Categories
Interviews

Wes Sharpton Is Breaking Down And Dismantling The Definition of Beauty

The following is the abridged interview with Hairstory hairdresser Wes Sharpton. Editor-in-Chief Tess Aurore facilitated the conversation, and Sharpton was quick to own the narrative.

arrow

Tess Aurore: So, Wes: Who are you?

Wes Sharpton: I am, at the end of the day, a queer kid from Oklahoma. My friends and I would always joke: I’m the original country queer. And that’s where my story started.

wes sharpton in b&w restin ghis face on his fist, small smile on his face as he stares at the camera

Growing up, were you that brainy kid? The cool kid? A jock?

Well, I always felt I was smart, but not necessarily in an academic sense; rather, I had an awareness of the things around me, I had some ‘people’ smarts.

Arguably the most important smarts to have.

I think many people in my position had to get smart and quick! And we had to move in a way for survival, right? We had to be a little strategic for our own safety, like, ‘who do I need to align with to be protected?’ 

Someone’s status was your shield, in a way.

Yeah. I also remember being in school and changing the paths that I would take to get to different classes because I didn’t trust that I was safe in a familiar routine. I thought ‘if I am in this space and I keep doing the same thing every day, someone’s gonna notice my path to get to class and that’s gonna make me vulnerable to being beat up, or something like that.’

I can’t imagine having to think like that, so strategically, just to exist.

It sounds awful, but it was just the way that we had to navigate the world in that place, at that time. 

You didn’t have the easiest time growing up, that’s what I’m gathering here.

Growing up gay, poor, having learning disabilities… These are all challenges, but there is a gift in these obstacles.

Which is?

Imagination.

Imagination is crucial to have.

You know, the idea of seeing and training your mind to imagine something that isn’t quite there yet, in reality, is such a valuable gift. I could have a bigger vision of myself than others could, because I could imagine things that had not existed in the world yet, as we know them. 

What was your main imagination?

I just had an inkling in my mind: ‘there’s gotta be a place. There’s gotta be a place where not everything is like Oklahoma. I’m not gonna always have to change paths. I’m not always gonna have to switch gears. I can have a routine one day without fear.’

wes sharpton holding a camera and smiling at the camera in b&w

And you escaped to fashion.

For me, my “otherness” was in the fashion world, which I believe I gravitated to because it wasn’t a place I belonged…

What do you mean, didn’t belong?

I never felt beautiful. I never felt pretty in my own skin. And I thought, if I can’t really have it myself, at least I can be a part of it. At least I could have a piece of something beautiful.

That’s heartbreaking.

Then I was invited to a hair show, which is really where people stand on a platform and cut hair. I thought, ‘dang, these people are cool…. Maybe there’s a space where I could do this.’ And then I started to cut hair. I ended up in New York, where I trained and worked at Bumble and bumble for many years.

The original country queer enters the big city.

Yes, but I really didn’t love fashion much once I was in the thick of it.  A fashion set is not as amazing as people assume it is, there’s a lot of standing and waiting and then ‘go.’ There’s a lot of pressure. So I really started to lean into hair cutting and worked for years in salons, which led to how I got started with Hairstory.

Hairstory took off immediately. It blew up. You must have been so thrilled.

It’s funny, the thing about life lessons is that they’re continuous, and one of the biggest lessons I learned was actually earlier on, pre-Hairstory. Some of my work had ended up in VOGUE, which, as a child of the nineties, was a big deal.

Wow, what an achievement.

Yes, yet despite this incredible achievement, I wasn’t totally fulfilled. In that quick moment of being in VOGUE, I went, ‘oh, this won’t fix you.’

Quite the realization to have after something so monumental happens.

