Career Talk is a series where ATPB chats with women who have positioned themselves at the top of their industries about how they got there. Today, we’re chatting with New-York based hairstylist Lacy Redway.
A virtual genius with all hair textures and patterns, Lacy Redway has risen to the top of an industry still largely monopolized by white men (what else is new?). She paved her own way in an unexpected career path with inspiration from French hairstylist Odile Gilbert, Pat McGrath aka #Mother, as well as her actual mother. Her client list is of epic proportions and includes Angela Bassett, Gabrielle Union, Tessa Thompson, Karlie Kloss, Yara Shahidi, Awkwafina, Olivia Palermo, Elizabeth Olsen, Tiffany Haddish, Anne Hathaway, and so many others. Lacy Redway’s work is regularly featured in Allure, Elle, Teen Vogue, Vogue, Vogue Italia, Vanity Fair, and countless other amazing publications. Her work speaks for itself but is made all the brighter by her shining star personality and style.
Meet Lacy Redway
For All The Pretty Birds, Lacy Redway shares her story from early braid design inspirations to reaching her definition of success in her career. Please have a seat, grab a cup or glass of your favorite something and join us in getting to know her better.
All The Pretty Birds: You came to the States from Jamaica when you were 8 years old with your brother to live with your mom, who had moved earlier to prepare for your relocation there. How did your upbringing and your mom inspire your work ethic?
Lacy Redway: I don’t think until recently I could put it in a proper context and language. But yes, she did inspire me without me realizing it. I grew up watching my mom work. Jamaicans are known to be hardworking people. I don’t know if it was instilled in me, but that’s what I’ve seen and that’s been embedded into the DNA of who I am. Seeing my mom sacrifice to provide for my family makes me appreciate her so much more now being a mother.
ATBP: What did you want to do growing up?
LR: I started doing hair pretty early on, but I never thought it would be a career for me. I didn’t even know this existed as a career because when you’re in college, you’re not privy to the sort of creative career opportunities that there are out there, you’re only taught to be in the corporate structure.
ATPB: When did you learn and how did you learn to do hair?
LR: I really don’t know how I picked up the skill. But I remember when I was 11, doing it on dolls and then eventually when I was in middle school, I realized that I had this skill and I started charging people $5 and $10 to do it. I don’t quite know how I learned how to braid or do hair. Braiding was the first technique that I discovered I knew how to do. My sister used to braid my hair in Jamaica. Every Sunday I used to sit in the living room and she would wash my hair and style my hair in bantu knots. I also was coming up during the time where Allen Iverson was a popular basketball player and he was wearing a lot of different braid designs on the court, and it was like translating outside the court where people were wanting those styles, so I was the girl in school doing all those.
ATPB: So after high school did you go to beauty school?
LR: Yes, but it didn’t happen right away. I worked in a salon all throughout high school and it helped me pay for college, so I continue doing hair because again, my parents didn’t have money for tuition and financial aid. I still was an immigrant, so I couldn’t qualify for certain things that a lot of kids were qualified for. And then there were times when I couldn’t go to school for a semester because I didn’t have enough money to pay for the books and the credits.The only other job I’ve ever had besides hair was waitressing which I did for like, four months or something like that. I eventually went to beauty school to get my license.
ATPB: How did you get into doing hair on photoshoots?
LR: One of the ladies at the salon I worked for did photoshoots, not on the scale I do them now, it wasn’t like Vogue and stuff like that, but it was for a hair package company. I was her assistant and when the hair was out of place, I moved it back in place. I was getting pretty good money just to do that, and that excited me too, to be a part of the process and see the end result. It also got me thinking like, if I’m making this, what is she making? So I eventually hired a photographer, makeup artist, and I used a relative as a model, and I started a portfolio. My name started getting passed around to different agencies to work with their artists, and at this point, I hadn’t yet received my hair license, but I was assisting all the fashion greats like Guido Palau and Didier Malige.
ATPB: What did you, as a young West Indian black woman, bring to that space?
LR: I didn’t realize that the skill set I had was something original at the time, being able to do textured hair. At that time there weren’t a lot of assistants backstage that were able to do those things, so I established relationships with a lot of the models that were coming up during our time like Jordan Dunn and Joan Smalls. For the first fashion show that I ever did with Guido, I wasn’t even initially available for the fashion show. But, my name kept coming up. So they eventually called me and said, “Hey, we don’t care what time you can get here if you could just come at your earliest convenience”. Guido does a lot of hidden braids in his work because it takes the weight out of the hair, so he likes to do this downtown Cool Girl, grungy looking hair. I was just coming in doing my thing normally, but I didn’t realize I was braiding faster than everyone else or differently than they were used to seeing. That’s when I realized I had something unique.
