Like tangled hair, life is hard to wrestle with. Ultimately, putting too much effort into unraveling its complexities usually proves to be time wasted, since life will chug along in the direction it’s already headed. This especially was the case for Jessica Lillie, a Westhampton Beach-based professional hairdresser. What seemed knotty at first turned out to be the best case scenario for the talented, kind-hearted woman. Read our interview with Jessica below.
Please tell me about yourself. Did you always have a passion for hairdressing?
I live in Speonk right now, but I grew up in East Quogue for most of my life, and I went to Westhampton Beach High School. I did not always want to be a hairdresser but I did always have an underlying knack for creativity. I used to sing. I loved it and loved having the ability to move people. To pursue singing as a career was a major goal in my life for as long as I can remember back. When I was in high school, I got distracted as most kids do, and even though I was a good student, I wasn’t focusing on my grades. I learned about BOCES and went there Junior and Senior year. I chose cosmetology because it seemed that it was something creative and fun. Funny enough, before starting, I couldn’t even flat iron my own hair.
I started my first job at a barber shop when I was fifteen years old, and now I have been doing this for over fifteen years. I never thought that I would eventually own my own hair salon, but it just happened.
Have you ever thought about switching careers?
I have, and I still do sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I love dealing with people on a daily basis and making them feel better. I especially love the bridal portion of the business. There is something special about being part of someone’s big day and giving them the confidence that they need. A calm, beautiful, and timeless bride is not something that can be forced. But I can help make them feel and look amazing and the wonders that does for a person is incredible! I want to bring out the best version of my brides as people, not just a bride so they can enjoy their day and love their pictures and memories for decades to come! It is almost as if I become a part of the family and it is a wonderful feeling.
Even the families that come in with their children for haircuts some of these people have been with me for the entire fifteen years. They are my family, they are my social life, they are my career, they are my creative outlet. It all has become all-compassing.
I do always have other ideas and career paths floating through my mind. Patents, new adventures, maybe some more scheduling and financial stability… but there is so much about this that I love deep in my core. It has become who I am.
Do you think you will ever sing again?
In the shower maybe, haha. If my daughter, who is ten months now, if she became a musician tomorrow, oh, I would be so happy. I would also be terrified for her, but I would be thrilled.
With my singing, when that part of my career ended it was so bittersweet. It’s complicated of course, but to keep it simple…there was an opportunity that presented itself, the kind you wait for your whole life; and in the same moment the crazy and not so seen parts of that industry showed its true self. I couldn’t go through with it. It felt like selling my soul.
Are you happy with your decision?
Yes. I have always wanted to have a family, a picket fence, a home. I don’t want to be running around like a crazy person and not have roots; no matter how successful I could be.
But even in the hairdressing industry, if you become a platform artist, which parts of me would love to be, you are like a rock star. They are truly amazing! They inspire people and educate them, but they travel a lot and are rarely home. I couldn’t do that. Not at this point in life.
What is the hardest part of being a hairdresser? The best part?
The best part is meeting new people, being creative and social. That’s how I met my husband! He was a client in my chair when I used to work at the barbershop in Westhampton Beach. This career, this job has brought a lot of wonderful people into my life.
Even clients that don’t necessarily become friends, or husbands…clients that just stay clients, I love seeing them on a regular basis. They are my work family. You do the first haircuts, the haircuts when they are going to a loved one’s funerals, or when they are getting married. You know about every vacation. The highs and lows. That bond you make with people is everything.
People also open up to me when they are in my chair and that can be a double-edged sword. It is rewarding, but it can also be hard to keep boundaries and not let the weight drain you.
I think the hardest part of hairdressing or having your own business, is to draw a line with scheduling. The hours are long, and it is mostly evenings and weekends. It is easy to work all the time, but then you miss things, you crash.
I remember that you had mentioned that you were trying to have a baby before you opened your business, can you share about that?
My husband and I tried to have a baby for two years. I freelanced for a very long time after I left my first job. I was busy, but what I was doing wasn’t sustainable. Both Keith and I knew that we wanted to have a family, to have a baby. We eventually found out that I have PCOS and I started a treatment that lasted for a year and a half. The treatment wasn’t working, the emotional rollercoaster we were on was taking its toll, and we stopped trying.
It was August when I agreed to do my girlfriend’s hair for the wedding that was scheduled for October. So I said to myself if I don’t get pregnant this month, I can’t bail on her within the month of her wedding, I’m going to stop the treatment and my husband and I are going to enjoy ourselves. The wedding was in Florida and Zika virus was all over the news.
We went to the wedding and came back. I had stopped the treatment and stopped focusing on it so much. We started to feel like ourselves again. And as we did, it hit me, and you know what…I thought that the universe was telling me that this isn’t supposed to happen right now and I’m not listening. Well, Man plans and God laughs.
New hair opportunities started presenting themselves left and right. I was asked to do a photo shoot in East Hampton that got picked up by a few blogs. I also won a competition to go to the Redken Symposium and shoot with a company called Tearsheet, that I’m now an official artist for. Then I was hired to work for them while I was there. All of a sudden my career as a stylist and the years of work I had put into myself was paying off and I knew that owning my own salon was the next step.
I flew to Vegas for the Symposium, did my first photoshoot with Tearsheet, worked with the team for the entire week, met icons and so many people I respect in our industry and came back roaring and ready to go. Shortly after, I signed the contracts and a few days later I found out that I was pregnant. What are the odds?
I didn’t want to pull out of the contracts. If I have gotten pregnant any sooner I probably wouldn’t have owned my own salon and had it been later I probably wouldn’t have done it either. I’m glad that it worked out the way it did. It forced me into it.
What is the best thing that has ever happened to you for being nice?
What a question… thanks for thinking I’m nice haha. It’s hard to think of an action or a gesture someone has taken to thank me. While I know I have an answer somewhere…maybe it’s not coming to me because it’s not the point. The point is to spread kindness, so it grows and ripples on. So to be honest, the best thing that has ever happened as a result of me being kind to someone is knowing that I was a positive point in someone’s day. Whether they thanked me and acknowledged it or not…
Just seeing the change in someone’s attitude because they were noticed and because someone took an extra second, that we all have to spare, but are in too much of a rush to give. It’s even giving a stranger or a client that extra boost of confidence they might need to slay their day. We live in such a distracted, selfish, fast-paced world now. I don’t think people mean to be quite as rude as they are sometimes. I think they’re just caught up.
Sometimes the best way to even fix your own bad mood is to stop focusing on yourself and to help someone else. Whether it’s a favor, holding the door, a smile, whatever… little kind habits can truly go a long way. You never know when someone may need it.