See, I thought, when I got into VOGUE, that I would be whole. And that would mean that I had made it and showed everybody and did the thing. But it’s not it. I realized then that I needed to do some internal work, and that I’d need to align myself with things that I really loved and really believed in. I remember taking that moment and going, ‘okay, cool. This is great that this is going on in your life, but it won’t fix you.’ 

b&w wes sharpton walking down the street, looking behind him at the camera

You know, it’s the kind of thing where you have it all, and that’s when you want less of it. Or none of it. Like, you get everything you wish for and it doesn’t matter. You’re still not happy.

I think the more that you have in life, you also always have a dream of simplifying your life at the same time. I’d be like, okay, I’m doing this stuff, then also having daydreams of maybe I could just open up a juice bar on a beach or something – something that requires zero effort. I was really leaning into a little bit of that fantasy of thinking, ‘it’s time to wrap this show up. Maybe it’s time to do something different.’ And then Hairstory came into my life, a brand that is fully supportive of the hairdressing community.

How were other brands not supportive of the hairdressing community?

A shift came when online e-commerce became a thing. Everything was available in Sephoras and Ultas, and then online. When this happened, salon clients could find everything on Amazon, so it caused a lot of problems for hairdressers, who made their money not only in the chair but via product sales in-salon. As e-commerce grew, we were almost abandoned by haircare companies who had previously said they were ‘pro the hairdresser.’

Because why invest in something like the hairdresser when you have the internet? That’s sarcasm, of course.

Plus, hair care companies all say the same thing: that hairdressers don’t know how to retail. But this isn’t true! It’s that our entire business is built on trust. We’re intuitive at our job and we have a personal connection with our clients that doesn’t align with pushing for retail sales. 

So Hairstory came along and enticed you, because it was about the community.

The CEO, Eli Halliwell said, ‘I’m gonna give hairdressers affiliate links. Hairdressers’ clients can shop online and hairdressers will reap the rewards.’ And so I thought, ‘here is someone who’s bringing something new and fresh that also allows us to participate, respects our work and allows us to be considered.’ And it was really [hairdressers] being considered, which was bigger to me than the idea of the link. 

Which was revolutionary. I mean, affiliate links, you can throw that term out now. But back then, it was this new thing.

Definitely, As well as this new business model, I was also drawn to what Hairstory was selling – a new concept in a space that’s historically always been the same, shampoo, conditioner, detangler… What reinvention could happen from there? The one thing that energized me the most was a big idea. You know, anybody who is ‘othered’ in their life, the opportunity to be a part of something that you feel is bigger than yourself is a deeply satisfying thing.

b&w photo of wes cutting hair

I feel that way, absolutely. And that gives me my first question: what is your definition of beautiful?

I don’t know that I’ll ever have that ability to say, ‘this is beautiful,’ because I don’t know that I’ve dismantled all of the messages that say what isn’t beautiful yet. My job is to try and dismantle a little piece of that in hopes that other people down the road either have to do less dismantling or hopefully – one day – have to do zero dismantling.

I just wonder what the world would look like if people thought they were enough already. And so that is what it is. So I would love to be like, I think this is beautiful and this is beautiful, and I would love to give you a clean, pretty PR answer, but I don’t know that it would be the truth. 

We’re not looking for PR answers, we’re looking for the truth at QUILL. Cereal box answers aren’t interesting.

I was thinking about this the other day: you always have a choice to be as honest as you want. And sometimes your honesty means that you have to be vulnerable about the way that you view yourself in the world and maybe why you’re motivated to change that for others. So, I don’t know.

Second question: do you ever think you’ll be enough? And I’m asking this because I think about it, too.

At the end of the day, I think that what we really want is just to be seen, because I think the idea of being seen means that you have value, and if you have value, then maybe someone could value you. And that is because when it comes down to it, you’d like to imagine for yourself that if you could be seen, that you could also be loved.

We want the baseline. Like you’re good, right? Like you’re here, you exist. You deserve to exist. You can be recognized. We want that as a baseline and everything else, as far as enoughness goes, maybe it’s just doing the work to unravel why we have tricked ourselves into believing that we’re not enough.

