Salon Owner, Award-Winning Stylist
Van Michael Salon | Atlanta, GA
Our graduates come from all walks of life and their careers span a vast array of fields within the beauty industry. What they all have in common, is that their story started at the Aveda Institute. We sat down with some alumni to hear their story in their own words.
We’re excited to share their stories to inspire you to start your great story with us!
If you’re an alumni and want to tell your story, email email@example.com
Tell me your story, in your own words.
I started off at the Aveda Institute in Cincinnati part of the very first graduating class. From there, I was about 19 I moved out west to LA to study at Vidal Sassoon Academy and I was there for the better part of a year, basically, just trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. To see if I wanted to go work for Sassoon full time, but the pay’s not great. Living in LA I was barely getting by you know. Then I ran into a guy named Rob Cook who I from working at the Aveda distribution center through high school. Because of that, I was always at all of the different hair shows. When I was at the hair shows I was you know driving people around, setting up backstage. This is back in the 90’s so the AV was just pipe and drape projections screen, wireless mics. It was really, really minimal. I would do the AV that kind of stuff and set up the retail areas. So, I go to know a lot of the different artists that are now legends like Antoinette [Beenders] or Van counsel. I got to meet them when they were young, like 30 years old.
I go to know a lot of the different artists that are now legends like Antoinette [Beenders] or Van counsel. I got to meet them when they were young, like 30 years old.
Rob Cook actually works for us at Van Michael salons in Atlanta. He works at our Buckhead salon now but at the time he was one of the managers, running our Virginia Highland salon. He basically recruited me from LA to come to Atlanta. I was planning on moving to NY. I have a lot family in New York and a lot of ties to New York from when I was a kid and I wanted to work in Manhattan. He and Van sent me a portfolio on the salons in Atlanta. They offered to pay for my move, which was a big deal to me back then. They knew the 3 places I was looking at going to work in NY and he knew how much they paid. Then he told me he basically pays the same but translated from NY to Atlanta dollars. Basically, I gotta start as an assistant or work as New Talent all that, but it would be a good education for me to go there. If nothing else, I go there for a year or two get good education and move to NY from there because it would be a lot cheaper than moving from LA to NY on my own. So, I just went to Atlanta. That was 21 years ago.
If nothing else, I go there for a year or two get good education and move to NY from there because it would be a lot cheaper than moving from LA to NY on my own. So, I just went to Atlanta. That was 21 years ago.
I started off here at the Buckhead salon as an assistant and I went through new talents. In 2001, Van opened up a salon in Miami. My mom and stepdad had just moved to Florida and I have a stepbrother and stepsister in Hollywood [Florida], so I was like “I’m gonna go down there.” I went down to get that started and I was there till Labor Day. We actually had a little bit of a “walk-out” at our Sandy Springs location and Van asked me “are you gonna stay in Miami forever or are you ever gonna come back to Atlanta?” At the time I was like,” I think I’m gonna wanna come back.” And he said “well, you wanna come back in two weeks?” And I said “sure,” so I ended up moving back to Atlanta. He put me out at the Sandy Springs salon. At the time, I was like 21/22 years old and I didn’t really wanna work out in Sandy Springs cause it’s more suburban then say Buckhead and the Virginia Highland (we only had three locations at the time). He put me out there because some people had left and told me if I stayed there for 6 months and kept everybody’s clients happy, I could move to whatever location I wanted. After about 6 weeks of being there I realized I really liked the Sandy Springs salon – the size of it, the energy of it – the cliental probably has more money than any of the cliental of any of our locations. I just ended up staying there and I still work there. I was there yesterday working for 12 hours.
Van asked me “are you gonna stay in Miami forever or are you ever gonna come back to Atlanta?” At the time I was like,” I think I’m gonna wanna come back.” And he said “well, you wanna come back in two weeks?”
