Located in the bustling heart of North Laine, award-winning salon Simon Webster Hair, is a true independent brand, leading the way in relaxed, cool and creative styling.
We caught up with the couple behind the renowned Brighton salon, Simon and Sophie, to hear all about their success, styling and how the city inspires them…
Hi Simon and Sophie! When and why did you create SWH?
We met as hairdresser and client in 2012. After a couple of haircuts, I (Sophie) asked him on a date and that was it; we were married and opened Simon Webster Hair within 9 months. We just clicked and it felt right, so decided to try combining our skills to open our own business. We thought that together we could build a salon that resolved the frustrations that we’d both experienced from opposite sides of the hairdresser’s chair. An opportunity arose and we just went for it.
Since then the success of the Simon Webster Hair has rocketed. Our team has grown from six to almost twenty and SWH has won awards for both our business ethics and our styling excellence. Running your own business takes hard work and dedication – it can be a rollercoaster of emotion – but the fulfilment and sense of pride in yourselves, your team and your brand is a great feeling.
What makes you different?
Our aim was to create an environment that combined the easy-going welcome of a local, family-run salon with the creativity and expertise of a high-end brand. The décor has a very homely feel, the music choices are eclectic and both our team and clientele are diverse in their interests, look and lifestyle.
Simon’s worked in session-styling for the fashion and music industries as well as in-salon for most of his career. We wanted to be able to extend the same opportunities to our team and share those experiences in-salon at SWH with our clients. That’s what inspired our brand tagline style-music-fashion. And that creative freedom and mentoring has enabled the team to really excel within the hairdressing industry within their own right; regularly styling for the most exclusive Fashion Week shows (Dior, Westwood, Balmain, DSquared2), publications (Vogue, Love, Hunger, Tatler) and artists/celebrities.
You’re also one of the first salons to introduce gender-free styling and also don’t have a ‘house-style’, why was this important to you?
We focus on inclusivity and transparency in all aspects of the SWH brand. Our gender-free styling menu prices services by time rather than gender stereotypes. There are no boundaries for our staff in terms of their work, no imposed house-style and no ‘ownership’ of clients or dictating to them. We’re more like a community or family, with a progressive approach to business that is centred around people. Everyone has a voice and identity that they contribute to the salon and SWH Team are involved in all key decision-making.
Does Brighton/ your North Laine location inspire you?
Our backgrounds are very different but we are both inspired by the arts and music, which is abundant in Brighton. Simon grew up here and has vivid memories of North Laine and Gardner Street in particular during the 70s and 80s, buying band posters and records from Jubilee Market (now GBK) so it’s appropriate that the salon is right there in the heart of that. I came to Brighton in 2005 having been a painter and writer. My intention was to just pass through on my travels – like so many people – but I loved the city so much I decided to stay.
Simon Webster Hair lives and breathes that Brighton vibe. There’s no pretentiousness, no boundaries, nothing is impossible and everyone is welcome. Independent businesses are all about people; engaging with and supporting your local community, which is more important than ever right now. And that’s what we hope the salon is – a safe space for people to come together, share their experiences and take a little time out for themselves to be pampered.
We collaborate with other homegrown Brighton businesses and charities, offering their staff and customers ‘thank you’ rewards for supporting small business. And we offer similar rewards to groups like local traders, NHS workers and students.
Our salon collections, like BN1 and New England, draw heavily on Brighton and celebrate the culture of the city. Our models are clients and friends of the salon, we shoot locally and take inspiration from the subcultures and styles seen around the streets. Our images celebrate the diversity and beauty within our city, promoting a realistic beauty aesthetic as an alternative to the highly-polished and photoshopped images we see too often in the industry.
What do you enjoy most about your vocation?
Again, it’s the people! For your clients, you can make a real difference to their day and even their lives – their sense of identity, confidence or emotions. It’s easy to underestimate just how much your hair can impact on all of those things. So the experience of having your hair cut is a very intimate one that requires trust, rapport and understanding. That interpersonal exchange is very rewarding, whether it’s a long term client, a new customer or a celebrity in your chair.
The hairdressing profession has been much maligned over history, with unfair stereotypes of stylists but it really isn’t like that. You have to be professional, consistently retrain to maintain a high level of education and focus on customer care at all times. At Simon Webster Hair, we are members of the British Hair Council, National Hairdressers’ Federation, The Fellowship of British Hairdressing and Good Salon Guide because it’s important to stay accredited and take pride in your trade. We’re one of the oldest professions and are passionate about our craft.
What’s your day to day routine like?
Our daily routine depends whether it’s a day in-salon or out on a shoot. We live locally so it’s a short walk into work through Pavilion Gardens and into the salon for 10am. The day for Simon is usually a combination of clients and planning for shoots or overseeing the styling team. I (Sophie) oversee the Front of House and admin: emails, staffing, finance and PR. The split works well for us because we each have our own responsibilities. The salon closes at 8pm.
When we started, we were open 7 days a week, but we decided to close on Sundays after only a few months because maintaining a work-life balance is really important and we wanted to make that as easy as possible for the whole team. We close for the same reason over Christmas, giving everyone 10 days off, and it’s invaluable time to relax, see family and just switch off for a while without work going on in the background. Hairdressing is busy work and you’re often on your feet all day and interacting with lots of people with very different requirements.
How about when you have shoots?
Simon and other members of the team are often involved in educating, stage work or filming around the UK and Europe. On a shoot day or when we’re working at Fashion Week, then it can start as early as 4am with hours of hair prep usually needed before the models are ready for photographing or walking the runway. If it’s a big project for a top fashion house or designer, it can often take all day, and the longest shoot we ever did was 24 hours door-to-door.
Which services are your bestsellers?
Our best-seller is undoubtedly our 60-minute cutting and styling service. There are options for shorter styling appointments and also a LUXE 90-minute package that is very popular, which incorporates style-extending treatments and take-home products. Hair extensions are growing in popularity too – we do both bonded and taped.
All clients have styling services of some kind, but we also do a high percentage of colour at Simon Webster Hair, with almost 50% of clients having a colour service (for most salons it’s around 30%). That’s due to the exceptional colour training and skill of our team; we boast 3 Colour Specialists and have won several awards. The most popular colour service is balayage – it’s a sun-kissed contouring trend that’s not going away – but we do lots of creative colour and use bespoke mixes that our colourists match to a client’s skin-tone and hair type.
You’ve won so many awards, are there any you’re particularly proud of?
There are three that are particularly special.
The first being when one of our stylists reached the 2013 UK final of a styling competition in the men’s category. It meant so much because it was in our first year of opening and we were still a small and relatively inexperienced team. The background team were also completely local, from photographer to clothing stylist to model and make-up. Although we didn’t win, our ‘look’ set the trend for competitors in subsequent years and we arguably led the way for other independent salons to enter in future years because we demonstrated that you don’t need to have a large budget or a famous name behind you to compete.
The second is when we won the Mizani Afro Look Award in 2015. It was our first outright win and we were competing against some big names. Again, our model was a client and the shoot was a local team. It was an award that helped establish our salon within the hairdressing industry and demonstrated the quality and diversity of the work we do.
And our biggest achievement was in 2017 when we won UK Ultimate Salon Award. What made that so special was that it recognised all aspects of our salon and brand, looking at our business ethics, strategies and brand ethos as well as the hairdressing itself. It celebrates the work of the whole team and recognises the importance of everything that goes on behind the scenes too. And ironically, we weren’t there to collect the award! We’d been at the ceremony but I hadn’t been well so we left early, not even considering that we’d be awarded the Ultimate Salon title. It taught us one of our greatest lessons though: never underestimate yourself!
What’s next for the SWH team?
There are always exciting things going on for us – we’re very lucky to have so many opportunities to keep us busy. We’re about to shoot our next salon collection on location around Brighton, which will be ready to release in the autumn. And we’re planning a salon event in collaboration with BaByliss Pro.
At the end of August we have one of our SWH Team members, Lora, competing to become part of the F.A.M.E Team (a group of the UK’s most exciting emerging stylists). And in September we’ve got another one of SWH Team, Linzi, competing in the Grand Final of the Great Lengths Hair Extensions Awards (she’s a past double-award-winner so fingers crossed for the triple!) And we have a short trip to Canada planned to attend the GobalZoom artistic colour competition held by Goldwell (we recently started using their hair colour in-salon and the ability to mix bespoke, dynamic tones and shades has been very exciting).
Sounds very busy and exciting! Before you go, when you’re not working, what do you enjoy getting up to in Brilliant Brighton?!
We try not to let the salon encroach too much on our personal life, but that’s easier said than done when you run your own business. Simon takes time out on his bike and heads out on solo trips through The Downs while I grab time to paint. We like to unwind by walking the dog (Bob the Schnauzer is a favourite in-salon) especially around Queens Park, Stanmer House or along the front…as long as there’s a good ale or cider en-route! And there are so many great pubs in Brighton; The Dorset, The Joker, William IV, The St James, often with great music too. Komedia is great for gigs and comedy – we go about one a month – and Dukes is our go-to cinema for film because they have such an array of genre and events.
Find Simon Webster Hair at 16 Gardner Street, Brighton.
Opening Times: Mon-Thurs 10am-8pm. Fri & Sat 10am-6pm