Austin’s queen of effortlessly chic “cool girl hair,” Emi Zehr-Do has a career in hair that’s spanned stints in Paris, Montreal and New York City. Currently traveling nationally and internationally styling and coloring hair, Emi is fluent in four languages, and has hands in projects ranging from translation and product development, to social media and digital strategy. Additionally, her work been featured by brands such as Verb and Sephora. Beyond her sheer talent and artistry within the beauty industry, Emi's courage in the face of obstacles and graceful outlook are inspiring: “You just have to find a way to continue to be humble, continue to value yourself, and just be okay with yourself in general. As long as I’m behaving in a way that is matching my intentions, then I don’t stress.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a hairstylist and I have my own business, my own salon/studio. I’ve been doing hair for 12 years, since 2004, and I’m also a social media and digital strategist consultant for a couple of different companies where I help with the product development, and also act as kind of a liaison between stylists and companies. I also dabble in some translation as well, so I always have at least 3 or 4 jobs that I’m doing. I work out of my own salon studio here in Austin, and in Su’Juk in Fort Greene in Brooklyn. This year I’m venturing out to work in Paris as well as Warsaw.
How do I deal with the ebb and flow of success as a creative person?
That’s a really hard question! I don’t really deal with it well, it’s something that depends on what phase I’m in in my life really. The more mature I am, the easier it is for me to understand that there are going to be slow times and busy times, especially when it comes to doing hair. And that clients I work with in terms of social media, digital strategy and photo-editing, that type of thing, it’s all very subjective, all very opinion-based and sometimes people aren’t going to like it. There are phases where I really recognize that I need to step it up and start getting some more training, and go to some more educational classes. I’ve even started to learn coding a little bit, since that’s coming into play with more of the freelance work that I’ve been doing. The way I deal with the ebbs and the flows, is just kind of identifying why there’s been a dip and trying to address it with education or some sort of way to teach myself to get out of them. I just try to be really humble at all times, and know that they’re coming, (though you always hope that they don’t.) And from a financial aspect, to kind of, sit on my money sometimes, because there will be months when you make much less than others. So I think the best way I’d say I do that, is to really focus on the fact that it is a circle, it is a rotation, and a good moment will come back again, and really identifying what makes those dips happen and trying to be proactive about finding solutions to them.
When is a time you felt successful? A time you felt you failed?
2018 has felt like a pretty successful year for me, just because there’s a ton of new. I really am not in one city more than two weeks out of a month, and I’m quite enjoying that, and just exploring being a little bit more of a travel stylist and working a bit more remote. And figuring that out has been a huge source of pride for me. It’s a goal I’d set for myself for a long time. There was a time I didn’t really think I could achieve that or do that. Or maybe I wasn’t really brave enough or something of the sort, lacked self-confidence, perhaps? And now that I’m in the midst of it, I would say, everything that has been in the air has slowly started to land in 2018, and I’m really grateful for that. I think what I’m doing right now is my greatest success. I think that my biggest failure in terms of my career would be, when I was teaching at Paul Mitchell school, I was teaching on the advanced academy team, working with curriculum and teaching other teachers curriculum throughout the country. I really lost my passion in that. There was a good, maybe 2 or 3 years, that I wasn’t really giving my fullest, and so over-teaching that I really didn’t invest a whole lot of time into it, or as much time as it deserved.
What’s your biggest struggle as someone in creative industry?
In particular, I work in the beauty industry and I think there is this common misconception that the beauty industry is very open and very female friendly, that type of thing. And as someone who is openly trans, as a transwoman in this community and the beauty industry, there are a lot of roadblocks that you’ll hit, especially when you’re trying to further your career. That can be from clientele not being comfortable with you as you’re transitioning or not being comfortable with who you quote unquote “become.” But more than anything, when I’m working with different product companies, or going to interviews to do translation work or editing work, there’s always a fear from me or a big risk for me as a transwoman, knowing that that’s enough to not accept me, or that’s enough not to hire me. And that’s not always the reason why, of course not, that I’m maybe not getting some of the jobs that I would otherwise get, but it’s definitely a road block, because people spend so much time wanting you to explain your transness that you don’t really get to show your talent. On the other edge of the sword, people want to sell their product, people want to be popular in the beauty industry, and sometimes having a transperson on their team, they’re worried that it will make other people uncomfortable or people’s morality comes into play. You just really never know. So you walk into a lot of situations without really knowing how the people you’re interacting with are going to feel about you. And it’s been a couple of times now that I’ve worked with a couple of companies that have flat out said to me that, look we’d hire you otherwise for this project or whatever it might be, but being trans is still something that’s very politicized and can be very controversial even in the beauty industry, so it’s a no. And that’s kind of the most painful and the most difficult part of being a transwoman in any environment, but also in a creative environment.
What's your daily routine? Your weekend routine?