The second I got done with training and the second I got back from the Miami salon started teaching for Van Michael. Started off in teaching a blow dry class and then became a cutting educator. After not long, I mean really not long at all I started travelling around doing hair shows. This would have been early 2004. There weren’t as many hair shows as there were in the 90’s. But, we were doing a lot of small caravan shows for Aveda at the time. I got a chance to do that and immediately started doing hair shows. I was usually on stage with Van or with Brandon, some of my other mentors, while still doing clients. I’ve always worked 5 days a week behind the chair up until this year. I’ve always been one who’s worked 9 or 10 shifts per 2 weeks behind the chair. I’ve always done 50-75 clients a week and I’ve maintained that throughout my whole career. To be honest with you, it’s just really good, constant money.
I’ve always done 50-75 clients a week and I’ve maintained that throughout my whole career. To be honest with you, it’s just really good, constant money.
I’m gonna backtrack a little bit. When I was in Miami, I started working with a guy named Michael Baker. He lived one block over from me and we were working in the salon together. Before working in the salon, he was strictly an editorial stylist. Every time he did something out of the salon, I went with him and helped him. Which was a great experience for me. It was only for a few months, but it was very instrumental for me to kind of know what to do on a set. More like just like the kind of hurry up and wait of it and what was correct. It wasn’t about technical skills – it was the int in’s and outs of being on a set. Back then, this is pre-911. This is the dot.com area where everybody was spending fortunes on advertising. So, I got a really good experience being in Miami doing photo shoots at the Fontainebleau Hotel, other hotels and dance clubs, on the beach, everywhere. It was really a great experience for me, but I didn’t love Miami. And I had really good friends in Atlanta, so I ended up moving back.
When I was in Miami, I started working with a guy named Michael Baker. Before working in the salon, he was strictly an editorial stylist. Every time he did something out of the salon, I went with him and helped him. Which was a great experience for me.
In 2005, every chance I got, I was doing hair outside of the salon for any kind of photo shoot, cause I really wanted to build a portfolio. I just remembered seeing Antoinette’s portfolio years ago and being like, “Wow that’s amazing I want something like that.” So that was kind of a goal of mine – to have an amazing portfolio. In 2005 I was doing a show in Las Vegas for a guy named Steve Cassiolia. He used to have a magazine called Salon City. It was a hair magazine and it was a good looking one. Whoever did the graphic design were very good. So, all the work I did that I did for Steve that ever got published looked phenomenal. I liked that, so I was doing a hair show for him out in Vegas that coincided with NAHA (North American Hairstyling Awards). The guy who was speaking before me was a photographer out of Toronto named Babak. That year like literally every single person who won a NAHA was shot by Babak. We just hit if off backstage. I was there with my sister and he was there with his girlfriend at the time. She and I hit off because we were talking about snowboarding we just kind of clicked backstage. I was talking to him and “I was like hey man I’d really like to shoot with you sometime,” and he said “come to Toronto anytime you want to come. Come up and we’ll do a shoot together. If you pay for the models, I can supply you with really good models.” I flew up there and did a photo shoot with him and we shot, in November of that year. We did a real Avant Garde shoot and I got nominated that year for NAHA and it was amazing.
He said “come to Toronto anytime you want to come. Come up and we’ll do a shoot together”… I flew up there and did a photo shoot with him and we did a real Avant Garde shoot and I got nominated that year for NAHA and it was amazing.
I was like 25/26 years old and I was nominated for my first NAHA that really opened up a lot of doors in the editorial world I started doing a lot of stuff. I really hit it off really well with Babak. We started doing, we were shooting together at least 6 if not 8 times a year. Usually it was either putting something together so that I could submit for NAHA and Canadian hair awards. We did for a handful of product companies, we kept doing their ad campaigns. Doing all their product shots, but my name wasn’t on any of them. They would just pay me like $5,000 a day and I might shoot for 2 days with them and they’d have some guy that actually worked for them come in stand in front of a model with a comb and Babak would take his picture and say that he did it. But I didn’t care, I was getting like $10 grand for two days’ work. I was like 26 years old, so it was great. We were shooting a lot. Probably making $80 grand a year doing all these side gigs plus working at Van Michael all that time.
