What happens when you get two stylists at Sally Hershberger Salons from opposite coasts together for a chat? Repping Sally’s Downtown NYC salon, celeb stylist Ryan Trygstad teamed up with Mane Master Cassondra Kaeding from Sally’s salon in LA, to talk about why they were drawn to doing hair, the best advice they have for emerging stylists, and what it’s like being from the midwest and getting to travel across the world to work with some of the biggest names in fashion and film. Having styled the manes of Emily Ratajkowski, Jessica Chastain, and Naomi Watts, heavy-hitter Ryan knows a thing or two about the biz. Hot on his heels, Cassondra’s major it-girl clients include Jennifer Lawrence and Rooney Mara. Read on to find out who was born and raised working in a salon, and who first started experimenting in hair color with Kool-Aid!
CASSONDRA: Hey! Ryan: Hello!
CASSONDRA: We don’t know each other that well so it’s awesome to be able to sit and chat!
RYAN: I know, and I love the idea that we know of each other, but we don’t know each other. It’s so cool we get to find out now!
CASSONDRA: Yeah! So I always want to ask other stylists this, how did you get started and why you did you want to do hair?
RYAN: I grew up with it. My aunt was a stylist and I spent my summers with her since I was really little, so it was just always in me. And I knew it would be something I was gonna do, but I didn’t know it would be the only thing. I didn’t know I could do it for a living. But I did know that even if I didn’t make money, it would still be my hobby. So I went to an Aveda school and then I became a teacher. By the time I was 16, I graduated high school, and by the time I was 18, I was done with beauty school and into being an instructor.
CASSONDRA: That’s crazy!
RYAN: Yeah, so I got a quicker start than most people. I moved to New York when I was 20, which is really young! I started working at John Frieda Salon when Sally Hershberger was there. The first week I was in New York, I somehow got connected to Sandra Bullock and I just went from there! I worked with her for a few years, so it always just looked like I was older.
CASSONDRA: Which totally works to your advantage!
RYAN: Yeah, you just don’t tell! Never tell how old you are. So I was working with Sally and she told me she was opening up a salon and asked me if I would come with her, so then we opened up the downtown salon about 13 years ago. And it really snowballed from there.
CASSONDRA: Wow. That’s amazing.
RYAN: So tell me your story.
CASSONDRA: It’s funny because I always kind of wanted to do hair, and obviously I had no idea back then if I wanted to cut, color, or what, but it started when I was maybe 10 years old. I would go around the block and I would take Kool-Aid and dye my neighbors’ hair color! And there was this one neighbor of mine who would let me do whatever I wanted. This neighbor also happened to be really blonde and one day I just stained her hair, and her parents came over and they were SO upset. They kept saying ‘you stained her blonde hair!!’ and I said listen, it’s just Kool-Aid.
RYAN: It’ll wash out!
CASSONDRA: And then I went from Kool-aid to locking my sisters in the bathroom and giving them awesome hairstyles; I thought anyway!
RYAN: You realized you had a niche for it…
CASSONDRA: I totally did! And I didn’t know what it was but I enjoyed it, and even though I got in trouble, I still did it. But my career actually took a turn when I went to college and I got my business degree. I got an internship where I did marketing and advertising and I did that for probably about a year when I told my parents, “Listen I can’t sit in this office. I went to school like you asked me to, I got my degree, and you said if I still wanted to do this later on, you would support me going to hair school.” So I did.
CASSONDRA: I went to school, I literally took my test and a week after, I put in my resume for the John Frieda Salon in New York after Sally had left to open the downtown salon with you, so this had to be about 8 years ago.
RYAN: Whoa, time flies!
CASSONDRA: So I started assisting and I was only there for about two months when Sally actually reached out to me and she said ‘Listen, I’m opening up a salon in LA. Are you coming with me? Or are you staying?’ And of course I just knew. I needed the opportunity. Sally had three assistants at the time and I went to work for her and I went from being the third assistant to the first in about two and a half months. And then I just busted my butt because I knew it was such a great opportunity.
RYAN: What do you think got you to the number one assistant? What made you different?
CASSONDRA: I was very consistent. I watched her like a hawk so I could be one step ahead. When she turned around, she didn’t have to ask me for what she needed because I already had it in my hands. I wanted to make sure that I was always around, and then I just worked hard at it. It was also one of those things where I never said no either. I knew what the job entailed and I thought if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna go for it!
