With a client roster boasting the Kardashian-Jenner family, Ashley Tisdale, Maddie Ziegler, Camila Coelho, and Rocky Barnes—just to name a few—one would assume Justine Marjan journeyed a linear path on which subsequent successes led her to celebrity hairstylist stardom. In fact, the former Mane Addicts editorial director experienced her share of failure and frustration along the way. From getting fired at her first salon job to moving to Los Angeles to re-build a career from scratch, Marjan’s path was anything but Instagram-perfect. But one thing remained constant—her passion to learn the hairdresser’s craft. Courage from within, counsel from industry leaders, and continuous hard work eventually paid off. One look at Marjan’s Instagram feed will ignite a fire within you to do better, to jump out of your comfort zone, and consider carving out a carefully-curated social plan. Still, her grid is just a glimpse into all the primping and planning that she pumps into her hustle. Below, Marjan (who, by the way, I reported to when I was editorial assistant at Mane Addicts) gets candid with me about how she broke into the industry, what she looks for in an assistant, the importance of social media presence for stylists and more.
What is your very first memory of hair as a kid?
My mom burning my bangs one morning when she was trying to curl them when I was 4 or 5 years old! I learned early on that my mom wasn’t adept with hair, so I started curling my own bangs and my sisters. My sister was a competitive cheerleader from a young age and I used to wake up early with her and curl her hair for competitions with all her friends and their moms.
Recall your earliest days of doing hair—what did that period of your life look like?
I started by working as a receptionist and assistant at a salon while I would go to cosmetology school at night. The salon would host classes for the stylists on Mondays when it was closed and I loved attending and learning new things. I started right out of high school so I was only 18. I would watch haircutting DVDs at night and attended an advanced class at Sassoon Academy or Toni and Guy Academy every 6 months. I knew I needed to learn as much as possible to be confident and successful at my craft. In my spare time, I would partner with students at the local photography school and do hair for shoots for free to build my portfolio. In the early days of my career, I was young and wasn’t the most responsible. I ended up getting fired from the first salon I worked at, but they eventually rehired me and it was the wake up call I needed to encourage me to live a healthier and more responsible lifestyle.
How did you get your start in the industry?
It was always my dream and goal to work fashion shows, campaigns in magazines, and with celebrities. After working my way up in my first salon for 8 years, I realized I had reached my potential with where I was. I felt stagnant and it became clear to me that I did not want to work in a salon for the rest of my life. I knew I had to move to a bigger city or open my own salon to continue to grow. I took business classes and my fiancé and I pursued opening a salon in Santa Barbara, but at the same time I was driving to LA on the weekends and dropping off resumes. Eventually the salon we were pursuing opening fell through and I got a call from Jen Atkin’s assistant to see if I could do a trial with her. One thing led to another and I quickly moved to LA and started working for Jen full time.
What was one of your biggest career challenges and how did you overcome it?
Honestly, one of the most pivotal moments in my career was moving to Los Angeles. I had ‘made it’ as a hairstylist in my hometown, but I was unhappy and knew that wasn’t the life I wanted for me. I was very nervous to move to LA and start over as an assistant for minimum wage, especially when there were no guarantees and I didn’t know anyone in LA. I struggled with the decision to move for months and was meditating twice a day to help me deal with the stress. I had also spent the past 3 years working on myself as a person and was doing a traditional indian style of yoga every day called Mysore Ashtanga. One morning when I was doing a crazy headstand in yoga class, I fell out of it and my yoga teacher said that he could tell I was scared. He said ‘fear is never a good enough reason not to do anything.’ That really resonated with me and I realized that my fear of the unknown was holding me back from my future. When I let go of my limiting thoughts and allowed myself to move to LA and start over, I felt like the life I’d always wanted opened up for me. The biggest challenges that we face as artists are mental ones: Letting fearful thoughts take over or comparing ourselves to others.
The early days of my new career in LA were VERY tough. I worked endlessly, was constantly battling with a coworker, and completely gave up my own life for someone else’s (yes that is what it means to be an assistant!). On top of being a hair assistant, I was a personal assistant, editorial director of Mane Addicts, and was taking my own clients on the side to make money. I felt like I had 5 jobs and never took days off (I still don’t!).
Who were some of your hair idols during your earlier days of hairstyling?
I’ve always been in awe of Guido, Odile Gilbert, and Mark Townsend. I admired Jen Atkin, Andy Lecompte, and Kristen Ess so much and was so honored to have had the opportunity to assist all of them! Working for Mane Addicts, I spent time with and interviewed Guido, Odile, and Mark, which was an absolute dream.
Tell us about how you came to work with Jen Atkin.
When I was in Santa Barbara, I spent my weekends driving to LA and dropping off resumes at salons. I used to check in to Andy Lecompte salon every couple weeks because I knew Jen worked there. One day I saw that Jen had posted an ad on Instagram that she was looking for a second assistant. I immediately sent in my resume, but I heard nothing for months. Two months later I got a call from her assistant asking if I could come in for a trial the net day. I dropped everything and drove to LA to assist her. Unfortunately, when I showed up her assistant told me that Jen was sick and not to talk to her. I kept my mouth shut and worked with her for 2 hours, but felt like I didn’t get the opportunity to connect. I didn’t hear anything back, but followed up the next week and heard she had decided to go with someone else because I didn’t currently live in LA. I figured that if me not currently living in LA was holding me back, then I had to move. I moved to LA and kept replying to assistant ads, eventually getting hired by someone else, though I kept in touch with Jen’s assistant and followed up with Jen consistently about the position. I reached out via twitter, DM, email, and instagram comments to let her know I was still interested! Eventually she hired me part time and to help launch Mane Addicts (since I had my own blog and experience with graphic design). I was assisting her and Kristen Ess both part time, but eventually my work load with Jen became so much that I was with her full time.
