Opinionated, talented and passionate. Sheila Abrahams possesses all three qualities and it’s these traits that have helped her build such a successful career within the hairdressing industry. At just 13, Sheila took her first steps into the world of hair, taking on a Saturday job in a local salon. Today, after an exciting yet sometimes turbulent career, Sheila heads up the Freelance Hairdresser’s Association, a group she founded to help support and encourage professional freelance hairdressers.
As any freelancer knows too well, it can be a struggle, with their skill and credibility often being questioned. This is something that Sheila herself experienced first-hand after she embarked on a freelance career to balance her family and work life.
“I’d brought myself a salon and was beginning to carve a successful career for myself but I wanted to have a family so decided to sell the salon and reduce my full time hours to part time so I could balance being a mum.
“I started to dislike the way the new owners were running the salon so I left and became a freelance hairdresser by default and soon had more clients than I could handle.”
But with the freelance world being dubbed as ‘the black market’, professionals like Sheila struggled to be taken seriously outside of a salon environment.
“My hands are on the end of my arms, they go where my feet take me. Why should freelancers be treated any differently when they are just as skilled and talented as those based in a salon environment?”
It was this determined attitude that spurred Sheila on and encouraged her to fight for fairer rights for freelancers.
“During the late eighties, wholesalers refused to work with freelancers. They didn’t want to be associated with us at all. But we fought and stood up for ourselves. We even had a running debate that was published in the Hairdresser’s Journal but the reaction from the industry was negative. They didn’t want to hear us.”
After meeting a few other mobile hairdressers who had experienced similar negativity from the hairdressing industry, Sheila decided to create a criteria for a support group for the freelance sector. The group would be a place where fellow freelancers could share their experiences and tips, as well as offer support to one another.
“It wasn’t until 1998 that the Freelance Hairdresser’s Association really began making waves,” Sheila admits. “Big brands began to stand up for us, threatening to drop wholesalers and manufacturers that opposed our policies.
“It was a time of great change. The cost of training drastically reduced for freelancers and we soon gained support from big industry names such as hairdressing expert Patrick Cameron.”
Thanks to the FHA, the previously tarred reputation of the freelance hairdressing industry was beginning to improve and mobile professionals were able to push their careers for the first time.
But has the freelancer reputation really changed or is there still a stigma with mobile hairdressing?
“Things have changed radically,” reassures Sheila. “Now, people know and charge their worth, regardless of whether they’re salon based or on the road.”
Despite the authenticity and professionalism of freelancers often being questioned, this isn’t the only career concern they face.
“Here at the FHA, we can advise on every obstacle a freelancer may need to overcome. Working out of a salon environment can be lonely and can also mean freelancers aren’t as in touch with current trends and techniques.
“The FHA can help with all of these common concerns. We offer training, arrange events and our online community is the perfect place for mobile professionals to open up about any worries they have.”
2018 marks 25 years since the FHA was born and, to celebrate, Sheila and the team will host their annual educational event for their members. From stage presentations and demonstrations to talks from industry icons, Inspire! aims to bring together the freelance community and provide a day they won’t forget.
“In the past, we’ve had guests such as Trevor Sorbie, Charles Worthington, Andrew Barton and our honorary member Patrick Cameron. It’s the perfect way to bring our thousands of members together.”
As the founder of the FHA, the pride that Sheila has towards her astonishing achievement is clear – and rightly so.
“The members are like my family. People have made amazing friendships through the organisation and I’m hugely proud of the support it was provided.”
If you’d like to find out more about the Freelance Hairdresser’s Association and the support they can offer to freelance hair professionals, please visit their website.
Image credit: Freelance Hairdresser’s Association