Jen Atkin, who works with clients like the Kardashians, Chrissy Teigen and Gigi Hadid, took notes from her A-list girl squad when building her haircare line Ouai
Celebrity hair stylist Jen Atkin has gone mane stream.
“I always tell people I’m not famous, I’m fame-ish,” says Atkin, who has worked with the likes of the Kardashians, Madonna and Gigi and Bella Hadid. “I’m the girl in the background curling hair.”
Atkin, arguably Hollywood’s hottest hair stylist, has managed to transform her trade as a hairdresser into a household beauty empire using her massive social media following to crowdsource and develop products for her line Ouai Haircare. Unlike her exclusive haircuts, which are rumored to cost more than $1,000, her products are a bit more democratic, priced between $12 for texturizing hair spray and $42 for a fragrance set.
“I wanted to create a socially connected brand. The first one in hair care,” Atkin tells Moneyish of using her over 1.5 million followers to help develop her product line over the last four years.
Some of her best sellers include a wave spray for beach blown hair year-round, dry shampoo foam to nix greasy hair at the gym and thinning hair supplements to boost volume. Her products have earned rave reviews from celebrities like Nicole Richie, and while her Hollywood rep helps business, what makes products stand out is her relatable, millennial-friendly marketing that pairs slogans like “sheet happens” and “get sheet faced” with otherwise boring beauty goods like anti-frizz sheets. Then there’s her constant connectivity to fans — Atkin can be seen on her Instagram feed answering beauty questions and giving viewers live hair tips and product updates.
“What was missing was a woman talking to a woman. The hair care world has been run by boys for a very long time. A lot of my clients utilize social media in a way to build their own brands, I just kind of took notes,” she says.
Atkin wasn’t always on a first name basis with Hollywood’s A-list. She was raised Mormon, and grew up in St. George, Utah. She moved to Los Angeles nearly 20 years ago and worked as a receptionist answering phones at a salon. She went on to assist for as many stylists as she could. At 26, she toured with Madonna and went on to work with designer John Galliano when he was with Christian Dior. She says she built her high profile clientele through social media, but pre-Instagram it was all word of mouth, and some of her first clients were Richie and Lindsay Lohan, she says.
“I used to pray that a publicist would come into the salon to get a blow out, and I’d pray they loved my personality or like my blow out and they’d get me a client,” she admits.
Her first gig with the Kardashians was when Kim Kardashian asked her to do her hair for a cover of Cosmopolitan. Now she often appears on their reality show “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.”
“You watch the girls get up everyday at the crack of dawn. They definitely have an amazing work ethic. I think all of us have learned that you don’t have to rely on a man to get to a certain place or become happy. They’re that face of female entrepreneurs of a new generation.”
Atkin, 37, was named the most influential hairstylist in the world by the New York Times in 2015. One minute she’s sending stars down red carpets in the chicest top knots, pony tails, bobs and bangs, the next she’s celebrating Kourtney Kardashian’s birthday in Mexico, or sipping wine alongside another celebrity client, Chrissy Teigen, who stopped by her recent Ouai press event in New York City with husband John Legend. Being friends with your boss can be awkward for some of us, but Atkin doesn’t seem to have a problem balancing business with pleasure.
6yrs ago on a random headphones shoot i met a foul mouthed, trash talking little punk…and I’ve been in love ever since. HBD @chrissyteigen. 🍰♥️🍰I would never say it to your face bc it makes me uncomfortable but you really do light up the room. Your laughter and joy is infectious. Your love and care for others is admirable. The way you won’t give up on trying to make @mrmikerosenthal love truffles is annoying. Love you so much everyone go leave her a 🌺 for her bday!!
“I don’t see it as a boss or an employee,” says Atkin. “I’m really cautious about never forgetting I’m in the service industry. At the end of the day our relationship is ‘I’m there to make you look good, I’m there to make you feel confident.’ That role has never been awkward. People always ask me ‘how do you gain trust from celebrities? You’re in the most intimate places in their homes and personal lives.’ In a way, I just think of them as human beings. I’ve never been somebody who said I need to be friends with celebrities. I wouldn’t spill my best friend’s secrets … it’s a human decency thing.”
She does see how some people in her industry can overstep boundaries when they start craving fame for themselves.
“I have seen some artists who tend to get a little too caught up in it. The one thing that could actually go wrong is when you start to think about yourself more than your clients.”
Being transparent is what her clients value the most. If a certain look is a bad idea, or just plain ugly, Atkin will be the first one to advise against it.
“It’s my job to be honest. If I were just to do what everyone wanted me to do, then there goes my creativity too. I’m so honest and I’m so opinionated my clients don’t even get a chance to ask me or tell me what to do because I’m already like ‘you need to cut bangs’ or ‘you need to cut those ends’ or ‘you need to change those highlights.’ I just see it and I’m not shy at all. I don’t do it in a mean way,” she says.
When it came to building her brand Ouai, Atkin was initially nervous to take such a massive business risk, but something client Jessica Alba said gave her the confidence to see her dreams through.
“[She] gave me amazing advice: ‘Don’t let anybody tell you no that doesn’t have the authority to say yes,’” she says.
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