I have known Jennifer Cheyne and Cheynes Hairdressing for 27/28 years. Introduced by my area manager when I moved to Scotland as an SP consultant for Wella, I spent many a happy day working alongside the teams in the salons. Over the years I have been lucky enough to be involved with and invited to many Cheynes parties and functions, and ultimately I have a lot to thank Jennifer for. Without her decision to take SP on in the salons I would never have met Neil, my better half of the last 27 years, who is now the director of the George Street salon.
So it felt right that I ask Jennifer to be interviewed and was delighted when she agreed. As a busy CEO and an active philanthropist it was going to be a challenge finding time to get together but at last, here is our conversation:
We began with the obvious question: Did you always want to be a hairdresser and if so, what was the starting point for you?
JC: “My parents expected me to go to university but I knew from an early age that I enjoyed the world of work. I had part time jobs from a young age so I pleaded with my Dad to let me leave school to start an apprenticeship in hairdressing. He agreed but made me promise to go to night school to learn other skills”.
… and if you hadn’t become a hairdresser what other career path beckoned?
JC: “Either a Fashion Designer as I have always loved designing and making clothes, Interior Designer as I love everything about interiors or an Architect as I have designed & built 3 houses and love the whole process from start to finish”.
Cheynes celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016, opening your first salon 40 years ago must have been exciting, hairdressing was really pushing boundaries at that time. What did you hope to achieve when the doors opened on that first day?
JC: “Yes, it was nerve wracking as it was never our ambition to open our own salon but circumstances just forced us into it. We were however, quietly confident in that we felt we had something new to offer the Edinburgh public. We wanted to create a family friendly team, teach them, nurture them, and, we wanted to have fun. We wanted to offer super customer service and create fabulous hair, both soft and strong looks, but always beautiful. The business grew really quickly and by the end of the first year the salon was fully booked every day with 10 stylists. We then opened our second salon after 2 years”.
Can you explain how the Cheynes business developed and who helped you build the brand?
JC: “My then husband Stewart and I had very strong feelings about client service, leaving no stone unturned in the industry, as we were hungry to learn everything. We wanted to make sure we built a strong team by offering a great working, fun environment with lots of opportunities to earn a great living. Unfortunately, working together 24/7 took its toll and Stewart decided after about 15 years to leave the hairdressing business to do other things. We divorced, but still remain friends and I continued to grow the business with the help of my loyal and hardworking team, to whom I am forever grateful”.
You are well-known and a highly respected member of the British hairdressing fraternity, what do you believe is it about your approach to business and creativity together that has created this regard for you and Cheynes?
JC: “In the early days I was aware that there were a lot of hairdressers in the industry who were incredibly talented but focussed solely on the creative side. I felt that to be successful long term you also need to have an interest in the business side so I decided to learn as much as I could about both”.
And as an inspirational, motivational figure who is it in the hairdressing industry that you admire?
JC: “Vidal Sassoon for his foresight, passion and the legacy he has left the industry. Robert Lobetta for his creative genius in photography and shows, and I would still say he is the most talented Avant-garde hairdresser of all times, and Lesley Spears for his incredible business brain and marketing knowledge. They were my main inspiration but I admire many more.
‘Today I admire hairdressers who are running a legal, successful and profitable business and who are offering people employment. I admire the hairdressers who are creating fabulous hair whether for shows or photographs. I admire hairdressers who are passionate about pleasing clients every day and continue to have a huge and loyal clientele.
‘I admire everyone in the industry who aim to put a lot back in to help and encourage others to achieve high standards and keep the image of the hairdressing industry professional”.
What about outside of hairdressing, who else do you admire?
JC: “Lots of people in music, design, acting and the arts, but the person’s work that is the most inspirational to me is The Architect – Zaha Hadid. Her buildings are true works of art. Sadly, she died very suddenly, last year.
Some compulsory questions:
- Favourite colour: I actually love all colours – so depends if for clothes / interiors or lipstick! I do love a bright lipstick – Red – Pink – Orange!