Sometimes challenging yourself to be like, ‘what if I did this incrementally better?’ There’s never an end to mastery, right? There’s only just the journeys along the way. That’s the joy of the whole thing. And so in some spaces, I want to be enough, but I also want a healthy challenge to still be better

I think for me, enough will never be there because there’s always growth. There’s always growth.

As a community, we are sometimes a little harsh on ourselves, and I think we’ve got to remember to let people learn and grow. And we’ve got generations of experiences that are new, and queer people are learning. I didn’t have access to some of the things that are around today, so I didn’t have a language around some things. It’s cool that we can grow together.

And I would say, just be gentle. Remember people are largely on your side. I think sometimes we get a little bickering amongst ourselves and we get overwhelmed by things outside of our group that we’re not addressing and that are not moving us forward. So I think that can be something that we have to be considerate of; to be kind to ourselves and let people learn.

Let people grow.

Read the Full Profile on Wes Sharpton Now

b&w photo of wes sharpton looking at camera straight on

Categories
Hair Reviews

I Went Suds-Less With Hairstory’s New Wash, And It Was Rough (At First)

If you had told me six weeks ago that I would love my hair without conditioner, leave-in, or any form of hydrator, I would have laughed. Same goes with the suds – the feeling of fluffy, clean strands was my favorite hair day… which is exactly why Hairstory’s New Wash scared the sh*t out of me.

So much so, in fact, that I almost gave up and wrote a review that simply said “I couldn’t do it.”

How’d I even end up here? It’s a simple story.

arrow

I had done plenty of research on Hairstory before I reached out to the company. I loved that the brand was inclusive – hair is hair, here! I also adored the idea of using an affiliate link to connect hairdressers with clients in a COVID-19 world. 

When I pitched an idea of writing a story on the brand, their lovely contact, Hannah, came back with a question: how would I feel about speaking to Wes Sharpton, one of their hairstylists?

wes sharpton in b&w restin ghis face on his fist, small smile on his face as he stares at the camera

Unsure of what the profile would be like, but thrilled nevertheless, I prepared for my interview. The morning of, I ran to my mailbox, and there was a box filled with the Hairstory goods: their New Wash, Powder (dry shampoo), and Hair Balm (to add texture when air drying). 

I proudly showed the box off to Hannah and Wes on the call, both of whom smiled in reaction to the joy radiating from my side of the screen. I couldn’t wait to try it!

And then, for three weeks, I couldn’t wait to be done trying it. But trust me – the story changes quickly.


A “Cream Cleanser”

People are sick of the chemicals stripping their hair of natural oils (the feeling my oily scalped loved) and are becoming aware of what’s lurking in those plastic bottles. So, many methods, like no poo and co-washing, are growing exponentially in popularity.

Popular alternatives to chemical-filled shampoo include apple cider vinegar, mixes with olive oil and/or coconut milk, lemon juice, tea tree oil, clay, and water on its own. 

Another alternative: Hairstory’s New Wash. Though they claim it isn’t exactly a no poo, it ticks all of the requirements to be one. So, the cream cleansing New Wash revolution is blowing up.


Hairstory’s New Wash – The Full Story

Hairstory has a cult following thanks to their New Wash; in fact, it’s what truly put Hairstory on the map. 

New Wash cleans and conditions with essential oils and naturally-derived ingredients. Some of the essential oils include ylang-ylang and rose, while natural ingredients include aloe, lavender and matricaria flower extracts, and peppermint and jojoba seed oils. The combination results in a cleanser that doesn’t strip your locks or scalp of good oils, and it doesn’t deteriorate your scalp’s protective barrier. And we all know that a happy scalp = a healthy scalp!