I typically wake up at 10am. I check my emails, I’ll respond to one of my bosses who works on Paris time and try to get a bit of work done in social media land, then start to get ready. I’m someone that likes to wear a full face of makeup and that sort of thing, so that will take about 45 minutes of getting ready. I like to grab a coffee. Typically I go to Houndstooth, so you can always find me there. I really need that time at the coffee shop, like a good 45 minutes to start to talk to people and to start to open up, because I’m typically quite rigid, and I find that when I have that bit of time before I do my first client, to relax and to get used to talking to people, it gets a lot easier. Because then, the whole day I’m on, I’m talking to people all day long and conversing about really intense, to really shallow things, and you just never know what the situation is going to be like. I’ll probably work until about 8pm, go home, take a bath, I’m a bath person, and play with my cats, eat dinner, perhaps go out to dinner with a friend. I’m somewhat of a homebody, so nothing quite spectacular.
How do you motivate yourself to actually get things done?
It’s really my background to get things done. I’m extremely self-motivated because I'm I’m from a strict upbringing. My biggest motivation is my family always, and just knowing what they sacrificed to get this opportunity for me to live whatever kind of life I wanted to live. So I really don’t let myself be lazy ever. I am kind of the collector of jobs for that reason, because I don’t really sit around a whole lot. So I think my biggest motivation is really my family, and witnessing the work they had to do as a child, and how they didn’t give up on anything ever, no matter how big or small. It really makes me feel like there’s no option. So I just keep going, all the time.
How do you manage stress/anxiety that’s inevitable with putting yourself out there?
I have a really good therapist. That’s how I manage it. My self-preservation relies fully on my therapist. Weekly therapy is really what gets me through a lot, because I have a personal life too. I think that I have learned that there’s very little you can change beyond yourself, and so my way of managing stress is asking myself if what I’m doing is matching the intentions of what I want to manifest or put out there, and if it is, I can’t worry about what other people will say or do, or jealousy or haters. There’s a lot of people who don’t want transpeople to succeed, and the more and more of a following you get, the more intense that harassment can be sometimes. And you just have to ignore it. You just have to find a way to continue to be humble, continue to value yourself, and just be okay with yourself in general. As long as I’m behaving in a way that is matching my intentions, then I don’t stress about it.
How do you know when it's time to rest?
Someone has to tell me. Literally, someone has to tell me. I fly a lot, I move around a lot, and those 3 ½ hours on a plane sometimes, or for example, I was on an 8 hour train to Montreal the other week, those are really my times to rest. I always carry those under eye masks, I throw them on, and I have a Hello Kitty sleeping mask I put on, and wrap up in a blanket. Those are my typical times that I really feel like I’m decompressing the most, is in-between one place and another. But it’s time to rest when someone stops me, I’m not really good at that, that’s where I need to grow. I’m not very good at figuring that part out yet!
How do you manage the internet/social media?
The internet and social media are the greatest gift, because my business really relies so much on it. I’ve gotten so many work opportunities because of social media and because of Instagram. I work within social media now as well, I work on a lot of freelance projects for different companies. And for myself as a hairstylist, putting my work out there is crucial. So really, I owe all of my success to Instagram. But it’s a double-edged sword because the more, hmm I don’t like the word popular, but the more known you are on Instagram or wherever, the more people want you to fail. I’m kind of in that place right now where I recently hit something like 8500 followers, and that’s really unreal and bizarre to me, like why are that many people following me? But also that’s really cool, and I’m really grateful. I try not to think about it a whole lot, but there it is. All of my clients are from Instagram, and it’s weird now when clients will pull up a picture of work I did and ask to do on them. It’s a really big accomplishment for me, and something I take a lot of pride in. I just try to stay as humble as possible when it comes to the internet because I see it goes to so many people’s head, and it’s like okay, you have like 10K followers, 25k followers but how many real connections do you have? There’s a bunch of haters always, and when you’re a marginalized person in any capacity, people are going to hate you more. So, the way I handle the internet and social media, is not think about it too much, but also be really grateful for what it does for me. And then ignore. Ignore hardcore, people who just don’t like you.
How do you set goals/set yourself up to achieve?
Everything is a stepping stone for me. I’ll think, okay I did this project or this work, or I’ll look back at a point of time, like where I was as a hairstylist in 2015 versus now. And I’ll just kind of set a goal, that whatever I do next has to be better. It has to have more intention put to it. I really try to make sure that everything I do is very, very thoughtful.
What's your big dream? Do you have one?
So I kind of feel like my biggest dream I’m kind of in the midst of manifesting now, which was not to be tied to one location and to be a traveling hairstylist. And I just want to do more and more, be a beauty editor, get published more, and work more and more with digital social media. I’d like to get a little bit more into product development, I think that’s really fun. I’d say that my biggest dream is kind of a rough one with the political climate that we’re in right now, but I would love to be able to be able to return home someday, because that’s currently a place where it’s illegal for me to go. To work and do hair there, would be really poignant and touching and a sign of a lot of change. But I’m not going to hold my breath on that. So I think that my biggest dream is kind of the life that I’m living right now, so that’s really cool.