They would just pay me like $5,000 a day and I might shoot for 2 days with them and they’d have some guy that actually worked for them come in stand in front of a model with a comb and Babak would take his picture and say that he did it. But I didn’t care, I was getting like $10 grand for two days’ work.
Around that time that I started doing all that our creative director Brandon Darragh stepped down and told Van, “you know what Daniel’s kicking ass and doing all the stuff I should be doing he’s promoting the brand and the image. Make him the art director/creative director for the company.” I’ve now been the creative director for the company, I believe for 15 years. I still continued to work behind the chair. We have class every Monday for our staff at the Buckhead Salon. I always taught it, but around that time I stopped teaching as much. I started teaching maybe once a month because I was on the road the other 3 weekends of the month. I was working a lot back then. There was a period till I was about 30 years old, from 26-30 years, I was working on the road about 42 weeks out of the year. When I went on the road I would work in the salon say Tuesday through Saturday maybe leave instead of getting off at 5 on Saturday I get off at noon, go straight tot the airport land somewhere, do a shoot or a show or teach a class on Sunday and Monday and fly back to Atlanta late Monday night, and then be back in the salon. I was working, without joking, probably 340 days out of the year, there for a while. It was pretty intense, but I was making really good money and I wasn’t even 30 years old making really killer money off it. Really got my name out there very. I really started doing a lot of the work with all the trade shows while just building my clientele up more and more.
When I went on the road I would work in the salon say Tuesday through Saturday maybe leave instead of getting off at 5 on Saturday I get off at noon, go straight tot the airport land somewhere, do a shoot or a show or teach a class on Sunday and Monday and fly back to Atlanta late Monday night, and then be back in the salon.
The thing about Van Michael salons, I’m not kidding you, once you start as new talent you’ve got a full book. I mean, you are busy. I’m going on 21 years and I just keep raising our prices, getting busier and busier. Just really, it’s a great experience. After in 2010 I started really juggling a lot of hats at the time. I’d been with the company about 10 years and Van offered me to buy into the company into once of our locations. Our East Cobb salon opened up in August of 2010. I’m a 30% owner of that location. That has been a great experience now I understand what it’s like to t be a salon owner as well. From there when we opened up our Avalon location about 4 years later and Van let me buy into that one as well. I’ve been kind of juggling the hats of, I’m the creative director for the company… we had Congress coming up, we had 4 master jams set up with Aveda, we have been working with Intercoiffure for the last 5 years. That was a fair amount of work itself because I work with my team but we put together what our collections are gonna look like, what our shows are gonna look like, what the photo shoots are gonna look like , what image work is gonna be, what the music is, choreography the clothing, that was really going. The Salon owner part has jumped through the roof, cause you have to figure out, cause now also we have opened up a men’s salon which I am partners with Van in that one as well. I had to write a men’s curriculum, a barbering curriculum. How to shave, how to cut with clippers. It was based off our men’s cutting curriculum we had already, but just taking it even farther.
I’d been with the company about 10 years and Van offered me to buy into the company into once of our locations.
I’ve been juggling a lot of hats. I’m partners with Van in 3 locations, I’m creative director for the company, I’m then on top of all that last year we started a scissor company, Van Michael’s Scissors. We started off kind of wanting to sell scissors, like Hattori Hanzo or Wings. What we’ve really started doing, is supplying cosmetology schools all over the country with private labeled shears. All of the Aveda schools in Florida have, they actually have Van Michael shears they say Van Michael on them. All of the Aveda Arts & Sciences Institutes, we supply them with, and other cosmetology schools. We’ve just started putting it together for the Aveda Institutes up in Canada. Now we’re working with the Douglas J Aveda Institutes and getting them their scissors.
