How Justine Marjan Went From Salon Receptionist to In-Demand Hairstylist

The multi-hyphenate creative shares how she's managed to maintain an active portfolio full of red carpet, backstage and brand work while also building a strong, dedicated social media community.

<p>Photo: Chris Cruz/Courtesy of Justine Marjan</p>

Photo: Chris Cruz/Courtesy of Justine Marjan

In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.

How does one sum up a career that's absolutely brimming with career-defining moments? That was the question I kept coming back to as I interviewed hairstylist and multi-hyphenate creative Justine Marjan about the professional path she's taken and how it's evolved over the past few decades. The answer, it turns out, is clear: You don't.

While plenty of successful beauty creatives get pigeonholed into being known mainly as "celebrity hairstylists," "content creators," "backstage staples" and the like, each of those titles are just as accurate as the others when it comes to describing Marjan and the work for which she's known. Marjan had identified an interest in fashion and beauty at a young age, but it wasn't until she began working as a receptionist at a salon after high school that she began to forge a clear professional path in the industry. After landing simultaneous gigs assisting both Kristin Ess and Jen Atkin — who themselves would prove to become multi-hyphenates in the hair space — she came to understand that her creative passion and talent could take her in many different complementary directions.

"I realized that you can be all things and don't need to fit into a box to achieve your goals," she tells Fashionista, reflecting on that early time in her career.

Today, Marjan's resumé includes a stacked roster of celebrity clientele (she's worked with Ashley Graham, Dove Cameron, Khloé Kardashian, Jasmine Sanders, Kerry Washington, Hailey Bieber and Olivia Culpo, among others) and key shows at New York Fashion Week (she's directed the look for the likes of Christian Siriano, Alice + Olivia, Chromat, Rebecca Minkoff, Naeem Khan, Cushnie, Tanya Taylor and Jonathan Simkhai). And then there are her brand partnerships: Marjan has been a brand ambassador for both TreSemmé and GHD for six years, and also signed on with hair extensions brand Great Lengths more recently. A creative through and through with a background in blogging and content creation for hair platform Mane Addicts, Marjan has also amassed a dedicated social following, with nearly half a million followers on Instagram and more than 100K on TikTok. In other words, there's pretty much no aspect of professional hairstyling that Marjan hasn't dabbled in — and conquered.

Ahead, the in-demand hairstylist and creative shares how she's managed to maintain an active portfolio full of red carpet, backstage and brand work while also building a strong, dedicated social media community. (Spoiler alert: Hard work is a crucial factor.) Read on for the highlights of our conversation.

Ashley Graham wearing hair by Marjan at the 2019 Met Gala.<p>Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images</p>
Ashley Graham wearing hair by Marjan at the 2019 Met Gala.

Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Tell me about how you first got interested in beauty and hair. Did you always know that's what you wanted to do?

I've always loved beauty, art and fashion, but never knew what kind of career possibilities that could lead to. At a very young age, I wanted to be President, so that I could plant flowers all over the country where the landscaping was 'ugly.'

As I got older, an interest grew in all things dexterous and creative. I learned to sew and was interested in fashion, costume design, set design, photography and even food styling. In high school, I used to braid everyone's hair on the school bus, do my friends' hair and makeup for school dances; my friends and I even cut and colored each other's hair in our garages.

I ended up having a pretty miserable high school experience and missing my opportunity to take the SATs. Before that, I'd always assumed I would go off to college after high school like all my friends. When things didn't pan out, I started taking classes at my local community college while I figured out what direction to take. I was waiting for a bus one day and noticed a local hair salon across the street from the station. I thought it looked cool, so I went in and left a note for the owner asking if they had any shadow opportunities. They called me back pretty quickly letting me know they were hiring a receptionist. It was through my job as a salon receptionist that I was opened up to the world of hairstyling.

Before that, I'd never realized that it was someone's job to style hair for a magazine shoot, ad campaigns or red carpets. Keep in mind this was before social media, and access to industry insiders who worked behind the scenes was virtually non-existent. I realized that fashion, editorial and celebrity hairstyling put together many of my passions: beauty, art, photography, fashion and hair.

Once you identified your passion for hairstyling, how did you start pursuing it professionally?

I went to cosmetology school and worked in that original salon for eight years, working my way up from receptionist to stylist to master stylist and educator. I took advanced/master classes every six months to refine my skills and network while trying to find a way to break into the industry. I used to buy magazines and flip to the back to find the credits of the hairstylists that did the shoots. I read the Allure beauty guides, and scoured magazines for articles on celebrity salons and stylists.

I found an article in V Magazine about Madonna's hairstylist, Andy Lecompte, and his salon in West Hollywood, and I knew that was where I needed to work. I used to drive to L.A. on Mondays from Santa Barbara and ask if they were hiring an assistant, only to get turned down again and again. By now, Instagram had come around, and I was following several hairstylists who I admired. I saw that both Kristin Ess and Jen Atkin had posted about looking for an assistant. I applied for both positions and ended up getting hired by both of them! Jen worked at Andy Lecompte's salon, so it felt like it was meant to be.