- Favourite hair colour: Blonde of course
- Favourite piece of music: The Killers – Human is a favourite
- Favourite book: I love Autobiographies
- Favourite film: – The Holiday
- Favourite designer: Alexander McQueen and Issey Miyake
- Favourite place to holiday: Marbella – as often as possible! Mauritius and Maldives for a special holiday.
- Favourite restaurant: ‘Babilonia’ in Olivia Valere Nightclub in Marbella. Amazing!!
- Favourite tipple: White wine
On the subject of favourites, do you have a favourite image from the Cheynes archive? If so, what is it and why?
JC: “I think my favourite is the triple image of a model I did which was shot by Robert Lobetta, which was the front cover of HJ”.
mrH: I was actually present at this photo shoot, watching from a distance. I can’t recall why I was there but I do remember the atmosphere being electric as Jennifer and Robert created their magic with this collection.
You have a very loyal and long-standing team at Cheynes what do you believe is the reason for this is?
JC: “I employ people I like, I genuinely care about people and aim to help to fulfil their dreams and aspirations while helping them to have a fun, well paid, secure, and long term career.
‘The team are so talented and extremely loyal as we have over 65 that have been with us over 10 years, many over 20 and some over 30 years. They love their job and are always wanting to keep getting better and better, no matter how long they have been hairdressing. They love to laugh and have fun and this comes across to the clients. They are the maddest, funniest bunch of people and the clients always comment on how much they enjoy their visit as they enjoy the light atmosphere”.
It’s all good stuff and shows the dedication and commitment of you to the business, but can you share a funny story about your Cheynes journey?
JC: “OMG there are so many! I have started writing a book so you can read all of them, if I ever manage to finish it!! One is from many years ago, I am a bit of a party animal and we had just finished a tour of hair shows in Spain. The last night, we all went back to the hotel and popped champagne and partied. The next morning, I was at the front of the queue at the airport checking in all the models and team who were all behind me, when Paul stepped forward and said “What is that in your hair?.” He pulled out a champagne cork complete with the metal still around it!! Everybody was in hysterics.
Secret Millionaire still gets talked about to this day, was it a difficult experience and what did you learn from it?
JC: “It was a humbling experience. The people I met were inspirational and I am still in touch with most of them. What I loved about the village, Aberfan in Wales, was the way the whole community, which had been through such tragedy as they lost 116 children and 28 adults when a mining colliery tip collapsed on top of a primary school all helped one another and nearly everyone did some sort of voluntary work. Giving their time without expecting anything in return. After that experience, my husband Cliff and I bought a cottage in a village in East Lothian and we love it as everyone is so friendly. It also made me feel the need to commit to giving my time to help other people less fortunate”
Can you describe what an average day consists of?
JC: “These days – phone – email – text – phone – email – text!!! No matter where I am or what time of day or night”
As mentioned earlier, Cheynes is 40, that’s a great achievement, what plans do you have for the next decade and beyond?
JC: “The business is in great hands with a fabulous, loyal and very experienced hairdressing team, and a team of Directors who are dedicated to the business. I have set the business up in a way that Cheynes will go from strength to strength and the Cheynes legacy will go on and on”.
Can you tell mrhaircare’s readers something we don’t know about you?
JC: ” I was the first female barber in the UK! My boyfriend at the time worked in a trendy and very busy barbers called ‘His Hair’. The customers used to queue out of the door every day of the week, it was incredible. The bosses approached me and offered me a job as a Stylist. It was in all the papers at the time with pictures of me as ‘The first female barber in the UK’. I was a trendy 19 year old with cropped blonde hair, very short mini skirts and drove a sporty, metallic emerald green mini with a black roof, the registration was WKW and it was well known around town as ‘Wee Kinky Walter’.
NOTE: The above is not the original WKW!!
Alongside the salon business you also have your Training Academy, tell us about that?
JC: “We have two completely different training companies. The first is Cheynes Education which is our school based in the West End of Edinburgh which is headed up by Paul Adamzcuk, the MD of Cheynes. We were travelling the world presenting shows and seminars and hairdressers from all over the world were always asking if they could come to our school so we opened The Cheynes Academy. That was over 25 years ago and it is still going strong with one and two day courses, and the Education Team travel to present in-salon seminars and shows. Paul and the team recently presented a fabulous show that we were all very proud of for the main tour for the Wella Trendvision Show.