Since I handle all of those accounts, I go in and do education and demonstrations. It has nothing to do with scissors, it has to do with the industry. For every two hundred sets of scissors that they buy, we send educators out to their schools to do education for them, free of charge. I coordinate all of the education that we’re doing for them. We’re also partnering with Hairbrained to do educational videos once a month and videos twice a week for Federico’s Advanced Academy for their Facebook live. I’m now coordinating ten people for the videos. My brother-in-law happens to be a videographer and we supplement his income very well be having him do a lot of video work for us. That’s where my new avenue has been. It’s ironic that I was asked to do this interview because I’m now doing so much work with cosmetology schools.
And that’s where I see myself working now… I’m gonna continue to work behind the chair. But, I’ve definitely cut back some of my hours.
That’s awesome, you’ve done quite a lot of different things throughout the years.
Well, I’ll tell you this much – and I say this to students because to cosmetology students all over the country very frequently. At this point, I have worked editorial, I’ve done hair shows, I’ve done education for Aveda for years and years and years. I’ve worked behind the chair, I’ve owned salons , I’ve owned barber shops, I own a scissor company, I’ve even worked for Aveda in a warehouse. If you go into cosmetology your options are limitless, they really are. The only thing I tell them, they have to be ready to work hard, it’s not an industry that you can just be real smart and cruise by. There’s not a whole lot of passive income in our industry, no matter what, whether you’re an educator, an editorial stylist, whether you’re a platform artist, a manufacturer, a salon owner or behind the chair as a hairdresser or barber. Your options are limitless. You can be an amazing artist. You can be extremally wealthy, but every dollar you make it’s because you’re working for it. You gotta put the effort in to get through. When you come from an Aveda school You have great education, great foundation but it’s not enough. You gotta continue working, for at least the next 5-10 years. You should be taking a class at least class every single year so you’re bettering yourself. You continue to work harder and harder and as you’re working harder, you’re producing better and better. When you’re into it about 10 years, that’s when you can take your foot off the gas a little bit. You won’t see the real fruition for a good 5 -10 years but it’s definitely there, you just have to willing to put in the work.
At this point, I have worked editorial, I’ve done hair shows, I’ve done education for Aveda for years and years and years. I’ve worked behind the chair, I’ve owned salons , I’ve owned barber shops, I own a scissor company, I’ve even worked for Aveda in a warehouse. If you go into cosmetology your options are limitless, they really are.
You grew up around the industry but was it always something you wanted to do or was it just kind of passion you discovered over time.
Well, originally, I thought I was either gonna be a rock star or point guard for the Chicago Bulls. Then I found out that I’m short and I’m not nearly good looking enough to be a rockstar, so I figured I got do something else. I’ve never had any problems in school, like flunk out of school or anything like that. I just had a real problem going to school. Like actually making into the class, I was the kid. I wasn’t really a good sitting-behind-a desk kind of person, so I needed to find something that I was able to up and moving and doing. The truth is, when I was 15 working a show in Columbus Ohio, I saw Van on stage cutting hair; at that time I was in a band with some friends and I was like, “he looks like a Rockstar up there.” That’s something I could possibly do. My mom owned an Aveda Salon in Cincinnati for years and I’d already been hanging out in her salon and cutting my hair and my friend’s hair but I just kind of got more interested in that moment. By the time I was like 18… I’m not the college guys. It’s just not me. It crushed my dad. My dad’s dream was for me to be like a frat boy and to go away to school and all that, because he never had that opportunity. He had to work his way through college. Meanwhile, I thought that sounded like torture. But, he was really openminded about it. He thinks it was a great thing for me to go into and now he’s my biggest cheerleader.
I’ve never had any problems in school, like flunk out of school or anything like that. I just had a real problem going to school. Like actually making into the class… I wasn’t really a good sitting-behind-a-desk kind of person.
