Levi’s Story

LEVI GRAGG

Senior Stylist
Nurtur Salon | Columus, OH

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 greatstories@nurturaveda.com

Tell me your story in your own words.

I came to an Earth Jam in 2009 to support friends. I drove like an hour and half to come see these people. At that time, I was in and out of college just like trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was working in fast food and my parents were giving me direction, my grandparents were giving direction but none of it at all felt true to what I wanted to do. So, when I went to Earth Jam and saw all of that it was just like mind blowing. It was a community of people that were all on the same page.  I’d never seen that. I’d never seen anything that was that stable or organized.  Seeing all these people with the same mission, I finally felt like “this is cool.” I needed to find somewhere where I felt at home and I felt like I could learn, and I felt like a lot could happen.  So, like a year later I was in school. I literally went in knowing nothing about hair.  I’d always been interested in art and beauty but had no skills.  So, it was really hard to accept that and learn but I was always engaged.

I literally went in knowing nothing about hair.  I’d always been interested in art and beauty but had no skills.

What about the beauty industry pulled you in?  Was it just like that community aspect of it or was there something specific that caused you to go into that part of the creative realm?

I had actually started school for music prior and just had a hard time with traditional learning.  I didn’t enjoy going to class, I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere. I was on a campus that was far from anything and I think I was looking more for an art outlet really.  I had just always been obsessed with hair and fashion for myself, but I had never really explored it for what it meant as an art.  So, then to see that take place as a career was interesting.  It was one of the first times I thought, oh my god this is a career that I haven’t thought about that opens up a lot of doors for me.

It was one of the first times I thought, oh my god this is a career that I haven’t thought about that opens up a lot of doors for me.

You said you went to college for music.  What was your original career goal before you started the beauty industry?  What were you going for?

I was in theater studies.  And I was taking dancing and singing and acting.

The goal was to getting into theater?

Yes, but I think that if you don’t really know what’s out there, you can’t even know.  Especially at like 18 or 19 its really hard.  Cause your like “What could I do with my life?” I had moved home after about a year of college and I was really lost at that point.  I actually went back to my high school to talk to some of my teachers that I had.  This one was my art teacher that I had as a small child and then had her again as a senior again,  was pushing me in art.  And I thought I was good at painting and I do that lot, but when I moved back from school she was like “please tell me you’ll do something with art?”  And was like, “I don’t know?”  Then I thought that if I like to paint I could kind of connect that to hair color, so that’s where I took the chance with beauty. I was like…. Well, I’m painting a lot now I was kind of avoiding music because of the experience I’d had.  So, I switched to painting, and I’m was painting so much now and made me happy, but I needed to be around people.

How does your painting background and your art background influence how you do hair?  I know color is a big thing for you.

I feel like I’ve also gone from something that can be very abstract and now I something very, very smooth and classic and beautiful, tailored.

It started out as a huge part of my thing.  When I was in school, I knew that’s what I wanted to focus on.  I did a ton of extra education right out of school, like starting with Nurtur taking all of the Aveda classes in Cincinnati to make sure I was staying up on that.  I was keeping involved with  the fashion shows and as it evolved the painting part stayed a part of my technique. It allows me to do very soft natural blending things.  Where originally, I thought it was gonna allow me to create like crazy blues and greens and reds on people.  Which you I can do, but it’s kind of led me to a softer more refined craft.  I feel like I’ve also gone from something that can be very abstract and now I something very, very smooth and classic and beautiful, tailored.  I have had to refine my paint skills through hair as well.

I think that comes with any type of art. When you first start out you want to learn all the crazy fancy stuff you expect yourself to be the next, virtuoso. Then as you do it more often you realize there’s a kind of finesse to it and it’s not just about doing the stuff at the far edges;  there’s a certain amount of skill it takes to do interesting stuff within a framework.

The wow factor comes from the actual finesse of stuff.  That’s where you actually wow.  You think it should be something else, but it’s not.

Exactly.  What are some skills outside of the technical skills that you had to learn throughout your career? Like the soft skills?

I actually was thankful to be working in fast food for two years before going to hair school.  I worked in a drive through, which I obviously didn’t love. But I had to deal with people all day long.  So, I was already really good with dealing with people and dealing with very agitated people in a hurry.  So that was kind of a benefit for me while in school.  I knew I loved people, I knew I liked to talk.  I knew it wasn’t hard for me to from a conversation. I felt comfortable going in, but retail is always a struggle, you don’t wanna feel pushy.  You go in thinking your friendly, you wanna be friendly because you think that’s what’s gonna work.  But you also need to firm, so you need to know what you’re talking about.  You need to say what you mean and say it directly.

I actually was thankful to be working in fast food for two years before going to hair school.  I worked in a drive through, which I obviously didn’t love. But I had to deal with people all day long

If you can project that authority.  I’m recommending you this because this is what you need to be able to do your hair the way you want it done and not just “I’m trying to make a sale.”  I think it’s about building the trust with the client in the chair.  I think that’s good.

It was interesting going into a program that’s a year or under.  Because I think a lot of people, you’re going to cos school, you’re just going to learn about hair.  Obviously, there are so many other chapters that you’re learning about.  My brain… I require quick learning, I get bored really fast. I was never bored at Aveda.  There really is so much that you’re learning, and it is all encompassing at once.  You’re learning everything at the same time.  When you’re learning chemistry and all of that it all blends in so much that you’re building from the ground up.  Which was really supportive both mentally and physically.   It worked.

I get bored really fast. I was never bored at Aveda.  There really is so much that you’re learning, and it is all encompassing at once.