‘The second company, called Cheynes Training is run by our Sales Director William Howarth. He has done an amazing job running this company very successfully for over 28 years. We have 32 UK Academies, based in England, where we deliver training to over 250 salons trainees. Over 10,000 young people have gained NVQ qualifications through our Cheynes Training Programme. We are incredibly proud of this success rate and have a wonderful team of Educators and Administrators, who run the programme”.
As if that didn’t keep everyone busy enough, what made you decide to launch Clipmeche?
JC: “I was concerned that all the highlighting systems on the market at that time left the clients colour still a fair bit from the root and also tint or bleach could expand and seep and therefore cause problems. I designed Clipmeche which we use on our clients continually in all the Cheynes Salons and the clients cannot get a better result and better value for money as the colour goes right to the root and we get 100% result from every stylist, every time, on every client. It is a really successful product.
My brother now runs Clipmeche – to order call Richard on 01204 592611
You have won numerous awards: tell us about your career highlights.
JC: “There are so many highlights within our own company but in the hairdressing industry was when I was President of the Fellowship for British Hairdressing and Vidal Sassoon called and asked to be a speaker at my Presidents Dinner. He flew in especially on a private jet from LA to attend. The 500 hairdressers there were surprised and truly thrilled. The icing on the cake was when Vidal invited my husband Cliff and I to his house in Beverley Hills. He even came and picked us up at our hotel and took us for dinner at The Ivy in LA. I had to pinch myself!
What was it like being awarded the OBE?
JC: “This was definitely the biggest highlight of my career. I really thought when I got the letter from the Prime Minister that it was a few of the guys in the salon kidding me on, then I realised it was genuine. The visit to Buckingham Palace with my husband Cliff and my children Ebony and Elliott, was very special and we celebrated afterwards with a big party with family and friends. At our Cheynes conference, my team surprised me with a wonderful video with all the ‘Hairdressing Greats’, sending congratulations which was fantastic, humbling and very touching. The whole Cheynes team celebrated with me at a party in Edinburgh Castle which was wonderful.
Lets move on to a different topic now, can you share how you became Involved with charity work and some of the fund raising events you do and what led you to the causes you support.
JC: “I have been quietly involved with Charity work in some form for many many years. However, 3 friends were diagnosed with breast cancer all within months of each other so that led me to start a charity lunch we called ‘All About Boobs’. The Waldorf Hotel in Edinburgh embraced the idea and they have been very supportive. There are just 3 of us organise it and it has become a great success and we have had fantastic speakers such as Judy Murray, Fern Brittan, Lorraine Kelly and top model Anna Freemantle. We have raised over £100,000 for Breast Cancer and other charities such as Help for Heroes and the Sick Children’s Hospital.
‘I am also an avid supporter also of Social Bite who support the Homeless. I have been fortunate to be a judge for the Scottish Business Awards which they organise and for the last 5 years, in one night they raise over 1 million pounds, and I have been lucky enough to mingle with guests such as George Clooney, Bill Clinton and Leonardo DiCaprio.
‘Most recently, for my sins, I volunteered for an overnight ‘CEO Sleep Out’ on December 15th helping to raise funds to build a village for the homeless in Edinburgh. It is very humbling how generous and supportive people can be. Josh who organised it raised in total £565,000 in one night which was the target to build eco homes to house 20 homeless people and give them a new start in life. Sleeping out all night on the ground with only a sleeping bag on a cold wet December night, really makes you understand how horrendous it must be to find yourself in this situation and seeing no way for your life to get better. I feel it is important for us all to help those less fortunate and give back in some way”.
Jennifer, it’s been fascinating hearing your story and I will look forward to the book coming out for sure.
Thank you for taking time out of your hectic schedule and for agreeing to be interviewed by mrhaircare aka Emil.
More about Cheynes here: