What happens when you get two of social media’s favorite hair colorists together for a chat? A conversation about life, balance, and the struggle to have it all. Johnny Ramirez and Tracey Cunningham are two Beverly Hills colorists who need no introduction. Johnny co-owns Ramirez Tran Salon where his color transformations speak volumes alongside the phenomenally modern haircuts by Anh Co Tran. Tracey Cunningham co-owns Meche Salon where she formulates the most natural looking hair colors for the biggest celebrities and top models. With both of them running such successful businesses and traveling regularly, it’s no surprise the two haven’t met. So we did what we could to get these neighboring salon owners to get to know each other.
JOHNNY: Hi Tracey. It’s so nice to talk to you. I love this whole idea!
TRACEY: Me too!
JOHNNY: It’s so cool to see where Mane Addicts is going- this is a totally new thing and to be honest, I wasn’t going to go through with it today, but because it was with you, I was completely interested!
JOHNNY: I was like wow when they pitched your name. I knew I wanted to pick your brain.
TRACEY: Yes! Pick away!
JOHNNY: I’ll make it quick because I know you’re busy and I have people waiting for me at the salon too. So, because we work such a physical job, what do you do to stay strong and healthy?
TRACEY: Well, when I’m on top of my game I exercise in the morning. I think that really helps me keep up my strength. When I’m traveling, I have to work out in the morning so I make my assistants go with me. Otherwise, it’s just too hard to stay on your feet for so long- and it’s what we do! What do you do?
JOHNNY: I pretty much do the same thing. Before a trip, I’ll run 3 miles on the treadmill, just to give myself the stamina I need with my schedule. I try to eat healthy during the week. It’s hard because I’m working with these 21 year olds that can eat hamburgers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it’s easy for me to fall off the healthy wagon and reach for the hamburger because my sugar level is low. But I have to keep exercising to keep my heart going, because for me it’s easy for my head to spin out of control and be on edge. I’m such a perfectionist with what I do, so I have to exercise to stay cool, period. Just to keep balance and not lose it!
I wanted to ask you, what are the best and biggest challenges to owning a successful salon, like the one you have now?
TRACEY: Well I feel like the reason it’s successful is because Neil [Weisberg] and I are always there and we both do different things. He really does manage the place. I know that you’ve worked with him before and seen the way he really builds people up. He spreads responsibility to everybody and I love that. We love to build all of our staff. Nothing makes us happier than a really busy staff. I don’t take new clients and Neil would rather give a haircut client to someone else rather than taking it for himself. I think that’s really healthy too because we’re growing. It just makes the salon that much better.
JOHNNY: I totally, totally agree. I know what you’re saying about Neil. I actually did learn a lot from working with Neil and now as a salon owner. I’ve done a lot of the same things- distributing work to other stylists on the floor and helping them build. He’s helped me in that way, so I totally get it.
TRACEY: It’s true, right? I was going to do it on my own, but Tyle [Mahony] said to me, “Tracey, you’re never going to be able to do this on your own and Neil is so great at it,” and he’s right, he really is.
JOHNNY: It’s hard. People always ask me if it’s easy, but it’s challenging, because this time it’s not just about you, it’s about everybody else. It’s not easy. Not for me. It’s draining and challenging.
TRACEY: It’s not easy at all. I have to come by and see your salon, I haven’t seen it yet!
JOHNNY: I know! And it’s so funny because you and I have even been in the same room, but have never really connected- and your name is everywhere. I mean, Tracey Cunningham, you have built such an amazing name for yourself, and I’ve never been introduced to you! So when this thing came up with Mane Addicts, I was like yes, I have to do this.
TRACEY: Well, we have to go out to dinner sometime!
JOHNNY: I would love that! So let me ask you this: is there anything that you would have done differently with your career?
TRACEY: Yes, I would have protected myself a little bit more. I’ve developed really bad allergies to color. I would have gotten air purifiers and fans a long time ago. Right now I’m wearing a mask when I color hair because the doctor says that I’ve been overexposed to the gases from color. Because, when you’re applying color, Johnny, you’re getting gasses in your face and you’re inhaling them. And because I’m doing 40 clients a day, I’m just breathing in gasses, and I do all my own clients. I do all the bases, highlights, everything. My assistants do the end job for me: the gloss and root and I do everything else. It’s been very difficult. I’m sick, really, with this over exposure. I’m somebody who works in the salon everyday. I’m not someone who spreads myself thin and goes to a lot of different locations. I mean, I went to Dubai just because I wanted to go to the Middle East and check it out. I liked it, so then I called Jen up to see if she wanted to go, so we went together and it was fun! It’s something that I enjoy doing, but isn’t too serious, it’s just twice a year. I’m really just an LA salon girl. I didn’t want to get involved with New York or anything else. I’m so upset with myself that I didn’t know how toxic it all is. Is that too much of a downer to talk about?
JOHNNY: No, no, because to be honest with you I’m just dealing with allergies right now and now I’m trying to figure things out. So are you just talking about color or bleach?
TRACEY: Color. Bleach doesn’t bother me, it’s just color.
JOHNNY: I was wondering, because I got a list from the allergist of things I’m allergic to and it didn’t really make any sense to me, but when I go to the salon I get a runny nose, or I’ll pick up something up in my chest or eyes. So what are your symptoms?
TRACEY: My throat swells up, so it’s very dangerous. I was just in the emergency room two days ago. I end up posting things on social when I’m sick- like I was just in London and I had a stomach virus and was throwing up all night, and I had my assistant take a picture because I had to cancel 46 people the next day. I felt like I had to post something to say that I’m sorry. When I went to the emergency room and I couldn’t make it to Dubai, I posted a picture because I was letting down all my clients in Duabi- and I knew that they were expecting me. I don’t get the ok to fly from the doctor, and they usually put me on steroids for a while to get the swelling to go down. I was sick in London, came home for 5 hours, flew to Orlando, just landed, and we went to a Chinese restaurant that has MSG in it (and we don’t have MSG in California). The person I was with asked if it had MSG after we had eaten and waiter was like, “Yeah, should we call an ambulance?” like it’s something that happens all the time.
JOHNNY: Oh wow.
TRACEY: I go to the emergency room all the time, it’s horrible- and now I have to wear a gas mask. It’s so embarrassing.
JOHNNY: You know what, though, I think this is so important for other colorists to know. It’s a game changer to have Tracey Cunningham, with such a reputable name, wearing a mask. Other colorist are probably dealing with the same things and are probably not doing anything like wearing a mask because they don’t think it’s cool. But maybe by them seeing you wearing one it will break the ice, and they’ll think it’s okay. If you’re not wearing a mask, you put yourself at risk, canceling a day, etc.
TRACEY: But you can’t just wear a mask like a medical mask! You need an actual gas mask, because a medical mask actually traps the gasses inside.
JOHNNY: So what does a gas mask look like?
TRACEY: I’ll take a picture and send it to you. It looks like a bug- I look like a bug.
JOHNNY: Yeah but I’ve seen those masks. My whole point is that if I found out I had to wear one, by you already wearing one, it makes me think it’s okay. What’s more important: looking cool or maintaining your career? I think this will help other people not to care. I mean, you’re a mom, you want to be a mom forever, and take care of yourself. If I have to wear one tomorrow, I’ll do it because you do!
What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
TRACEY: If you want to follow in my footsteps, I think never say no. Say yes to everything. Except when your child has a game. I really truly always is just work. I’m such a worker. I just work, work, work. I wasn’t ever trying to navigate my plane, I was just working, and this is just where I ended up. I really love my clients. Some of them I’ve had for 15-20 years and I don’t feel like I have to take new clients, which is really nice. I listen to my clients, if they refer someone I’ll take someone new. I take a lot of referrals, but not during award season.
JOHNNY: Do you think you’re a people pleaser?
TRACEY: Yes, I definitely am. I know I am.
JOHNNY: I think a lot of hairdressers are.
TRACEY: Are you?