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Hairstory Studio (@hairstorystudio)

The most enticing part of New Wash to me: Hairstory’s claim that you don’t need to condition afterward. My hair is beyond damaged from years of at-home bleaching and dyeing (sorry @ all hairstylists reading this), so I need the most intense conditioner for at least three minutes in every. single. shower session. It’s the only thing that keeps my hair from looking like I fed the ends through a woodchipper. 

So, skipping the step that took up the most time? I was excited. And good-for-you ingredients that wouldn’t strip or break? I was sold immediately.

Sustainability-wise, one 8-oz. pouch – not plastic bottle, but pouch – covers both your shampoo and conditioner, and you can go longer between washes. In total, New Wash reduces your plastic use by an astounding 91%. It’s also biodegradable and safe to use in open water sources. Just keep in mind that the use of keratin – aka a protein derived from sheep’s wool – means it is not vegan.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Hairstory Studio (@hairstorystudio)

After my interview with Wes, which also happened to be day three without washing, I skipped to the shower and prepared to enter the cleanser cream lifestyle.

It was not what I expected.


My First Experience With Hairstory

First, Hairstory also includes a little scalp massager, so you can really work through the formula and then rinse it out thoroughly. I didn’t get it at first, until I opened up my bag and the cream came out thick. It wasn’t gel-like, like a mask or a face cream or shaving cream – it was hefty. But I’m as curious as a cat with a death wish (or nine), so I dutifully followed the instructions and worked it through my hair with the massager.

new wash from hairstory, tess is smiling behind it as she holds up the orange and white bag to the camera

No suds. Not even slight foaming. I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell that I had shampoo in my hair had I not put it in myself, because it rubbed into my strands so gloriously. When I was sure I’d scrubbed my scalp enough, I rinsed out with the massager, letting every drop of the shampoo wash out. I went to rub my scalp, expecting to feel your standard stripped hair.

Nope. None of that. My hair felt nice and… okay, kind of oily still.

I was baffled. Hadn’t I just washed it, and intensely at that? I knew there weren’t chemicals to strip the hair, but it was only then that I realized just how badly foaming shampoo strips your strands.

The best part, though? My hair was SOFT. It was MANAGEABLE. I didn’t have to use conditioner for my brush to go through my hair!!!! It was a goddamn miracle.

After drying out my hair to a damp level, I flipped my hair over, applied Hairstory’s Hair Balm for some texture, tousled my hair, and went about my day. I was feeling pretty good… until I caught a glimpse of my hair. It was oily, it was greasy, it was messy, it was not cute. I felt mortified, as my friend was mere minutes away. 

tess holding up the hair balm, a white and blue bottle

I quickly located Hairstory’s Powder. Instead of a spray, it came out as a puff of white powder. I massaged it into my roots… and it made it worse. I looked like a hot mess. (Thankfully, my friend knows and respects that I’m a beauty editor, so he did not find it off-putting when I answered the door and said “my hair is greasy as fuck” with a very greasy head.)

tess holding up the powder bottle, which is hairstory's dry shampoo

I assumed this was a fluke, and, if not, it probably would sort itself out in the next wash or two. 

I reported this to Tara, QUILL’s Content Writer. She texted back a link to an article and a follow-up text: “it takes six weeks.” 

Oh dear god. What did I get myself into?


Wes Taught Me To Be Honest, So…

I will spare you the details, but the first three weeks were miserable. And it was my own curiosity that landed me here.

As someone who sudsed up her entire life, switching to chemical-free shampoo was terrible. My hair constantly felt dirty, it never sat the right way, and the Powder just didn’t help. I cut out the Hair Balm, and though I lost texture, my hair at least felt a little less greasy – I guess it’s just my roots that get super oily, and if I don’t brush, I don’t have to worry about hydrating it as much.

Still, despite my discomfort, I liked my routine. The massage into and off of my head was nice, and I adored not having to take five minutes to stand around while my conditioner worked its magic. When was the last time I had used a shampoo that allowed me to skip conditioner? Not ever, that’s when.

