DISRUPT-HAIR: Wendy Iles changing the game in the hair industry.
“As one of the beauty industry’s most respected hairdressers, Wendy Iles works around the world on the highest level in her field of hairdressing. Chosen for her immense experience, her dedication and passion toward each project, her client and celebrity list is long. Specialties ‘all to do with hair’, consulting, public relations, product development and branding. At the pinnacle of her career in May 2015 she launched Iles Formula her luxury, haute performance haircare + repair range. In February of 2016 Wendy received the Hollywood Beauty Awards Oscar for hair. This award delivered by the film industries elite, is an absolute tribute to her professionalism, creativity, dedication and passion toward hair.”
— Source: www.ilesformula.com
Agnieszka Wielgosz: Welcome, Wendy! So excited to have you on board! It’s so lovely to meet you. I’m happy I was able to catch you between flights here in New York. I must say thanks to our mutual friend, Ian, who introduced us to each other.
So, Wendy, you’re from a little rural village in Tasmania, and your passion and drive carried you to rarefied heights! Let’s go back to when you were a little girl. Did you know who you wanted to become when you grew up?
Wendy Iles: Interestingly enough, since I can remember, it’s been hair, hair, hair, hair, hair. Everybody in the family said, “Wendy will be a hairdresser.” And it’s not as if anyone in the family was doing hair, so I wasn’t following my mother or my auntie or my grandfather’s footsteps. It was me. I can remember just hours working and playing with my dolls’ hair. I’d create homes for my Barbie dolls, back then, but also salons. It always revolved around hair. When I was sixteen, I got offered two apprenticeships from the local village, so everybody knew, “Oh, Wendy Iles, yes, we’ll approach her and see if she wants the apprenticeship.” So, yes, the opportunities for me were out there.
But I remember there was a split second, this moment of indecision, when I thought maybe it would be cool to be a pilot.
AW: Interesting, piloting sounds wildly different from being a hairdresser. Perhaps?
WI: Yes, although there is a thrill about taking off in flight. It’s funny, I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, and it’s just like, “I’ve done better than being a pilot.” *Smile* I had four international flights a week at the peak, and the cherry on the cake is traveling under the best conditions to work on my private clients, so I guess the goal of being the pilot was to travel. I’ve done that with hair.
AW: So…why hair? Where did this obsession with hair come from?
WI: I think it’s just in your DNA; those things are there, somehow. I’m obsessed with hair, really. Even after 40 plus years in the business, I still dream about hair. Really, I do. I dream about it. Well, right now I’m on product formulation so, that’s just another level…. I’m constantly in my head all night long, thinking, “Ok, where am I going to take this?”
AW: How did everything start? What was your first job in the hair and beauty business?
WI: So I did my apprenticeship in Tasmania, and that was in a little salon coiffure where I learned to put in a hair roller. I learned to do a permanent wave; I learned to do color; I learned to do a wedding chignon. I learned to do a coiffure for a mature lady….
When I was 18 I left Tasmania for London, and I studied with Vidal Sassoon. Working at Sassoon, it was like relearning all over again, because there was not one hair roller in sight; it was all about cuts and blow dries. So there my hair-cutting experience really took form. In a place like Sassoon, you are either one or the other: technical or a cutter. I chose cutting, and I still use all those techniques today — they’re like recipes for haircuts. However, I have softened them off with time, because back then (in the late 70s) they were very sharp, graphic, iconic cuts. They are still iconic, but too graphic for everyday wear today, but the recipe remains the same; I just soften off the scissor marks. That training was huge and very inspiring for me, even teaching me how to really work with the blow drier correctly. So from London I went back to Australia, opened up a salon, which was phenomenal, because I was one of the very few there taking back the Sassoon method to Australia. We had a six-and-a-half-week waiting list. People used to drive six to seven hours for their haircuts to get to us. It was crazy. It was phenomenal. I trained all my staff into the Sassoon method. That was a success, because we were bringing something new to Australia back then. It was a good time. Then eventually I sold that salon business and went freelance — that was another accident, or should I say fate in disguise, as Australian Vogue called me one day and said we’d like to have you do the hair on the next photo shoot. I didn’t even know what a photo shoot was then. I thought, “Ok, well this is interesting. Let’s see what I’m up for.” I took along a few brushes and a blow dryer.