RYAN: You’re more of a natural leader than a follower.
CASSONDRA: Yeah absolutely, it was kind of natural. It’s funny because I’m normally more of a listener and I can be a little shy but when it comes to work, I’m out there, talking and having a great time. I feel like I’m a very outgoing, creative person when I’m doing my work, and it’s awesome that it brings it all out of me.
RYAN: What was one of your prouder moments when you were just starting out?
CASSONDRA: So I assisted Sally for three years, and we were visiting New York for a few days for work and we brought a second assistant with us. The night before we were in the salon, I highlighted the girl’s hair, and the next day we’re working and I’m in the middle of holding hair and Sally comes over. I start to think, oh no! What did I do wrong? And she said, ‘Did you color her hair?’ and I said, ‘yes,’ and she just said ‘amazing.’ That meant a lot to me being an assistant for her to take the time in the middle of us working, to make it a point to tell me she liked my work.
RYAN: And she doesn’t do that! She doesn’t hand out compliments like that.
CASSONDRA: Honestly I thought I was in so much trouble when she said my name like that! I’ll always keep that memory, I thought it was so cool that she noticed that. From there, I went out on the floor and I’ve been doing just color for five years now.
RYAN: You know how everyone says that with a craft like ours, it really takes ten years to be really confident and to become a Master? Do you believe in that?
CASSONDRA: I think that it takes a bit of experience, but I always tell people that I learn something new everyday. I never stop learning. Personally, I would never say that I know everything, because I don’t! I really enjoy learning.
RYAN: I feel like that’s what makes you good too. Because you’re never closed off to learning from an assistant or a super-famous colorist. You can learn from anybody.
CASSONDRA: Absolutely. I think that we all need to be less stubborn and not have an ego, because I don’t think that would get me anywhere since I constantly want to be improving. Things change over the years and you have to constantly change with it.
RYAN: I agree.
CASSONDRA: How do you feel? Do you put a cap on what you do and what you know? Is there any opportunity that you say no to?
RYAN: Never! I started working on films very young and I’ve been lucky enough to work on all four sides, fashion, film, celebrities, and salons. It can be tricky at times. I always say it’s like the first day of school when you finish working on a movie and then you have to go back to the salon. It takes extra work, but I love the creativity of seeing it from every angle.
CASSONDRA: Definitely, I’ve done some awesome films and I never wanted to say no because I wanted to experience it all.
RYAN: Right and when people ask me how I got to where I am, and how did I get to see it from every side? I tell them it’s because I always said yes, even if I didn’t know what I was doing 100%. I always tried and did my research. It’s also my passion so I wanted to be great at it, and when you’re a creative person you can really get so much out of it when you see where the road takes you. I feel like sometimes people in this industry pigeonhole themselves to just be in a salon, when it really makes you such a well-rounded stylist or colorist to do different things and be able to work with different kinds of people. Now, there’s not a scenario that I can’t handle. And I’m really from the Midwest, I didn’t grow up around the most famous people in the world, visiting these foreign countries! And now I’ve seen more of the world than I thought I would ever even visit and I lived there doing movies!
CASSONDRA: I agree! I grew up in the suburbs in a small town. I played soccer since I was six, and going from playing soccer to flying all over the world, it’s crazy when I look back. If you asked me then if I thought I would be where I am now? I would’ve said no.
RYAN: Yeah, I just feel lucky being a kid from the Midwest, getting to experience life in a different way than I ever thought possible thanks to this career. It’s very exciting!
CASSONDRA: Isn’t it amazing that you can fly all over the world and do what you love?!
RYAN: It’s so cool that we can make an amazing life for ourselves, which is great for young people to see in our industry. You’re only as good as you think you are.
CASSONDRA: Definitely. That’s why I felt the best thing for me to do was to sit there and watch and work hard. I never complained, which I think helped me get to where I am now. I’m excited too because it’s been 5 or 6 years in for me and I’m so excited to do so much more! And I’ve been patient and it’s happened really fast, but I’m ready for it all.
RYAN: Yeah it took me way longer than 5 years! The big thing that I get from you that I do as well, is that I never stop listening. My ears are always open and taking in my surroundings, which I see a lot of people don’t do. Whether it’s insecurity or they shut themselves off to it, they want to be at a ten already before they’ve done the work.
CASSONDRA: That’s what I see too with younger kids now. They’re so hungry and they they want it and they immediately say why isn’t this happening? Little do they know that yourself and myself, we worked hard for it. It’s just not something that’s handed to you. You gotta do a little bit of the work!
