Some of today's biggest players in the beauty industry just happen to be the underdogs. Indie beauty brands are hotter than ever and in our new series, Indie Beauties, we're chatting with the powerhouse women behind these brands to learn how they made their dreams a reality. The first in our series: Wendy Iles, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Iles Formula.
What was your first job in the beauty business?
"I’ve been in hair all my life—one could say since I was five. I used to make believe salon when I was a child. I was just fascinated with hair. Everybody in the village knew, 'Oh well when Wendy grows up, well she's going to be a hairdresser!'
The salon that I worked at when I was young, the knowledge I gained there, that's what I draw on today. It’s the foundation—the training that took me to another level. But what opened the pearly gate was my time with Vidal Sassoon in London. He was revolutionizing hair at the time, and I got to work on the floor with him. He completely retrained me, so I went back to Australia—when all my training and time with him was over—a very good hair cutter. Hairdressing was changing during this time. I was no longer doing hair curlers. Hair was being transformed into six-week haircuts and blow drys. [During] my experience working along side him, he was (and still is) the biggest icon in hair for me. That was the golden ticket!"
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting out?
"There have been challenges all the way. There are a lot of steps in the foundation of my career. I always knew I wanted more. I always pushed myself to the limit. There was a drive inside me. It’s difficult to explain! Even as a child at five, I couldn't wait to grow up to be a hairdresser. When I did the apprenticeship and did four years of training, it was writing to Sassoon and moving to London [that pushed me for more].
All those challenges were nerve-racking. I just had to push myself. It was a drive I just couldn't dampen even though I’d get so nervous. The day I first started working in the salon with Sassoon—he was like God—but you push yourself because you know it's the right thing to do! I believe it's amazing to have that flame inside. And when I gave birth to my daughter, one of the things I really prayed was that she'd find that drive inside of herself—and she found it too! Many people go through life without that. I still have [that drive] today."
What inspired you to start your own company?
"Starting Iles Formula was never on the plan, ever. It takes a lot of courage to actually put your name on a bottle, develop a formula, and sell it to the world. It’s not just being a passionate hairdresser and being good at what you do. I first developed [Iles Formula] just for me on set. It was my celeb clients who pushed me off the cliff because never in a million years had I thought to take those formulas public.
So the inspiration? There was no inspiration about going public, but it takes every breath I breathe. I’m still trying to juggle my A-listers, because they rely on me too and I don't want to let them down. I’m learning to say no more often and make space for Iles Formula and my celeb clients. It’s a lot, but I’m good with pressure and I love what I do."
Where did you see yourself at 20-years-old?
"I always knew I’d be doing hair. I didn't even know freelance hair styling existed at 20-years-old. Freelance hair found me when I was 30-years-old! I got a phone call from Vogue Australia saying we'd like to employ you to do hair for a shoot we’re doing. I didn't even know what that meant. So I went on set with a small kit—just what I needed. It just happened to be with a big famous photographer in Australia, so it was a good shoot! I did what I did and they never stopped calling. I realized one doesn’t have to be in a salon to do hair."
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
"I believe in the next 20 years, I know, I’ll still be involved in hair. I hope I’m the president of Iles Formula, still making amazing formulas, and doing hair!"
What empowers and fulfills you as a businesswoman?
"It's the challenges that make us so nervous but at the end, we're so excited we got through! I just flew to Berlin, (I was part of a jury) to talk about hair and beauty for ten minutes. Not my area! I’m behind the scenes. That’s my clients' domain. [Public speaking is] new territory for me. But I accepted it because it was a challenge and an honor.
I was working with Heidi Klum recently, and I asked her, 'Do you ever get nervous?' because she does all kinds of live appearances. She said, “Yes, of course! You just have to do it because you're there to do it!.” She grabbed me by the shoulders and said, 'I know you can do this, and you will do it.' That helped me. I was thinking about her as I crossed the stage. I thought, 'OK, if it happens to Heidi, then I’m fine.'"
What is the best business advice you've received?
"I think it was my dad. I don’t know why he told me this, but he said “Never be afraid about being nervous, because that’s when you can count on yourself to perform your very best. What you've got to worry about is not being nervous and becoming blasé because that’s when you’re not paying attention.”
What is the best beauty advice you've received?
"The best beauty advice for hair that I teach in my master class [for hairdressers] is to stay away from hairspray because it kills the memory of hair and to stay away from mousses and gels. Just use my finishing serum because it makes hair very supple, and whatever form you put it in, it stays. It doesn’t weigh you down because there are no heavy oils. All day I don't use anything else—16-hours under those hot lights and it stays fresh! Basically, let your hair be free and live!"
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
"Oh, Iles Formula of course! That’s the biggest thing in my life!"
What is one piece of advice you'd give other women looking to break into the beauty business?
"Be very passionate and set the bar high. Always be proud of the work for you’re doing and never slip for a second. The big thing is that you have to take the opportunity when it’s thrown at you. Even if you’re so nervous, you have to say yes. Take the opportunity because you could miss the boat on your dream!"
Which are the top products from your line that you can't live without?
"I love it all! The serum is amazing. I never do a job without the finishing serum. But me personally, I couldn’t live without the conditioner because it completely restructures the hair shaft, and the more damaged the hair is, the more it has to share with the hair. The conditioner is the jewel—it's the magic. It's the one I started with, the one that repairs all hair types. It took a long time to perfect."
*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarification.