I love Toronto’s Beaches. It’s got a delightful small-town feel just East of the bustling downtown core with its own eclectic selection of shops, cafes and restaurants. And on the north side of Queen St East, nestled between Hambly and Winvea Avenue, is the stunning Parlour Salon. This pristine open-concept space is flooded with natural light making it feel instantly warm and inviting.
This is where I met up with Nathaniel Quong, an Aveda Institute & Academy graduate currently working as a Senior Stylist/Colourist and Team Lead responsible for Assistant Education at Parlour’s Beaches location. He greeted me with his usual big smile and a squishy hug, and gave me the grand tour, and the rundown on the salon where he’s spent his last 3 years. Then, we took a little walk to Kew Gardens to enjoy the sunshine and to reflect on his time at the Aveda Institute.
Rebecca Carr: So when did you decide that you wanted to get into hairstyling?
Nathaniel Quong: When I was a little kid my aunt was a hairdresser, so I used to harass her and her friends all the time. I’d show up at her salon to bug the ladies. Then I got an apprenticeship when I was 16 at a curly-hair salon and fell in love with [the craft]. So I guess I was 6, but 16 was when I really realized what I wanted to do and why I loved it.
RC: What made you choose the Aveda Institute?
NQ: I actually looked at many different schools - Marca, Marvel, Aveda, Fiorio – and Aveda just seemed to be the most professional. When [the Admissions Coordinator] sat down with me and went over the curriculum, it sounded amazing and so far above anything else I had learned about.
And when I walked in – the Academy – it looks like a fully-functioning salon! It was busy, there were lots of people, and everyone was doing hair. It was busier than the salon I worked in for a year and a bit. It looked amazing!
Also, the fact that I actually got to do clients within my 10 months and most of my program was hands on. That was the biggest reason why I chose Aveda.
RC: Did you notice a difference in the amount of hands-on work we offer compared to other schools?
NQ: Absolutely. They do offer a small aspect of hands-on, but a lot of it was mannequin work. There were a lot of perms, and all of these very dated things. It was like reading the text book, and I wasn’t interested in just learning the text book. I wanted to learn fun, current, interesting things.
RC: Why did you continue with the Aveda Academy program?
NQ: [The Academy] was one of the first things I saw when I came in for my walkthrough.
When I was in the Institute program, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go to the Academy. Not because I didn’t feel I needed or wanted more education, it was more that I just wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I wanted to work, I wanted to see where I could go.
So I knew some people that were in the Academy, and I spoke to them. It seemed really scary to be honest when I was in the Institute. And then when I spoke to some of the students, it just resonated with me and I really wanted to do it. I needed more education and I wanted to take that extra step and get an edge on the competition.
Also, it was like an avenue to get where I wanted to go. I wanted to work at Civello; I wanted to get there, I wanted to work and I wanted to stay with Aveda.
RC: What were the best & the most challenging parts of your education?
NQ: The craft was the best. Learning technically how to do things; why elevation matters, why over-direction matters, and even where you stand and the way you hold your body really does determine what your outcome is going to be. The MOST gratifying – even though it seems the smallest – was probably scissor-handling. Just learning how to hold my thumb and flip my scissors. Getting that down took about 9 months!
I liked the instant-gratification of the finished look. The “I made this, I did it” feeling. I love that.
I also love the Christmas cards I get every year, you know, the relationships you develop with your clients. I have one guest – she’s followed me from the Institute until now. 10 years I’ve been in this career and I still see her! I even went to Australia for a year and came back and she still comes to me. I had a client from Civello move to L.A. and then fly back to have me do her colour. It blew my mind.
And the most challenging part is definitely multi-tasking. You don’t only have to focus on your haircut or your colour. You’re also a therapist. You help people find what they like, explain to them what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it all in this chaotic atmosphere. It’s so rewarding when you finally “get” how to manage it all.
RC: How are you enjoying your current role?
NQ: I love my job. I think we have a really great team. I head up the education for our assistant team in the east end, and Jessica handles the west. We do lots of different events, people are really inspired, and our assistant program runs really well. They move up quickly because we start them with assistant cuts and do colour models. I really do love my job and the staff.
RC: You do both colour and cutting/styling. From a colour perspective, what would you say is the most important thing you learned from the Aveda Institute & Academy programs?
NQ: Learning colour theory- developing that understanding of what to use and what you’re going to get out of it. Learning how to mesh underlining pigments was a game-changer for me; you’re either enhancing or neutralizing your colour. It teaches you not to “just guess” – you get real understanding. You’re not going think that a light ash tone is just going to BE a light ash tone on someone with dark hair. Aveda teaches you that you need a violet to neutralize a gold. It’s very detailed and specific, and that leads you into being able to use any other colour line as well.
RC: So would you say that learning Aveda colour theory really made hair colour in general easier to understand for you?
NQ: Oh absolutely! I’ve worked with so many other lines and I can easily apply what I learned in school to help our assistants develop better instincts. I always ask them things like “Why are you using this colour?” and making sure they understand the reasoning behind it. You need to know as a colourist. I still pull out my textbook – I have it at work. I show them the colour wheel and I ask them “Do you understand this?” It’s so important to have that skill down!
RC: Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about getting into hairstyling?
NQ: For me, going with the Aveda Institute was the right choice. There’s a huge world out there, and you have to make sure you do the research and pick the school that’s right for YOU. I chose the school that felt like the best education for me. That’s definitely the right first step for anyone in this industry. You need to go to school – you won’t get work without it. Or it will be a lot harder. I still tell people to go to Aveda because it won’t be easy. It was definitely not as easy as I expected it to be and I’m glad it wasn’t because it really prepared me.
As much as it just seems like this is a fun and easy career – well, it is FUN - but it’s not easy at all. You have to be professional, and you have to get your education. You also have to continue your education, because if you stop learning, well, you just stop professionally. That’s it. Trust me, you don’t want to do chunky highlights your whole life. They end up in our salon coming to see me and I fix them all the time!
Your education always needs to continue.
Check out Nathaniel's work on Parlour Salon's website and their Instagram @parloursaloninc!
Words and interview by Rebecca Carr. Originally from Sarnia, Ontario, Rebecca is the Admissions Team Lead for the Aveda Institutes Canada currently residing in the Green Belt region of North York. She enjoys performing with her band, listening to music and writing for her blog.