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Meet our members: Sandy Chong, Australian Hairdressing Council

Updated: Aug 20

Sandy talks to us about her association, why she joined COSBOA, the challenge of finding skilled staff, and the role hairdressers play in mental well-being.This is part of a series where we interview the industry association leaders that make up COSBOA's membership.



How did you get involved in the hairdressing industry?

My aunt and my cousin were hairdressers and I thought they were so cool. They looked happy and like they were having fun, so when I was 14 I started to work in hair salons. I just felt like it was my culture and my tribe. I’ve now been a small business owner for 36 years.


How did you get involved with the Australian Hairdressing Council?

I was involved with the initial meetings in 2006, and then I became very passionate about making this association work. I was on a mission. I know there are a lot of people who talk about starting associations and it goes nowhere, but I don’t give up easily. I’m someone who has always wanted to have a really strong purpose in what I do.

It was a hard journey - one year I was out of pocket $35,000. It was a lot harder getting our message out there in the beginning without social media. In the last few years we’ve really grown and I’ve built a huge network in the hairdressing community.


What does your association do for small businesses?

We represent hairdressing and barbering to government on matters that will affect our industry and small businesses; we uplift the industry’s reputation, credibility, and image; and we support and nurture small businesses. AHC members can access a library of more than 350 resources about management and operation, employment practices, marketing, salon presentation and client service, and sustainability, to name but a few. Members also go through an accreditation check list that recognises ethical business standards and practices.


We don’t just represent salons. We also have suppliers as members, big and small, as well as government and private RTOs. The reason for that is so we can holistically talk to the industry and not have tunnel vision of just one sector. We listen to everybody and try to understand what their needs are, from employment concerns to immigration, whether they are a manufacturer, sole operator, or small business.


The AHC also chooses associate members that provide a product or service that benefits our members - for example, businesses that provide marketing and social media services, or help with rent.


Why did the AHC decide to join COSBOA?

When we joined COSBOA the AHC was a brand new association. We were too small to get noticed and there was so much that we didn’t know. We were good at small business, but we didn’t understand advocacy. We saw COSBOA as an organisation that actually understood us and could represent us well. Through COSBOA we’re able to be introduced to the people we need to meet with and go to Canberra and have a face-to-face meeting, whether it’s with a minister, a senator, or a government department.


We have learnt so much from COSBOA and the other associations and we feel like we’ve become part of a small business community. The information and the network have become invaluable, and we could not get that anywhere else.


I love the National Small Business Summit because of the networking, and the opportunity to create valuable relationships. Every summit has been invaluable.


How has the hairdressing industry been impacted by COVID-19?

On one hand, hairdressing has been affected because we’re small businesses who are closed. We cannot socially distance, so hair salons have to close, especially with the Delta variant. But many small businesses work week-to-week financially and most don’t have any money in the bank. There are concerns around business owners’ and employees’ mental health.


On the other hand, we’re being prevented from providing a service to the community. I’m aware that there are many hairdressers feeling pressured and being offered cash to go to peoples’ homes during lockdowns. Many clients are very demanding when it comes to their image because of how it relates to their self-esteem and mental health.


What is a small business advocacy topic you are passionate about and why is it important for the hairdressing industry?

At the end of 2019 a Department of Home Affairs traffic light bulletin proposed to take hairdressing off the skilled migration list, and I’ve put a lot of energy into fighting this. It’s really difficult to get skilled hairdressers and barbers to come and work for our small businesses – there simply aren’t enough around. Hairdressing is currently on the short term skilled occupation list, which means workers can only apply for a visa of two years with no pathway to residency. We would rather employ Australians than spend thousands of dollars on sponsoring someone for only two years but it’s impossible to find Australian staff with the right skills. Two years go by in a blink, so it’s not viable. We want to go on the medium and long term skills list with a pathway to residency. Hairdressing has been on the skills shortage list at the Department of Education for almost 20 years – it doesn’t make sense to take it off the skills shortage list for migration.


What is something most people don’t realise about the hairdressing industry?

Because we’re in the arts, we get taken for granted and dismissed as frivolous or not serious. If I speak to ministers and senators, there’s that need to prove who I am and who I represent really quickly.


The skills involved in hairdressing are underrated, particularly the soft skills. We have to be able to handle a large clientele with different personalities and needs, as well as know how to handle very difficult conversations. Hairdressers often have to listen to and advise members of the public who are going through tough situations such as domestic violence. It puts a lot of pressure on the hairdresser and their own mental health.


Finally, what do you love most about the hairdressing industry?

Hair salons have a happy and busy vibe, and there’s also so much you can do beyond the salon. The opportunities to expand your career on a creative level are endless. Over the course of my career, I have grabbed every single opportunity that has come my way. My staff and I have worked on fashion shows, TV, movies, and stage shows. I’ve travelled the world, whether it’s to Europe, the States, or the UK. Hairdressing has given me a lifestyle I’m happy with.


Being creative in hairdressing isn’t just about giving someone multicoloured hair. It’s about being able to help someone with their self-esteem. The number one thing that attracts a person to become a hairdresser is helping their clients look beautiful, feel confident, and walk out with a smile. It’s all about caring for others.


Learn more about the AHC here.