When I look at the tools I took then compared to what I take now, it’s just like how did I succeed!?
Now I can do full circle. I don’t use styling product as such — I’m one that is not so fond of styling product, which delivers often stiff and crunchy hair. That is one of the reasons why I’ve had a success with celebrities — no hair spray, no sticky stuff. I just delivered nourished, healthy hair that obeyed.
When I do hair I rely a lot on my craft to get the form into the hair, and I only ever use my Iles Formula finishing serum as my styling product, which is the protection against heated tools and humidity. It is gorgeous; it not only delivers unbeatable luster, it adds a soft memory to the hair, so whatever form I deliver holds. Most of my celebrity clients anyway are Iles Formula users, so their hair these days is well repaired. I come along and coif with the finishing serum, and the day is an excellent hair day! So Iles Formula today is still the DNA of that hairdresser I have always been, striving to deliver luscious, sumptuous hair.
AW: Wendy, please tell us when the Iles Formula idea was born?
WI: It was around ten years ago, 2008, and there was a big moment where I was doing so many celebrity campaigns and struggling with tortured hair. I decided to create simple, bespoke formulas to repair all hair types and overcome my daily problems on set.
AW: That’s quite a big challenge. Is it possible to find the formula to treat the all those hair types?
WI: Well, yes. The construction of hair, whether it is thick or thin, curly or straight, is constructed the same way, so to repair hair I was dealing with the outer hair cuticles. The action needed to repair was the same across all hair types.
AW: Treating the cuticle then, I love it.
WI: The Iles Formula shampoo, the conditioner, and the serum were made for me, to measure, for exactly my needs for instant repair. I never in a million years thought I would launch this to the public — that takes courage. It just organically evolved; the clients I was using the formulas on started to give me orders, which I could not deliver, and then bigger orders that, in the end, had me finding a manufacturer to be able to deliver. Before I knew it, Iles Formula was launched.
AW: When did you launch the Iles Formula?
WI: 4 years in May.
Women like ourselves go out looking for those new high-performance, niche brands. There is a HUGE, huge turnaround. I notice now with the professional salons that are taking on Iles Formula, they are clearing the shelves of these mass brands and replacing them with high-performance niche brands. There’s a movement happening around the globe.
AW: I’m happy to see the shift in people’s mindset toward an evolution in consumer products where we’re realizing that a lot of things we thought were good are not.
WI: Oh absolutely. This is influencers; this is social media.
You know, I am very old-school. Over four decades in hair and I am still writing things on paper and collecting pieces of paper, and I use a hardcopy agenda, but I have had to move with the times on social media. If I think about it, we launched three and a bit years ago; we have done no advertising, and we are global! It is through our social media channels — which are not overly huge — that we accomplished this. We are driving our business with that, and our reviews. It’s crazy good!
AW: Transparency is considered of very high importance to customers when it comes to brand trust. Do you think social media really helps with brand transparency?
WI: Yes and no. It terrifies me to go on YouTube and see a sixteen-year-old girl dictating beauty from her bedroom. Now she may be dictating how to use a hot tong or how to use a hair dryer. And everything is what you shouldn’t do, just about, but she is dictating, and she’s got 100,000 followers that she’s teaching. It’s the same on, let’s say, Instagram and Facebook.
Right now we have a level of beauty; I work with some of the most famous makeup artists on earth — with 40 plus years experience in their pockets — doing, having done, the best campaigns and working on new releases of colors for brands, and textures and all that. Well they, for example, are not getting those contracts any more; it’s influencers, those with the most followers. The problem is a lot of these influencers have never had the experience, and they’ve never been educated as make-up artists or often hairdressers; they are only influencers with followers for one reason or another.
It’s disturbing in a sense because the finesse of beauty has been disrupted. Even the body shapes are changing. That’s disturbing for me, because most of my time I am in Europe, and that relatively has not been touched yet. So women still have a simplicity about their beauty when compared to Americans, for example.