JOHNNY: I definitely am. I mean, even when I was working with Neil I was always there at 7am. I would get my assistants to set up shop at 6:30 in the morning, then I would be there closing at midnight. Now, after all these years, my lower back is killing me, and if I feel that in the middle of the day, I get grumpy. I really have to take care of myself to be able to take care of my clients. But it’s hard because I always say yes! Some of the things you’re talking about are actually really comforting. It’s nice to hear that someone as busy as yourself is dealing with some of the same things I deal with. You always wonder, “am I going to work myself to death?!” but it’s passion. There’s a love you have to have for this kind of game. I mean, I can barely put my shoes on, but I can whip hair color into shape like crazy! I love every single thing about it. I love that I’m able to do something for somebody to make them feel good. So yeah, I have this little power trip like, ‘yeah, I can make this woman look ten years younger!’
TRACEY: It’s a good feeling!
JOHNNY: It is, but it’s a blessing and a curse, because at the end of the day I just want to be in bed.
TRACEY: I know.
JOHNNY: You’re cranking it out all day and your going strong, but at the end of the day, I can just visualize my bed as soon as I get in the car. I just want to get some sleep!
TRACEY: Do you have a big social life Johnny?
JOHNNY: I don’t.
TRACEY: I don’t either. You know why? Because we work all day long on our feet. I work all day long and it’s stimulating, you’re talking to people, catching up, and it feels like a party. Then at the end of the day you don’t want to go anywhere. I’ll go to a party with a friend and just walk around and say hello, but never really engage with anyone because I’ve already done that all day. Then I think I should have just stayed home, because I’m tired. So now I just stay home. I feel like I’m going to wake up one morning and not have any friends, and people are going to say, ‘what ever happened to Tracey Cunningham?’ Haha, I don’t know! I just don’t feel like going out. I’m tired.
JOHNNY: I experience the same thing. All the hairdressers I know that work like us are the same way. They don’t have a social life and it’s hard to date because they’re never really out. We just work. Then at the end of the day, you just go home, and if you’re in a relationship it’s hard.
TRACEY: Yeah, because you don’t want to only talk about work! And clients sometimes can be so draining!
JOHNNY: I hear you! Listening to you right now I feel like we need a special program for the hairdressers that work themselves to death. It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one feeling this way. I’m sure a lot of other people in the world will be comforted to hear that Tracey Cunningham gets tired. It makes you human. You’re real.
TRACEY: Oh, I’m very tired.
JOHNNY: Hairdressers always ask what it feels like to be moving and shaking and cranking everything out, they don’t understand that the momentum does come with a price.
TRACEY: It comes with a price. When you look at anyone successful, no matter who it is or what they do, you have to remember it comes with a price. It’s a lot of hard work. No one just immediately just becomes successful. Anyone that is really truly successful put in a lot of sweat and blood.
JOHNNY: I agree. Thank you so much for doing this! I know you’re busy! It was so nice to finally connect. I know Neil and I have friends that are employees for you so it would be great to come in and say hello to all of you.
TRACEY: I would love that.
JOHNNY: Where did you say you are right now?
TRACEY: I’m in Orlando for the Premier Hair Show. I’m a spokesperson for Redken and usually I don’t do shows, I just go to the Redken Symposium each year and walk around. So many people would come up to me and ask me to do classes, so I agreed. So now they’re asking me to do it all the time, which is fine, but very different. I’m excited for the show to start because I like to walk around and look at things. It’s like the Long Beach show but bigger.
JOHNNY: I would love to check it out.
TRACEY: Yeah you should, and let me know what you think!
JOHNNY: Well now that I have your number, we will have to grab dinner sometime. I’d love to talk more, it’s so interesting to see how the industry has changed with social media and everything is so different from what it was even just 5 years ago.
TRACEY: You’re right!
JOHNNY: Even salon business, it’s so much easier to build a clientele just through social media-even just this conversation through Mane Addicts! It’s so great to connect with you. So we have to get together, I’m always hungry for ideas, to chat, and connect.
TRACEY: Me too, this was great! Thank you so much!