Meet the Entrepreneurs Promoting Diversity in the Beauty Industry Through Their Style and Work
This story, written pre-pandemic, introduces Marci Ien, formerly of CTV, and celebrity hair stylist Janet Jackson, entrepreneurs who made a practice of promoting diversity in the beauty industry. Photo: Chris Chapman
An empowered energy emanates from both Marci Ien, a star of CTV’s buzzy daily chat show The Social, and Janet Jackson, celebrity hair stylist (to the likes of supermodel Iman) individually. So it’s double the wattage in this portrait of them, taken at Jackson’s Etobicoke salon, JouJou Hair Studio. The shoot was to highlight Ien’s signature look – a chic short style – which Jackson had been tending to for a year before adding lead hairstylist for The Social’s cast of four, including Ien, to her schedule for a season. This explains the camaraderie in the moment, snapped pre-pandemic, before physical distancing and mask-wearing became the new normal.
Jackson is memorable for more than her doppelgänger name. After leaving the corporate world to do hair full time, she honed her craft on photo and video shoots. “All this fun … and I was getting paid for it? I recognized that I was so passionate about hair. This was my calling.”
Entrepreneurship came 12 years ago after her “clientele became so big that the last owner I worked for suggested that I needed my own salon!” Jackson saw a gap in the industry and filled it with her multicultural salon “catering to any hair type that walked through the door.” Her first television appearance – on a 2009 MuchMusic show where she gave makeover advice to a girl group – has led to her how-to hair trend segments on Cityline, The Marilyn Denis Show and The Social.
Ien, too, has an entrepreneurial spirit, creating the shoe collection Ien Lee in 2018 in collaboration with her friend, performing artist Diane Lee Clemons. The styles are fun, fashion-forward and au courant, much like Ien’s hairdo. She went short several years ago as a time-saver and likes to keep it fresh and updated. There is much one can do to mix things up, says Ien, noting that just changing the side of the part can dramatically alter the look. And that’s a good thing: “Every time I try to grow my hair out a little bit – there is an uprising with my friends and family,” Ien laughs. “I think this is it. This is my style.”
But for Ien, the choice to go short was deeper, as it sprung from a desire to keep her natural hair texture, which plays a big part in her look. Hair can indeed be crucial to identity. And even more so for Black women, who have historically had to deal with bias and discrimination against their hair textures and styles. In the recent past, the concept of #blackgirlmagic celebrating self-love and the entire spectrum of Black beauty has taken hold. And, as one of the many creative hair options Black women have to experience and experiment with, a natural hair movement has blossomed. Ien has been on the vanguard. “For 25 years, I haven’t relaxed it. I’m going to be me, and it’s going to be natural. It’s a point of style, and it reinforces the point of being yourself.”
Jackson’s salon was back in business this summer as Ontario’s Phase 2 reopening plan went into effect but, as a way to stay connected during the quarantine shutdown, she created a weekly Instagram Live show on her personal account @janetjacksonhairstylist. “I am a creative. I don’t know how to do ‘nothing’ so I created The Beauty Room to keep me busy and as a way to educate myself.” She wanted to learn from her peers in the beauty industry “whose lives are about beauty tips and tricks; narratives, stories and experiences.”
And then the Black Lives Matter protests began, becoming a pivot point. Ien, who had recounted her experiences with racial profiling in a 2018 Globe and Mail article, continued to speak out on her social media accounts, The Social and as a co-anchor on CTV Presents Change & Action: Racism in Canada.
Jackson also felt the need to express herself “as a Black woman in this business” who had “experienced racism and exclusion.” She programmed a three-hour special on Diversity in the Canadian Beauty Industry, convening seven guests from a variety of disciplines for a candid issue-oriented conversation on the lack thereof and what accountability looks like in order to spark change going forward. “Right now, hair stylists cannot depend on the beauty-school curriculum to educate them on different hair types,” Jackson notes. “Moving forward, our schools need to implement an equal amount of teaching on all hair textures and types, and hairstylists need to upgrade their skills to work with all hair types.” In undertaking all this, she says, “My intentions are that one day we will have inclusion. And I feel extremely positive at this time that we will see change in the near future.”
And speaking of your future, Jackson believes that age should not define how you dress, do your makeup and choose your hairstyle. But given that hair is one of the most important factors in someone feeling good about themselves, she believes that if you are not visiting a salon on a regular basis, you have to understand your hair type and its issues in order to invest in the right hair-care system and choose the right products. It will help that she will be continuing with The Beauty Room. “I love teaching about hair care and transforming clients into the best versions of themselves.” And sometimes that may mean a short turn. “It’s sassy and sexy,” says Ien of her cut,” and it makes me feel good.” As we said, empowered. —With files from Derick Chetty
A version of this article appeared in the Sept/Oct issue with the headline, “A Cut Above,” p. 22.