ATPB: When did you get your big break?
LR: One of the most memorable for me was Jill Scott for her album cover. That was a challenging shoot because, first and foremost, she didn’t really know who I was. She’s kind of taking a risk using a new up and comer. I was referred to her by the photographers she was working with. She wanted to do something fresh, and I was challenged to come up with this hair structure that we ended up using on the cover shoot. It was for The Light of the Sun album, which was important for me because it was like, “Wow, I have you on my playlist right now, I can’t believe it was really happening”. One of those, “Wow, girl you’re really a celebrity hairstylist now,” moments.
ATPB: That was in 2011, and now we’re in 2020. How do you describe the past decade?
LR: So that year, 2011, was a shift for me. Not only was that the year that I was pregnant with my son, but I was also shifting my career. I was going from chasing my fashion dream of being a big editorial hairstylist, to realizing that I wanted to work smarter, not harder. For me, that meant I wanted to dabble more in celebrity work. So 2011 was a big year for me, both personally and career-wise, because that’s when I made the shift in my career to pursue the celebrity route.
ATPB: Now we’re like we’re technically like nine years out and you are doing the press tours for gigantic Hollywood stars and you’re traveling with them and your reputation is one of the absolute best in the industry! Where do you see yourself going in the next decade?
LR: I say in the next 10 years, I’m stepping into this part of my career where I want to do the work, and what I mean by doing the work is really making a difference. My career now is bigger than me. There’s a lot of fashion politics that are very challenging for me, as it goes against my beliefs and what I stand for. Because there are so many politics at play with jobs and hiring and validation, I’ve come to a place in my career where I no longer look for validation from the fashion people or the people, quote-unquote, who are in the power positions of making and calling the shots. I’m calling my shots now, and I’m taking my career and destiny into my own hands; I no longer want to work with people that don’t value me. So, the next 10 years would mean for me to continue what I’m doing now, which is advocating for more diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry, speaking up for it, and against those things that I don’t believe in and being okay that it might cost me a few job or relationships.
I want to make sure that through my career and the success of my career the next black girls that come up behind me have it easier, where they don’t feel like they are not seeing themselves in that space because, still to this day, when you think of a haircare line the names that you know of that are most popular Paul Mitchell, Frederick Sekai or Oribe, they’re all white men. I plan to change that through my work before I leave this industry.
ATPB: How do you define success?
LR: Success to me is being comfortable with who I am, being confident in the work that I put out, and being comfortable in my voice when I have to use it. When I became the most successful is when I tuned everybody else’s voice out about what I should be doing. That’s when everything fell into place.
ATPB: How do you manage criticism?
LR: It’s hard! Especially coming up at a time where social media is such a big part of our business structure now. I’m a part of the last generation that really had to assist in the old school way. Coming up in this new school way where social media is part of your job, it’s hard to tune it out.
For example, I have a video up on Vogue with a client where we were getting ready for a premiere, and my client likes her hair a little bit more bohemian, more lived in. I saw some people in the comments like, “She needs to fire her hairdresser”. It’s funny, but it can also be hurtful and I found myself trying to explain when I didn’t need to. Criticism can be hard if you don’t have a strong foundation of who you are or have people on your side that can help you navigate. I would say you definitely need a strong support system. That’s what helps you with criticism and just be secure in what you do and you stand for.
ATPB: What’s important is that going forward, you are going to be that woman, a black woman, who I feel like young black women are going to be so grateful for the way that you are writing your story in service of them.
LR: That is what I do love about Instagram, obviously there are parts that for all of us are challenging, but I love how I’m able to connect with people all over the world. Like I can’t believe that there’s someone in Germany that knows who I am, or Mexico or Africa. It’s nuts! And the messages! I got this amazing voice note of this mother she’s like, through the work that I’m doing on my clients I’m able to teach her how to do her daughter’s hair and get her daughters to be comfortable with wearing her natural hair. Wow, this is it, this is why I do this! Forget, all these covers, this is why I do this: to inspire people like this, to help change the way young girls coming up are able to view their beauty, to see that the way the hair grows out of their head is just as beautiful. As it is.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Images by Myesha Evon