I worked part-time for both before Jen brought me on full-time, as she was starting Mane Addicts as an editorial platform and needed someone to spearhead it. I had experience blogging, taking photos and creating content so I wore many hats in launching Mane Addicts while also assisting. At the time, she only had two employees, so I was hair assisting and personal assisting while also editorial directing Mane Addicts and driving back to Santa Barbara any free day I had to do my own clients to pay the bills. I worked seven days a week, all hours of the day. No job was too big or too small for me.

Eventually, Jen was starting Ouai, and her availability to do clients' [hair] lessened. She referred me when she was unavailable, and I was able to build my own clientele through word of mouth. I ended up getting some amazing brand partnerships with TreSemmé and GHD — both of which I still work with today, six years later — which has led to other incredible opportunities.

You've struck such a balance as a hairstylist who's a personality and influencer, making yourself accessible to your community on social media, but you also work with celebrities, major brands and key shows backstage at fashion week. How do you juggle all of that? Was it a conscious choice to build your career and set it up in that way?

I realized the power of social media when I moved to L.A. It was the perfect place to market yourself, showcase your work and build a mini portfolio. I booked many of my first L.A. clients from social media. I took an almost backwards path in my career: Many hair and makeup artists start out at an agency to build their clientele, then start working with brands. I was booking all of my celebrity clients without an agent, then booked brand partnerships, then started working with an agency.

I realized there's no straight line to success and that we need to carve our own paths. I love that I'm able to fuse the influencer world with celebrity and fashion. I love seeing more people from behind the scenes put themselves out there. It's liberating and inspiring.

A hairstyle from Christian Siriano's Fall 2019 show by Marjan.<p>Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images for TreSemmé</p>
A hairstyle from Christian Siriano's Fall 2019 show by Marjan.

Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images for TreSemmé

How important has social media been to you in terms of being a tool to help you grow and advance your career?

I completely grew my career on social media. It has allowed me an outlet to showcase my work, share tips and build a community online. Social media is the new search engine — if you aren't using it for your line of work, you're stuck in the stone ages.

Where do you find inspiration?

I'm super inspired by trends of the past. I love watching old movies, period pieces and flipping through old magazines for inspiration. Trends are cyclical, so we will always see what was old become new again.

What misconceptions do you think people might have about your career and what you do?

That it's glamorous. It's often the reason it can be so hard to find an assistant. People have unrealistic expectations and want the fast track to the finish line. People see private planes and red carpets on social media, but don't realize that's only a small portion of what goes on. There's a lot of waiting around in dressing rooms, running errands, prepping hair pieces and early call times that go into it.

What do you think it takes to become a successful hairstylist today?

There's a quote I heard that I think applies to every industry: There are three qualities that breed success, and you only need to have two out of the three to go places — be on time, have a good personality and/or be good at your actual job.

<p>Photo: Courtesy of Justine Marjan</p>

Photo: Courtesy of Justine Marjan

How do you choose which brands you partner with?

I love working with brands that I truly believe in. I love brands that have products that deliver great results, that value female empowerment and that have values I align with.

I've been working with TreSemmé and GHD for the past six years. I love TreSemmé because of their commitment to uplift women and put them in leadership positions, and the accessibility of their products. They're affordable and deliver great results. I think all women should have access to products that make them feel good about themselves. I love working with GHD because they're a professional line with incredible quality tools that protect the health of your hair. They work so hard on the science that goes into each innovation. They deliver products that are timeless and last. I've been using their tools since I was a salon stylist, and have truly seen the results first hand.

I also recently started working as the brand ambassador for Great Lengths extensions. This was a particularly exciting partnership for me as I love extensions, and Great Lengths were the true innovators in bringing hair extensions mainstream in the '90s. They're the only hair extensions company I've seen that's completely transparent about where the hair comes from and guarantees ethical sourcing. The quality is completely unmatched, and their application process preserves the health of your hair.

What career goals do you still hope to accomplish?

So many. I had a capsule collection of hair accessories with Kitsch that was a huge accomplishment for me. I hope to have more capsule collections in the future, and to one day run my own company.

What advice do you have for those aspiring to follow a career path similar to yours?

Be willing to take two steps back to take one step forward. There were moments when I was working for Mane Addicts that I felt like I wasn't even doing hair, as I was spending most of my time writing stories, producing content, conducting interviews, copywriting and so on. Now I realize these are all skills that I use for my own social and career.

What has been your proudest moment or biggest accomplishment in your career so far?

Seeing my capsule collection with Kitsch selling in Sephora stores, having clients for major red carpets like the Met Ball and the Oscars, traveling the world for my career, being the key stylist for 'Project Runway,' being one of the few female leads backstage at NYFW, judging the North American Hairstyling Awards, teaching a master class in Dubai — the list could go on!

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

The biggest challenge has probably been not comparing my path to others. Because there's no clear career path or straight line to success in my field, it's hard not to compare your own path to those of your colleagues. As an artist, you're also only as good as your last job. There's a lot of unpredictability, and sometimes it can be disheartening to see a client book someone else instead of you or see an opportunity you were hoping for go to someone else. You have to have a lot of mental strength to not beat yourself up over it or take things personally.

What has been the most valuable lesson you've learned in the course of your career?

Be kind to everyone.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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