It was week four when I appeared on Zoom with the QUILL team, yelling “look at my hair!” and shoving my roots into the camera for all to see. And what did they see?

A normal, non-oily, healthy scalp and roots. 

It was a frickin’ miracle.

I had outlasted the pain and was entering the other side of the anti-chemical lifestyle: the lifestyle in which you give up stripping your hair for that sense of cleanliness, and fall in love with keeping it healthy and hydrated with its natural oils instead.


My Final Thoughts On Hairstory’s Products

hairstory line up of products

So, here’s my Hairstory review: New Wash is the only shampoo I’ll be buying from now on, and I think I’ll be skipping the Hair Balm unless I desperately need texture. And the Powder? It’s great in a pinch, but it just didn’t help the build-up that accumulated on my head so quickly. This isn’t Hairstory’s fault, or a weakness in their product – it’s my own hair being finicky and adapting to a major change.

I have no doubt that my hair will continue to adapt as I enter the famous week six (Tara, I did it! I really did it!). I’m only halfway through my first 8-oz. bag, so while the price is somewhat steep for those used to drugstore prices, it’ll last you just as long – if not longer! – than your daily salon shampoo bottle. Aka, if you’re looking for cream cleanser that won’t kill your hair, Hairstory’s New Wash is about to become your long-term relationship.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Hairstory Studio (@hairstorystudio)

I want to take a quick paragraph to thank a VIP, too: Hannah, thank you for gifting me these lovely products. I am so honored, and I hope you like the article on Wes! Please know: you made that happen. You made a cream cleanser gal out of me, and you helped me to produce one of my favorite articles. You’re a miracle worker.

While it’s tempting to use my regular shampoo just to compare after all this time away, I know I never want to go through those first three weeks again. So, to Hairstory’s New Wash I will stick, and never stray. Hold me to that.

bow and arrow

Did you like this review of Hairstory’s New Wash? Have you tried it before? Tell us below!


Read More Reviews:

Wes Sharpton & The Pursuit For Inner Peace
Mermaid Marissa: I Tried Three of Amika’s Hair Masks
Categories
Hair Profiles

Wes Sharpton & The Pursuit For Inner Peace

Hairstory’s Wes Sharpton doesn’t give me a chance to ask a question after I open with “Who are you?”

Instead, Sharpton launches into his full story. Who he is, how he got to Hairstory, the history of Hairstory, and where they are now.

It’s like he’s practiced telling this tale, the way it flows so naturally. I follow along easily, lost in his descriptors.

But I don’t laugh. No, I tear up multiple times instead throughout the hour-long journey.

When he gets to the end, he mumbles that he’s sorry for “blabbing” on. I tell him it’s fine; I only have two questions now, anyway. 

“Sure,” Sharpton says, nodding. I don’t know what he expects me to ask; maybe something about Hairstory, or a detail he left out. But it’s clearly not these two questions.

Have I piqued your curiosity? Good. Here’s Wes Sharpton’s story, from humble beginnings to Hairstory.

arrow

“My friends and I would always joke: I’m the original country queer. And that’s where my story started.” It’s a succinct intro, but Wes Sharpton makes it seem like the easy way to start the story.

Sharpton grew up in Oklahoma in the ‘90s, before he had the resources that we do now for the LGBTQ+ community – and when the state was extremely conservative regarding gay rights. “It was feeling like there weren’t enough of us in people’s homes yet to really like that I could feel…” He searches for the right word, eventually landing on: “safe.”

I quietly listen to him describe his strategies in school: taking different paths throughout hallways to get through class, never following the same one, because there was a lack of safety in familiarity. “I thought ‘if I am in this space and I keep doing the same thing every day, someone’s gonna notice my path to get to class and that’s gonna make me vulnerable to being beat up, or something like that.’” He shrugs. “It’s what you had to do to survive.”

b&w wes sharpton walking down the street, looking behind him at the camera

There was more strategy; making friends with those who could indirectly, unknowingly protect you. It helped Sharpton develop his “people smarts,” something he takes pride in.

