Stafford Hair

Why We Made LOVE Our Business

Leisa and I have just come back from a wonderful week in Ibiza. Rather than absolute carnage — late nights, foam parties, end-less bottles of cava and hedonistic escapades, in reality it was a lazy week by a quiet pool some lovely meals, a good book and at the end, our 24th wedding anniversary which we celebrated with our two daughters Joni and Ava.

There is nothing like a family holiday to remind you how lucky you are and a wedding anniversary is always something to celebrate, especially if you literally spend every second of everyday together. In actual fact, Leisa and I have been together for over 35 years both as a couple and business partners — a pretty remarkable feat don’t you think? Yet we rarely give it a second thought.

It was only whilst ordering a round of cocktails for my girls at the poolside bar that I got into a conversation with a couple from Dublin. The chat quickly got round to what we did for a living back home (every hairdresser who has ever gone on holiday will tell you that once they mention they are a hairdresser the next question will be ‘oh what would you do with my hair?).

So it was a complete surprise when the lady said ‘So you and your wife work together, all the time?’ in a voice that was almost horrified, as if it would be fate worse than death. ‘When you get home at night what do you have to talk about? Do you chat at work? Do you work on separate floors? Or is it that you are in the office and she’s doing the hair?’

The reality of the situation is quite simple — Leisa and I have been two halves of one entity — from the moment we met in the mid-80s our shared passions were style, music and most importantly, hair.

My first encounter with the future Mrs Stafford was almost like a scene from a movie, this tall beautiful Louise Brooks-bobbed gothic girl in a striped polo neck, short skirt and Dr Martens boots, with pale faced-makeup and bright red lips. She was a cross between Natalie Wood and a Tim Burton character, with a stash of Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths and Everything but the Girl albums.

She had — and still has — a wicked sense of fun. We would talk endlessly about hair and what we could do with it. Every conversation would come back to it and before long we were working in the same salon, conjuring up ideas for shoots, shows and fun. But it was when working together on clients that we really realised our potential — we had almost psychic or telepathic vision when it came to our ideas for clients’ hair. Rarely did we disagree — my angle was always the shape, cut and styling, Leisa’s the colour, tone and finish.

We always push ourselves to the limit, holding our skills and each other to the highest standards. Leisa would often say ‘most men play golf, my husband cuts hair’ and my belief was that Leisa could easily have been an architect or interior designer as her colouring techniques, methods and palettes were beyond imagination.

As we became more in tune with each other’s aesthetic and worked closer together on our vision, this led to our own salons where Leisa’s gift for design and interiors really came to the fore.

Our combined passions would result in late night conversation dreaming up new concepts, spaces and, of course, beautiful hair. But ambition, vision and art comes at a price — there is always risk and we’ve had our fair share of tough times and bumps in the road. But somehow our passion, commitment and determination has managed to overcome any adversity. We are never bored of our work, lives or each other, we seem to thrive on the challenge of what else can we achieve.

I hate to say this but doing hair is the easiest part. There are many great couples in hairdressing — it’s the most natural of industries to be partners in. The double barrel of salon ownership of a husband and wife team has always made for a formidable partnership. We are also naturally inclined to create family environments, places where our clients and staff feel like they can express themselves creatively and literally. It’s not unusual to hear loud debates and good-natured banter on pretty much any subject on our salon floor.

Atmosphere is everything in a hair salon, harmony is vital and passion is essential. Add a lot of love and you have perfection. Just like a marriage. Over the last 35 years as partners Leisa and I have embraced every change, shift and setback. Our holiday also marked three years since we returned to work after the pandemic lockdown, maybe the biggest challenge of our careers. During that time we realised how truly lucky we were to have shared this life in hair together. We knew that things would change when we returned to the salon — people had changed, there were new attitudes to work/life balances, a shift in how people wanted to communicate, interact and travel.

Experiences are the new economy, the value of a service is no longer measured in financial terms but in its personal investment. Coming back to work in our salon meant making sacrifices personally to ensure better working conditions for staff and our clients.

The process was slow and the progress similar but again Leisa and I found ways to enjoy the challenge of reinstating the salon’s position as an industry leader. Our industry has changed more in the last three years than the entire decade before. With more emphasis on sustainability too, we have become as scientific as we have technical, business-like as much as creative, conscientious and ethical.

But always at the forefront of what we do is our belief that hair-dressing is an industry that has more value than simply its place on a high street or shopping mall.

Could I ever imagine all this without the support of someone who truly believes in it too? Many couples who enter a marriage often don’t see it through; throw in a shared business and it’s twice the obstacle.

Would Leisa and I have made it this far if we didn’t work together? Who knows? Maybe hairdressing is the glue that bound us together but what I do know is we are stuck tight — forever.

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The salon is as much a part of the Belfast heritage and tradition as its famous cranes , with their trademark precision haircuts and stunning fashion forward colouring techniques, the salon is a buzz of creativity and excellence in a friendly relaxed professional setting.