AW: Wendy, let’s take our readers on a journey to discover the secrets and complexity of Iles Formula. For everything that is manufactured in the beauty industry, it makes sense to look at sustainability from the very beginning of the process.
WI: My products are a cocktail of raw, pure virgin ingredients from around the world — silk proteins from Japan, plant ingredients from Australia, the Amazon and Morocco, and they are infused with high technology to activate their powers.
We don’t kill plants, we harvest.
The more organic product is the shampoo №1, which is sulfate-free, paraben-free, silicon-free, but extra special because we have an abundance of lather even though sulfates are not present. So that one is pretty close to holistic.
The conditioner №2 is my jewel, delivering INSTANT repair to ALL hair types
The finishing serum №3, which is the protection (with custom-blended ingredients including vitamins, nut oils, silk, and ceramides) feeds hair and adds memory. It adds amazing luster for camera.
AW: Did your first contact with nature in rural Tasmania influence how you designed your three-system Iles Formula? Did you design Iles Formula with sustainability in mind?
WI: When I was looking for ingredients, I sort of knew what I wanted.
Maybe it did come from my years growing up in amongst those farm plantations. I grew up on a very large farm. My father was growing many vegetable contracts, but his big one was the opium poppy, in fact, for the morphine. They are about to bloom now, in Australia. The entire 360 degrees of the farm were those poppies. It is splendid, absolutely beautiful.
I love the fact that we are still working with harvests. That’s a big part of my childhood.
AW: Your passion and open mind to new opportunities carried you around the globe…. What was the biggest challenge you faced starting out?
WI: You know, one of the things in life we have to remember to do is to take opportunities when they are given to us, and be aware of them — like for example my training so young with Sassoon created a phenomenal business for me in Australia. Australian Vogue opened the door to the freelancer I am today. You have to take that opportunity. Hollywood, my celebrities offering to buy my product, created who I am today with my product line, because I would never have produced without them asking for it.
So you just have to take every opportunity — take a deep breath and just jump off the cliff and do it.
AW: It takes an extraordinary amount of determination, resourcefulness, and true passion to be able to actualize your vision. What do you consider the bravest moment in your life?
WI: So the bravest thing I did was launching my brand and going global. I would have to say, yes, that takes a lot of courage and determination.
I did launch my brand at a period after four decades with hair. I wasn’t thinking of retiring, because I just love hair; I can’t imagine my life without hair. I was at a point in my career where I could really pick and choose if I wanted to do that job or not. I could stay at home and garden and be there for my family, take things more quietly, because I have no need to work. I have everything I need in life. So the bravest thing I did was closing the door on that, and opening my business globally.
And now it’s taking every breath I breathe.
AW: How about your daughter, Beatrice?
WI: Our daughter is now 23, so she’s off doing her own thing: she’s in the art world; she’s an agent for some very good artists. She found her avenue. I’m very proud of her. I would have loved her to want to do hair! I mean, how amazing!
I’ve thought about it many times over the years; it would be so fabulous if she would travel with me. She’s just…there’s not a strand of hair in her DNA. Nothing.
AW: What words of wisdom do you spread to your daughter?
WI: I think she’s picked up a lot along the way. Believe in your dreams; follow your dreams. Believe in yourself.
Project positivity — always about positivity. Don’t let negativity come in. So I’ve been drumming those things into her since she was a baby. That is as much Australian as she is French.
AW: Wendy, you travel the world but always go back to your roots, your home. You have a gorgeous garden in Fontainebleau located 45 km from Paris, and I’ve heard you love gardening. Please tell us more about this beautiful connection to nature.
WI: My garden does feed my soul, and I can remember when I was doing those four international flights a week, I’d come in, change suitcases, off again. I would always walk the garden before leaving home. It was my way of connecting and disconnecting with home.
I’m very aware of it when I’m in the garden. And I’m very aware of my roots. When I am gardening I don’t like to wear gloves. I like to have my hands in the soil. It drives my husband crazy. He’s like, “you should wear gloves! Put your gloves on!” but I don’t. I just love to be part of that. And I think about my parents a lot when I’m in the garden, when I’m digging or I’ve got my gumboots on, or putting in a new plantation, or whatever it is.