RYAN: Do you see the difference with the younger generation, like the difference in everyone gets a ribbon?
CASSONDRA: I have to say, I haven’t even been around that long and I’m already saying, ‘oh these young kids!’ But I notice they just want instant gratification. They’re definitely eager and I give them that, but my advice would be to have a little more patience.
RYAN: And also enjoy the road! It’s exciting, but you’re not going to appreciate it if you just start out at the top level, it’s the journey to get there.
CASSONDRA: Absolutely, I am so thankful that when I was assisting I got to travel and do all these things, and I wouldn’t change any of it. If I had to choose between one year and three years, I would still choose three because I learned so much more. I know that helped me to be the colorist I am now, from watching and learning and taking everything in. Of course I was eager, but I wasn’t in a rush because I wanted to see it all with my own eyes and then take it and practice it myself.
RYAN: I know, I always say you have to wait for people to tell you that you’re there. You can’t just assume that you’re at the top. Hard work pays off.
CASSONDRA: Is there anything looking back that you would change? Or do you feel like everything happens for a reason?
RYAN: It’s funny how your story just plays out in a way and it feels like it’s already planned sometimes. Like you did the right thing, you did your hard work, and now your dreams get to come true. It’s really cool I think if you have patience, you can truly find your path because there’s so many! Some people aren’t great at salons and maybe they’re better suited for fashion, or something else.
CASSONDRA: And that’s okay! For me personally, I like being in the salon because it makes sense, I have all my supplies and everything is right there for me, but I don’t mind being on set and having to work in these tight little corners out of a suitcase. I actually love that too. Put a task in front of me and I’ll figure out how to accomplish it somehow!
RYAN: Exactly, it’s another space where you know you can do that and create.
CASSONDRA: Yeah. On the first movie that I worked on, they flew me from LA to Atlanta on the red eye, I worked and then they flew me back the same day. As I’ve gotten older, that’s where the experience comes in. I had to learn that when you say yes, yes, yes, you have to also say no. When you’re overtired, there’s a risk that your work will be jeopardized, and you have to know where to draw that line for you. I probably just learned that in the last 2 years or so, because that’s the thing about our industry. It will push you and push you and at one point I didn’t want to get burned out because I really love what I do! But I also need to look out for myself as well. It’s such a fine line of saying yes and no for your own sanity, But I do know my boundaries now.
RYAN: And it’s harder getting older too, right?!
RYAN: I know I need to recharge my battery. For me, I can take a weekend for myself and then I’m ready to go.
CASSONDRA: And if it’s any longer I start to feel unsettled because I can be a control freak when it comes to my work.
RYAN: Well, you want to take care of everybody.
CASSONDRA: Yeah. Do you feel the same way?
RYAN:. Always. I would do it as a hobby anyway, it’s my creativity. And that’s part of it too. You really have to love it, you can’t just do this as a side note because you didn’t like college or whatever. People don’t do as well when it’s not their passion.
CASSONDRA: Age has also really made a difference for me simply in the way that I speak with my clients, and how I learned my limits and my boundaries. It takes some time to realize the stylist and colorist that you are, and who you want to become. I still feel like I’m changing all the time in a good way, and just becoming a better colorist and a better person. I had some family visiting last week and my aunt said she follows me on social media, and she sees all these great things I’m doing, and she’s so proud of me. She really put it into perspective for me and I had to stop and think about just how lucky I am.
RYAN: The neat thing about social media isn’t how it promotes our careers and all that, it’s that you can be seen from a little place, and friends, family, everyone can see what you do and how you made all your dreams come true. We can inspire people in these small towns that you would never imagine even exist.
CASSONDRA: It’s cool to know that we can reach out and they can reach out to us and you can make a difference. You never know who you can inspire! I have to give credit to Sally who has created such an empire. Like at what point do you go for it, and how do you do that from salons to products? It’s inspiring to me to see those kinds of people with such big names do all these things and continue to do them. And also for bringing them to the masses for everybody to enjoy.
RYAN: It makes me feel like we’re part of this big group and we don’t stand alone. We’re part of a larger community. I feel a sense of responsibility, but also honored that we get to create a future for young kids where they can make their own path and discover something that they’re really great at. It feels really inspiring.
CASSONDRA: Me too. Thank you so much for this talk Ryan!