Of all the things you have done, is there one specific thing that gets you most excited right now? Or is it the variety itself that gets you excited?
It’s definitely the variety that keeps me excited. Everything that is new gets me excited. If that makes sense? Every time I have a new outlet that I can do, I get really excited about it. Whether it’s the barber shop, or it’s the scissor company. But, if I was just running the barber shop and that’s it, or I was just running the scissor company and that was it, I would get bored. If I was just doing clients, I would probably get bored. Although, clients probably keep your interest better than anything. As a student you don’t think it would be that way. And when I was first starting off, I thought it was a means to end. You had to like do clients to work on your skills and make money. But, the clients really whole-heartedly at this point are what have kept me interested as much. That has a lot to do with the relationship.
Once you’ve been doing it for a long time, you become, once you master the actual art of doing hair, doing hair is the easy part.
The majority of my clients I’ve had for 10- 20 years. They become friends and I actually get to hang out with my friends all day. That’s the thing that’s amazing about our industry. Once you’ve been doing it for a long time, you become, once you master the actual art of doing hair, doing hair is the easy part. It’s the relationship and the service that your giving your client, and what happens after an extended period of time of giving great service. It becomes so natural to you that all of a sudden you’re just enjoying your time with your clients. That’s probably what has kept me the most interested or the most excited about the industry. But, truthfully, anything that is new is what gets me the most excited.
The majority of my clients I’ve had for 10- 20 years. They become friends and I actually get to hang out with my friends all day. That’s the thing that’s amazing about our industry.
If you could go back and start everything over would you do anything differently, change anything along the way?
I’ve said this a few different times. Don’t get me wrong I’ve made some serious mistakes in my life. But, I’m in a great position in my life right now. I’ve got like an amazing wife, an amazing daughter, an amazing house.. I’ve got 420 employees that I really do love. It’s a family and the best thing I ever did was come work for Van Michael. I mean, I met my wife at Van Michael. I wouldn’t do anything different cause I love my life so much right now. Are there mistakes I’ve made along the way, that I probably should not have done or could I have done them differently? Yeah. But they’re all learning experiences. I’ve told people numerous times that for a while I wanted to go into the military. I think I would been very good in the military because of the structure. I think it would have been good for me, but I would not have the life that I have now. I wouldn’t change my life now for anything.
That’s awesome. I think nearly every person we’ve interviewed has had that same answer.
I’ll be the first to tell you. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve had my ups and downs throughout this whole career, throughout my life you know. But it’s all part of the journey that you gotta go through. You gotta take it as a learning experience. All the mistakes I’ve made, they’ve just made me a better person at the end of the day.
All the mistakes I’ve made, they’ve just made me a better person at the end of the day
Do you have anything else that that you think would be important for young, future professionals to hear?
The big thing I do always stress to student is just to continue their education. I’ve been at this 21 years and literally six weeks ago, I was in London taking a barbering class. Every year for my entire life I’ve taken at least 1 class and really, it’s usually been more like 3 or 4 classes. You gotta do it, you gotta continue to better yourself, otherwise you get burnt out. Another thing that is very important in this industry is taking care of yourself physically. Eating right, exercising. It took me without joking, 15 years in the industry before I ever started packing my lunch. And it’s a game changer in your day, I mean so. So many hairdressers out there live on the caffeine and nicotine diet. Eat right, exercise and get a good amount of sleep. The way that you stand and everything that you do, it wears on you thorough years. I’ve had some physical challenges in my hands, in my neck in my shoulders and my knees and my feet. Just from the wear and tear of our industry, because the only way you make more money is by working harder. So, taking care of yourself is really important.
You gotta do it, you gotta continue to better yourself, otherwise you get burnt out
The two things I really recommend are, one, take care of your mind, don’t get burnt out and do that through education. And two, take care of your body. And that’s through exercise and nutrition.