“I think many people in my position had to get smart and quick! And we had to move in a way for survival, right? We had to be a little strategic for our own safety, like, ‘who do I need to align with to be protected?’”  I didn’t come out until 24; the thought of dodging and befriending solely for strategic reasons makes my stomach churn.

But Sharpton says it so casually, no shock factor attached to the words. As he says, “it sounds awful, but it was just the way that we had to navigate the world in that place, at that time.”

But through the media, Sharpton knew there was more out there for him, more than what conservative Oklahoma had to offer him. There was space for him. Space where he didn’t have to be strategic. 

“I just had an inkling in my mind: ‘there’s gotta be a place. There’s gotta be a place where not everything is like Oklahoma. I’m not gonna always have to change paths. I’m not always gonna have to switch gears. I can have a routine one day without fear.’”

A routine is something most youths take for granted through their adolescent lives. They wake up, quickly scarf down breakfast, go through the motions in school, and continue on to extracurriculars, or to do homework, or to visit friends, or to simply rest at home. And it happens every day. Rinse, wash, repeat. There is no strategy involved.

Sharpton did not have this luxury. But he did have those dreams of a better place.

“Growing up gay, poor, having learning disabilities… These are all challenges, but there is a gift in these obstacles: imagination,” he says, smiling. “The idea of seeing and training your mind to imagine something that isn’t quite there yet in reality is such a valuable gift.

“I could have a bigger vision of myself than others could, because I could imagine things that had not existed in the world yet, as we know them.”

He eventually made it out of Oklahoma. Here’s how.


After escaping school and its lack of consistency, Wes Sharpton gravitated toward fashion.  

a picture of a woman in nylon magazine with hair by wes sharpton

This is where I tear up for the first time.

“Can I be honest with you? Really honest,” he asks me. I say yes, of course, please.

“For me, my otherness was in the fashion world, which I believe I gravitated to because it wasn’t a place I belonged…” Sharpton pauses and looks at me.

“I never felt beautiful. I never felt pretty in my own skin. And I thought, if I can’t really have it myself, at least I can be a part of it. At least I could have a piece of something beautiful.”

My heart lurches to my throat. I swallow down the lump. Be professional, I tell myself. 

Sharpton continues on after telling me his secret about his experience at a “cheap” cosmetology school, where he learned the details of makeup and hair care. He had assumed he was going to be a makeup artist, but after being invited to a hair show – “which is really where people stand on a platform and cut hair” – he was drawn to the hair world.

“I thought, ‘dang, these people are cool…. Maybe there’s a space where I could do this.’ And then I started to cut hair. I ended up in New York, where I trained and worked at Bumble and bumble. for many years.” Goodbye, Oklahoma; hello, Big City.

However, the fashion world wasn’t what Sharpton expected. He was glad to have escaped his hometown and found his niche in cutting hair, but “a fashion set is not as amazing as people assume it is, there’s a lot of standing and waiting and then ‘go.’ There’s a lot of pressure.”

So, Sharpton leaned into hair cutting. He worked at salons for many years, perfecting his craft, therefore putting Sharpton on the map. But it was when his work made it into Vogue that he faced a major realization.

wes sharpton's hair cut in vogue magazine

“I thought, when I got into VOGUE, that I would be whole. And that would mean that I had made it and showed everybody and did the thing,” he says.

That’s understandable. Those who have felt othered, felt the doubt from those surrounding them… “making it” means you proved them wrong, that you are where you belong. But it was the opposite for Sharpton.

“I realized then that I needed to do some internal work, and that I’d need to align myself with things that I really loved and really believed in,” he tells me. “The press is interesting, right? It happens quick and it happens fast. I remember taking that moment and going, ‘okay, cool. This is great that this is going on in your life, but it won’t fix you.’”

