or were you homesick and overwhelmed?
The new freedom was different alright, all new routines and living some sort of a college life to an extent. I was about to start on a new journey so, yes, I would say I was completely overwhelmed by the unknown. I ended up living in college accommodation; that’s where I got my sense of college-life and then I lived with my friend Claire from home so that made things easier, especially when I felt homesick. Mom would always drive us back early on a Monday morning with a plated dinner each for
that evening. To this day, Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol brings back memories of the three of us heading up the road to start a new week. The course was full time so I always had to keep myself grounded and in top form. I was learning something new every day and I never wanted to miss out. We also had work experience either Fridays or Saturdays, on the salon floor in Bellissimo. I came home every weekend so I would have to commute to Limerick if I was working on Saturday. My parents were great. They used to drive me up and down. I had excellent mentors in Limerick who had my back and really looked after me knowing I was the youngest in the classroom. They took me under their wing and to this day, we’re still a great support to one another.
After training in Limerick, what did you do?
When I finished my year in Limerick, I was offered a full time position with Bellissimo but I just knew that wasn’t for me at that time so I headed back to Tralee on the hunt for work, and 14 years on, I’m still happily here.
Four years in business. Well done. What reservations did you have to overcome before taking the plunge? Has it changed you, do you think?
Four years! it’s mad. I think at the beginning I was just happy to make it to the end of the first year. Working in a salon environment for thirteen years and one year in Limerick, it was always something I said I would do, have my name over the door one day. I had been working from a very small set up in my parent’s house before I opened Emma Quirke Hair. The year I opened. I had just done my Colour Masters and I began showing off my work on social media and with word-of-mouth, things just started to expand. So much so, that I couldn’t cope with the volume of work at home anymore and it was either take the big leap and open my own salon, or not. I look back now without a single regret. It is the best decision I ever made. But there’s still lots to be accomplished. I’m only getting started. At 31, I think I have a few years left in me yet. Opening my own business didn’t change how I work, but I feel I developed personally and professionally, in terms of how to run a business, and, like anyone, you learn from your mistakes along the way. I undertook a year-long course with the man himself, Alan Austin Smith, also known as “The Fantastic Hairdresser” and I work alongside a business coach as well which keeps me on track. It’s always good to have someone like that to express your concerns to and who helps make your plans a reality.
If you didn’t do hairdressing what would you do?
I would have loved to have become a Guard (yes, two completely different types of job.)
Any regrets about leaving school early?
Fourteen years on, I do stop and think about leaving school early but also I look back and truly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t taken that leap of faith immediately and followed my dream. I’d say leaving school early didn’t do me any harm. It led me to having a very successful business today. My only regret about leaving school early was leaving friends behind for the final year.
What is the best lesson life has taught you?
Best life lesson is “Everything Happens For A Reason”. Back when I took that leap of faith to leave school and start my hairdressing journey I saw no fear or dangers as I was making my dream a reality. Now, fourteen years on, I wish I was that seventeen-year-old again with the same mentality instead of always thinking about pros & cons and overthinking everything. I tend to go with my gut and I truly believe anything is possible if you want it enough. I’m always setting myself goals that I know I will achieve. It might take a little longer for some things but I get there in the end. One thing I don’t do is give up. Will-power is a hugely important.
Are you conscious of being a woman in business?
To be honest, it’s never entered my mind. Gender is something that doesn’t come into hairdressing. I just look at myself as a business owner doing hair and not a hairdresser trying to run a business because it can go either way for you.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of running your own business?
Every year is a different year in business and you’re always learning as you go along. Achieving a work/life balance is something I have only figured out in the last few months. Really, for the first years, you’re trying to build a business and reputation for yourself, so of course you are going to work every hour known to man to achieve your goals. You need to put your own mark on things but you also have to take the good with the bad. Every high and every low makes both you and your business a better success. When recognised for those achievements, it makes you stand back and say that was worth every bit of blood, sweat and tears.
What is lockdown like for you? How are you and your staff coping and perhaps you could give one or two tips to keep hair looking great for the next few weeks without the help of a hairdresser.
Lockdown No 2. What can I say only just go with the flow and just hope we open on December 1st. The second lockdown has been very different to the first one. Last time, we just shut our doors very suddenly without even knowing what lay ahead. This time, we are opening our doors with our procedures in place, once again knowing that we are a very safe environment to come into. My staff and I are doing ok. We’ve been keeping active, training online while the salon has been closed, doing the things we find hard to do when working full time. As for hair tips, now would be the time to help your hair with condition. This is the very first thing we look for in clients hair the minute we meet them. Good condition is the back bone to creating that desirable look and colour so start working on it now with lots of hair treatments.
A big shout-out to Connect magazine and its readers for the various awards I’ve won and for selecting me as a judge in this year’s Hair & Beauty Awards, not to mention the opportunities Margaret has given me these past four years as a guest speaker at her events. Since opening the salon, I have been able to hold a fundraiser in the salon for something that is very close to my heart.
I would like to thank every single person, old and new, that has walked through the doors of Emma Quirke Hair. It’s made my dream a success to this present day. Without their continued support I wouldn’t be where i am only for this.
Also a huge special mention to my hard working team who support me in every way and work just as hard as I do myself. And a big special mention to my Parents Catherine & Murty for supporting me in every possible way, day in day out, and for being my backbone with the salon and just life in general. I wouldn’t have what I have without their love and support.