What’s your beauty/hair philosophy when it comes to yourself? When it comes to clients?
When it comes to myself, I need something low maintenance and classic. I want to look polished, but not like I’m trying too hard to make a statement because I need to be somewhat low key when I work. I usually keep my hair straight with the ghd platinum plus styler then sleep on the Hollywood Silk Solutions Silk Pillowcases to keep the look for several days.
When it comes to clients, my philosophy is confidence! I never want to push my clients to do something they won’t feel their best in because I know that how you feel is how you project yourself. I love to come up with ideas and push them to do something new, but at the end of the day I want them to look and feel their best so I always listen to what they say and how they want to look that day.
What do you think is the most underrated hair product?
Hairspray! It’s my ride or die hair product! I could use it for nearly everything and it’s so versatile. I definitely could not live without it. My current fav is Tresemme Micro Mist Hairspray in extend. It’s strong hold, but not stiff or sticky.
What do you think is the most underrated hair hack?
Spraying a brush with hairspray while you work. I do this every day on every client. It helps build grit in the hair and hold while keeping movement!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and from who?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is from Jen Atkin. She always says there’s enough work to go around for everyone, and that we can ALL be successful. I think that is so important to remember. Coming from salon life, everyone was constantly in competition. No one was happy for another person and instead was fighting for clients and sales. Working for Jen really changed my mindset and opened me up to new ways of thinking. It’s important to remember that another person’s success does not dampen yours, so let’s try to encourage and celebrate the success of others.
What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Fate loves the fearless. When I was younger I let relationships stop me from moving or I’d hope that a relationship would take me somewhere new. Instead of letting outside influences dictate my life, I would have told myself that I need to live my life for myself and the rest will follow.
Where do you look to for hair inspiration?
I look everywhere. I am constantly inspired and keep my eyes open. I love watching old films, fashion magazines from abroad, vintage Vogues, and scrolling instagram. I love seeing what the bloggers do with their hair and fashion as they take more risks!
For someone who’s thinking of pursing the celebrity styling route, what’s it REALLY like working with celebrities?
I think the biggest thing to realize when working with clients is IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. So many people get caught up in their ego, but you have to take a step aside and realize it is your job to make your client look and feel their best. Be willing to go above and beyond and never think you are too good for something. If that means massaging your clients shoulders or strapping on her shoes, you are there to be of service.
Do you think hairstylists NEED to be active on social to be successful these days?
It depends what kind of career you want to have. You definitely don’t HAVE to be active on social media to be successful. There are a lot of amazing artists who are not. I love that social media allows for you to promote and present yourself to the world in a way that you can control and it has definitely been an essential building block of my career. Right now, being an influencer and an artist are blurred. I love that social media has allowed me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, like connecting with brands and new clients while also having a platform to promote what I am passionate about.
You have two hair assistants. What does it take to become one of your assistants?
Ask anyone in any field and they will all agree that finding a great assistant is TOUGH. I work really hard, so it’s hard to find people that can keep up with my pace and stay 5 steps ahead of me. I found both of my assistants after I did a social media call out and they both sent in great resumes and videos. After interviewing, I usually do a trial day then a 3 month temporary period, before hiring full time. I need people that are self motivated, positive, have a calm energy, are organized, can drive, don’t mind traveling, are great with social media and writing, and who have open availability.
How can one go about assisting or shadowing you?
Email is a great way to reach out. One of the biggest mistakes I find is that when people reach out they have poor grammar or spelling mistakes. That’s usually a red flag and I won’t reply because it shows me that they can’t pay attention to detail. If you are reaching out to someone for a job, take the time to write something thoughtful and well written. Read it over and make sure you spelled everything right and had great grammar. Tell them what you can do for them and keep it brief without being too casual.
I know everyone asks you all the time, but one more time: What are your favorite photo editing apps?
I have so many! VSCO, Beauty Cam, Huji, Snapchat, Snapseed, Facetune and Facetune 2, and Bestie. If you have recommendations please send my way!!
What are some physical therapies or massages that you think every hairstylist needs to get occasionally to survive?
Right before I turned 25, I started getting really bad carpel tunnel. My hands would go numb every night and I couldn’t get feeling back in them for hours. When I went to the doctor, they told me I needed to get surgery and change careers. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen, so I did my research and decided to try everything to help my wrists. I found an amazing sports and injury massage therapist, Sheena Lopez (she’s available in LA @sheennnlopez), that helped me so much! I would get 2 massages a week from her that focused solely on my hands and arms. In addition, I went to acupuncture twice a week and changed the way I was working. Unfortunately, hairstylists aren’t taught proper technique with our bodies and wrists to prevent injury.
What are your favorite Instagram accounts to follow?