He recalls doing an interview on what hair is best for your face shape; he felt “icky” after doing it, and he decided then and there that he would never tell someone how to be beautiful again. 

Instead, “I thought, ‘what if we stopped having these conversations about face shape? Why don’t you just come in and you tell me what you really love about yourself? Then I’m gonna focus on how I can bring attention to that.’”

So, when someone sits in his chair and complains about their face, he resets the conversation. He has the client tell him what their favorite feature is, and he highlights that instead. “You are not designed to hide. And I, as a hairdresser, am not designed to help you hide,” he says. “I’m not OK with the culture of criticism and having a ‘solution.’ I say, let’s blow that out of the water because this is a bunch of bullsh*t, and we don’t need to be participants in that.”

b&w photo of wes sharpton cutting hair

He was thrilled to make this change, taking a stand to never speak about face shape again and then bringing it into his personal practice. But, he tells me, he was tired. As his career grew exponentially, he was also growing tired. 

He dreamt of simplifying his life, ending his story and “opening a juice bar on the beach.” Something that didn’t exhaust him so much.

“I was really leaning into a little bit of that fantasy of thinking, ‘it’s time to wrap this show up. Maybe it’s time to do something different,’” he recalls. “And then Hairstory came into my life, a brand that is fully supportive of the hairdressing community.”

Ah, there it is. Enter: Hairstory.


The hair world was facing a crisis: what was once so exclusive had become accessible. People were able to buy hair products online, if not for cheaper on Amazon. The hairdressing community took a hit financially as e-Commerce capabilities grew – those who relied on product sales and in-person sales were losing out to a fast-growing and fast-moving Internet. 

“As e-commerce grew, we were almost abandoned by haircare companies who had previously said they were ‘pro the hairdresser,’” Sharpton says. ‘Hairstory did something different that appealed to me because it supported hairdressers in a way no other brand had done.’

The idea came from Hairstory’s CEO, Eli Halliwell: providing hairdressers with affiliate links, therefore rebirthing exclusivity – just online, this time.

How Hairstory’s affiliate links work, in Sharpton’s words: “Hairdressers are rewarded for their client relationships – so much so that, after one affiliate sale, the customer remains connected to their Hairstory hairdresser for eternity, with the hairdresser rewarded ongoingly.

“Eli told me; ‘Your clients are always connected to you, and we will always pay you and we’re always gonna do that every time that they return. We will always honor sharing your education about these products with your clients.’”

hairstory line up of products

Sharpton was drawn to the concept, because “the one thing that energized me the most was a big idea.” On top of this, he felt that Halliwell was supporting the hairdressing community, which had been so brutally abandoned by others.

Part of the reason behind the abandonment: the misconception by so-called “pro-hairdresser” companies that claimed that hairdressers were poor at selling their products, or simply didn’t know “how to retail.” But Sharpton strongly disagrees.

“This isn’t true!” he emphasizes. “It’s that our entire business is built on trust. We’re intuitive at our job and we have a personal connection with our clients that doesn’t align with pushing for retail sales.”

So Sharpton’s response to Haillwell’s big idea? “I thought, ‘here is someone who’s bringing something new and fresh that also allows [hairdressers] to participate, respects our work, and allows us to be considered,’” Sharpton says of Halliwell. “And it was really [hairdressers] being considered, which was bigger to me than the idea of the link.

“I was also drawn to [Hairstory’s New Wash] in a space that’s historically always been the same, shampoo, conditioner, detangler… What reinvention could happen from there?” Sharpton tells me. The unique New Wash – which helped to blow up affiliate links and what Hairstory is best known for – is “an all-in-one hair cleanser that rivals shampoo.” (Note: I’ve been using it for the past six weeks, and my review comes out tomorrow.) 

hairstory's new wash

So, Sharpton didn’t give up his hair cutting and start a juice bar. His excitement kept him around. He’s still with Hairstory to this day – the exact reason we’re on Zoom right now, my mic muted.