What are some hurdles that you had to overcome, either in your education or in your career so far?

General anxiety, which is the fear of making a mistake.  Doing hair is something that seems so personal.  Which it is but you have to allow yourself to realize that is also chemicals and sometimes there are things outside of your control.  And you just have to lean back into your knowledge and know what you know and stand true in that.  It’s kind of hard to feel like your gonna mess up on someone’s head.  They teach you in school, use your family first but then when something happens in the salon you have to have just be like “this what I think went wrong”, “this where I think it could have happened”  and explain it professionally to let the client feel comfortable.  That was a hurdle.  You just put yourself out there.  You’re on stage all the time.  These people see you maybe every 6-8 weeks.  If they see you and you’re in a great mood and then the 6 weeks later you’re not.  You’re now at a 50%, they don’t if you’re great or not?

These people see you maybe every 6-8 weeks.  If they see you and you’re in a great mood and then the 6 weeks later you’re not.  You’re now at a 50%, they don’t if you’re great or not?

That’s interesting, I never really thought about it that way.

Yeah, their last impression of you was so long ago.  You also have to stay constant in who you are, which means really holding yourself accountable.  If I’m saying I want to be educated and I’m saying I want to this next step or I want to move into this, you have to constantly be holding yourself accountable.  You’re only telling that person, that day.  And then in 2 months when they check back in, was that a dream or is it reality?

Right and it’s important to stay true to yourself.  So, you’re not vacillating between, being this person for this client, and this person for this other client.

Right, that’s why I chose both Aveda and then Nurtur. Consequently, I went from one to the other. When I first saw the network, I realized that it was aligned with also my own personal culture.  So, I would rather align with something that’s going to support me and benefit me than feel out of place somewhere that I’m constantly trying to be something I’m not.

I would rather align with something that’s going to support me and benefit me than feel out of place somewhere that I’m constantly trying to be something I’m not.

When you did make the switch from the traditional university path to more of a trade, cosmetology school. Did you have a support group that was with you for that?  What was the reaction?

My first visit to the school I came with one of my best friends, I didn’t tell anybody from my family because I was actually re-enrolling in school to start for a nursing program, through Ohio University, which I had absolutely no interest in but my whole family had convinced me to do it.  It was like the night before classes started and I was like “I don’t think I can do this.”  So, I didn’t go to my first day of class and I drove with my friend to Aveda Institute Columbus to come to a meeting.  At that meeting I knew, this is what I’m going to do.  I thought “This is a decision I’m making.”  Then I drove all the way home and thought about it all day.  I didn’t tell my parents and then at like 1 in the morning, I went upstairs…I was 20 years old at the time, living in my mother’s basement… I was crying. And I was like, “I gotta tell you something”, “I can’t go to school any more, I have to go to Aveda.” And my mom looked at me like I was insane and was like “OK.”  Because she was confused as to why I had woken her up. She was so supportive from there on out.  Everybody had wanted me to do the traditional path and I had never even thought a trade was going to happen.  But finally, I just allowed myself to do it.  I had been pushed into being something I didn’t want and I knew I was going down a road that wasn’t gonna make me happy. So, I took literally a last-minute chance to explore something.

It was like the night before [college] classes started and I was like “I don’t think I can do this.”  So, I didn’t go to my first day of class and I drove with my friend to Aveda Institute Columbus to come to a meeting.

Speaking of kind of seeking something that fulfills you and makes you happy how has being in the beauty industry added value to your life?

The network of people you meet are amazing.  You’re constantly meeting people in the industry and outside the industry that have changed.  It’s just so supportive and coming from small-town, rural America you don’t get support, you’re just supposed to just go through life.    So really finding that…   You meet so many clients and people that help you in so many ways.  You could be down one day and then someone even from another salon can message you and be like “hey look on this side.” It’s more than beauty it is people. It’s just the people your around.  It’s fascinating.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

It kind of keeps happening.  It really keeps changing for me. I allow myself to find different mentors that are doing different things and then that encourages me to change my path.  Like I said, at first, I thought I was gonna be this avant garde kind of painter doing all of these crazy hair styles, staying in the editorial lane.  Which still really fascinates me visually. I look at a ton but it’s not where I see myself going in the field.  Each year I kind of change and gravitate towards new things.  I love that, I can really build a career.  I thought I was going in learning one skill and now I realize I sort of have a multitude of options for the rest of my life.

I thought I was going in learning one skill and now I realize I sort of have a multitude of options for the rest of my life.

You said your dreams are kind of constantly changing on at least a yearly basis.  So, what are your current dreams.  What’s on the horizon for you, the next big things?

I really love the personnel management of staff. Encouraging and being a mentor has been constant growth. I was really young when I started doing that, I think I was 25 when I got my first assistant through the salon.  I was still really a kid and I’m definitely still a big kid.  But it has encouraged me to share what I know. I can really help people go further by allowing them to feel comfortable knowing someone else has gone through it.  Right now, my current dream seems like some kind of management.  But I also don’t wanna give up my foundation and my hand work.  I love the work I do with my hands.  It keeps me busy.  But also do like the idea of helping people and letting them grow.

I love the work I do with my hands.  It keeps me busy.  But also do like the idea of helping people and letting them grow.

And it’s obviously something you’re good at.  We just interviewed Chloe yesterday actually. And she spoke very highly of her time as your assistant and working with you and having you as a mentor.

I think Peer support is amazing.

If you could go back to talk to your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?

I would definitely tell myself to lean into to who I am.  Really think about what would make you happy and chase that.  And once you start, it just becomes so fun that you can’t stop.

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