My garden is 200 years old. We bought the property for the garden. It’s priceless to get trees. Like in the park we have beautiful trees. I always say, “Ok that one in front of my house is a perfect beech tree, perfect specimen.” I look at it every day I am at home, and I think, “Okay, when I pass over I am taking that tree with me. It’ll be up there in Heaven waiting for me.” It is such a perfect specimen. In fact, it is classified.
I have doctors that come in every year, tree doctors, and check all those mature trees to make sure everything is fine, and they’re in perfect state. Trees like that are so special. This is what I love about France: they do classify the important things like buildings and trees, so if ever that property was not ours, and someone didn’t like trees, they would never be able to put a finger on that tree. It’s there for the duration.
AW: It’s not really me being woo-woo, but a very poetic tree specialist said trees are social beings. “They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the ‘Wood Wide Web’ …” I love this message.
Wendy, we are getting close to the end of our interview. I just want to ask you a version of the questions I ask all my guests:
If you could COMMUNICATE one thing to the female entrepreneurs, or females in general, what would it be?
WI: Well, I guess my father taught me this many years ago, and I have said it on a few occasions, and it can be interpreted across many levels: he said to me,
“Never be afraid about being nervous about something, or anxious about something, because when you’ve got that feeling, you can count on yourself to perform your very best.”
Many times I’ve been asked to do things, like get up onstage and talk to 3,000 people in an audience, which is just like you’re dying; you just don’t want to do it, but you push yourself to do it, and his words have surfaced. And it’s like, “Okay, I guess I can’t be more nervous than I am now, so I guess it is going to be ok.” And you do get through it. It is so exhilarating once you’ve done it. So you do get your reward with exhilaration, of it being over. It’s safe.
It was like when I was making up my mind, am I going to launch this business or not? It would have been so comfortable “not,” but I pushed myself off the cliff, and now I am flying. You have to push yourself; just go for it.
It’s also harder for women, because there are two levels to every woman. I have many successful women friends, super successful, who missed the boat on private life because of their careers. We also must make room for our private lives as well, whether that be someone to share our lives with, or eventually the maternal part of who we are, because we’re on a clock. So we mustn’t get too caught up in that.
AW: You have a wonderful husband and business partner who have been supporting you and the business since day one.
WI: I would not have the career I have today, if it were not for my husband’s support, because my career was not taking a taxi to work, it was taking a plane to work, and being absent from home. He supported me 100%. There was never a critique or a sigh, and that brings a certain comfort, to allow you to go off, do your job, you know everything on the home-front is perfect, but there is also a nice side to that. Whenever I did come home it was always a honeymoon. So we had many years of always being on honeymoon! I’d come home, and we’d do special things together.
The partner is the golden key. Having that partner that will allow you to grow in your career.
I think there are so many successful women out there now — women are really coming to the forefront. You know, men are accepting this much better than they did two decades ago.
AW: Please share with us one thing that has INSPIRED you?
WI: I don’t even know how to explain the word there…it’s just been a journey that has evolved. One door, an opportunity is given, and you accept it or you don’t. If you accept it, that creates whole new opportunities. It’s like a ripple effect.
If I look back on my career, it’s really that. I guess it’s Dad who did it. His words are always there — when I want to say no, I say yes. I push myself. So it’s not really any particular person that I want to be. I haven’t really thought about it, it’s just happened.
I love a challenge, that’s for sure. I do see that pattern in my life. You open one door, and then it’s a whole new world.
AW: What has been one of those outstanding moments in your career?
WI: Winning an Oscar in Hollywood for hair was pretty amazing! Yes, as far as outstanding moment, career moment, it has to be this. My husband, daughter, agent and best friend flew in for the award. I was worried they spent money for nothing, but not to be, we now all share the memory of that unforgettable night.
I love that Oscar…it sits on my Iles Formula desk, so I see it a lot.
AW: Love it. Well, thank you so much for sharing all of your story and inspirations with us today!
To learn more about the Wendy Iles, be sure to check out Iles Formula website at www.ilesformula.com