… Until it’s my turn to ask the follow-up questions.

I only have two.


The questions aren’t easy, and I’m aware of it. They’re direct, thought of as he closes his story, his vulnerable journey from “original country queer” to world-renowned hairdresser. But I don’t feel like asking Wes Sharpton easy questions after this story – this “Hair”story, if you will.

“What is your definition of beautiful?” I ask point-blank.

“I think that is such a hard question,” he says. But he doesn’t shy away from the question; he thinks hard about it.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever be whole, right? I don’t know that I’ll ever have that ability to be able to maybe be like, this is beautiful because I don’t know that I’ve dismantled all of the messages that say what isn’t beautiful yet. So my job is to try and dismantle a little piece of that in hopes that other people down the road either have to do less dismantling or hopefully one day have to do zero dismantling.”

Zero dismantling sounds impossible right now, but Sharpton is determined to do the work. 

“I just wonder what the world would look like if people thought they were enough already as you came in,” he says. “I would hope that in the future, that we could have the idea that there could be a space for all of us.”

wes sharpton holding a camera and smiling at the camera in b&w

I reflect on how I’ve struggled to feel beautiful all my life, and how the internal struggle pops up every single day. Sharpton drops another piece of wisdom.

“I would love to give you a clean, pretty PR answer, but I don’t know that it would be, I don’t know that it would be the truth. I thought about this today and I thought, you know what? You always have a choice to be as honest as you want. And sometimes your honesty means that you have to be vulnerable about the way that you view yourself in the world and why maybe you’re motivated to change that for others.”

Then he apologizes. I tell him not to – QUILL doesn’t look for clean answers. We look for the raw, real, brilliant, honest, vulnerable truth. And that’s what he’s given me here.

It changes my next question, but it’s just as pointed, and I’m almost scared to ask it: “Do you think you’ll ever be enough?” It’s a personal question for myself as well, and I’m hoping Sharpton hasn’t run out of wisdom, because I desperately need it.

I could summarize what he says, but I’m going to give his full quote, because I teared up and nearly cried as he dove into it. I hope you enjoy it, too. I think it’s an appropriate close to the interview. Please take this to heart.

“I think it depends, right? I think, at the end of the day, I think that what we really want is just to be seen, because I think the idea of being seen means that you have value, and if you have value, then maybe someone could value you. And that is because when it comes down to it, you’d like to imagine for yourself that if you could be seen, that you could also be loved.
“We want the baseline. Like, you’re good, right? Like, you’re here, you exist. You deserve to exist. You can be recognized. We want that as a baseline and everything else, and as far as enoughness goes, maybe it’s just doing the work to unravel why we have tricked ourselves into believing that we’re not enough.
“Sometimes challenging yourself to be like, ‘what if I did this incrementally better?’ There’s never an end to mastery, right? There’s only just the journeys along the way. That’s the joy of the whole thing. And so in some spaces, I want to be enough, but I also want a healthy challenge to still be better.
“I think for me, enough will never be there because there’s always growth. As a community, we are sometimes a little harsh on ourselves, and I think we’ve got to remember to let people learn and grow. And we’ve got generations of experiences that are new, and queer people are learning. I didn’t have access to some of the things that are around today, so I didn’t have a language around some things. It’s cool that we can grow together.
“And I would say, just be gentle. Remember people are largely on your side. I think sometimes we get a little bickering amongst ourselves and we get overwhelmed by things outside of our group that we’re not addressing and that are not moving us forward. So I think that can be something that we have to be considerate of; to be kind to ourselves and let people learn.

“Let people grow.”

b&w photo of wes sharpton looking at camera straight on


Thank you to Wes Sharpton for the honest, real conversation. Follow Sharpton on Instagram and his site. You can also follow Hairstory on their site and Instagram.


Read More Features