OUAI’s Jen Atkin
She’s the go-to hair stylist to Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lopez and the Kardashian’s, plus, she’s the founder of luxe haircare brand, OUAI. Fabled meets Jen Atkin.
I’ve always loved doing hair. When I was a teenager in Utah, I couldn’t find anyone to give me the cut I wanted so I went to the store, bought a pack of shaving razors and cut it myself! After high school, I drove to California with $300 to my name and started as a receptionist at Estilo Salon in Beverly Hills.
Madonna changed the course of my career. Chris McMillan opened up his own salon in Beverly Hills, and I went to work with him as an assistant. One of the stylists, Andy Lecompte, was this star on the rise. Andy had just started doing Madonna's hair, and he asked me to assist him. Then he asked me to go on Madonna's "Confessions" tour with him in 2006. I styled the hair for her dancers and that was it - my career started to take off.
In the beginning I had to compete a lot with men. I’m lucky that now I live in a time where celebrity is such an influence in culture and that women are really able to create big businesses in the beauty industry, particularly hair. My biggest career challenge now is growing with the growth while making time for my relationship. I overcome it by first and foremost having an amazingly understanding husband who also knows how demanding the industry can be.
I struggled finding a haircare brand that I identified with, or spoke to me or my clients. A brand that engaged with its consumers, a relatable brand. I’ve spent years travelling, talking to women, listening to my followers and Mane Addicts readers (Jen’s online hair destination) about their haircare needs. There was a major lack of curated products in the marketplace. I wanted to create the breath of "fresh hair" in haircare. I wanted to create a line "for real life, for real women,’ and I wanted haircare to be smart and cool. I am a minimalist and I want to encourage women to be themselves, have fun and get back to basics with their haircare. Haircare has become so serious and cheesy. I'm sick of give women hair aspiration they'll never get to.
Developing OUAI (pronounced ‘way’) was a natural progression from working with my celebrity clients – but, not everyone wakes up with a ‘Glam Squad.’ I learned so much watching Jessica Alba [run The Honest Company] and seeing people gravitate toward the idea of a home delivery service for a necessity. From that, I put together a business plan with my ideas for OUAI Haircare. I detailed what I wanted the products to look like, what ingredients I wanted to use, and the concept of hair care supplements. I was lucky to find investors in people I already knew and the website and subscription service launched in February 2016.
You have to stand up for yourself and let people know you mean business. I feel like girls are taught to be deprecating and not to be tough. I’m all about having a balance of being nice but tough when you need to be.
Our industry can be very competitive, and I’ve just never really been about that. I used to have a Serge Normant quote on my locker at the salon that said, ‘Don’t be jealous of your peers — be inspired by them.’ With Mane Addicts, I wanted to expose the friendly nature of hairstyling and just spread the message that we’re all so much more powerful when we work together!