Justine Marjan met her mentors on Instagram.
She moved to LA with the talent and tenacity to build her own hair and beauty empire. She also had a calculated digital strategy that has established her as one of the industry’s most sought-after artists.
In the early days, Justine published a personal blog and maintained a curated Instagram presence that showcased her work and demonstrated tutorials. This digital portfolio allowed her to create a consumer-facing brand and to act as her own agent, manager, cheerleader, and publicist all at once. New to Los Angeles, sans representation, she drove across the city to salons she loved to drop off resumes every weekend. She blindly reached out to two of the industry’s biggest icons on Instagram - (both C&C100 alum!) - Jen Atkin and Kristen Ess. The best part? They replied.
Years have passed since those initial Instagram interactions, and Justine’s career has been skyrocketing ever since. Her client roster reads like the guest list of a legendary party at the Chateau Marmont. Think Ashley Graham, Olivia Culpo, Shay Mitchell, and America’s royal family, the Kardashians.
She’s also the global stylist for TRESemme (no biggie), the former editorial director of Mane Addicts (which, if you know, you know), and co-parent to Cashew, a mini goldendoodle who loves a strong fashion moment.
How did you get your foot in the door and make your mark in the hairstyling business?
I had been working in a salon in my hometown for eight years when I realized I needed to move to a larger city to meet my goals and continue to grow in my field. I started reaching out to hairstylists I admired in Los Angeles through social media and replied to a few social media ads. I would drive to LA every weekend to drop off resumes and check in to salons I loved. Eventually Kristin Ess and Jen Atkin replied and I worked part-time for both of them until the workload with Jen picked up so much that I ended up working with her full-time. I was one of two employees at the time, so my duties included helping launch Mane Addicts and OUAI. I had experience blogging, so I spearheaded Mane Addicts as editorial director while also acting as a personal assistant and assisting Jen with hair, all while taking my own clients on the side. I felt like I had 5 jobs and was easily working 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week. When Jen launched OUAI and her empire started to build, she had less time for her clients and, at this point, her clients knew and trusted me, so I would do their hair when she wasn’t available. Eventually things picked up through referrals and word of mouth, and I was able to branch off on my own.
You have such a large presence on social media. How has it impacted your career?
I attribute my entire career to social media. When I first started in LA, I connected with people through social media and they used my social pages like a digital portfolio to verify my credibility. I also had a personal blog I promoted through social, so when Jen was starting Mane Addicts, she knew I had experience not only in hair, but also with writing and photography. I realized early on how powerful social media is in marketing and branding yourself. You no longer need an agent to get your name out there, so I used my Instagram to promote my work and skills and didn’t have an agent for the first couple years of my career as a freelancer. I am constantly using my Instagram to post tutorials, connect with my followers, share my knowledge, build relationships with my peers, colleagues, editors, brands, and find potential new clients. I can easily say that 70% of my job is social media.
Working with celebrities sounds like it can involve a lot of pressure. What’s been the biggest challenge and the biggest reward in having a famous roster of clients?
The biggest challenge is the continuous artist struggle, or the freelance blues. As an artist, our business comes in ebbs and flows, sometimes it’s abundant and sometimes it’s quiet.
When working with high profile clients, it’s important to remember not to take it personally when they work with someone else or when they are having a bad day. It’s imperative that your ego is put aside and you remember that we work in the service industry, and that before anything else, our most important job is taking care of our clients.
The biggest reward is seeing my work make a best beauty list or seeing the finished photos in a campaign or on the red carpet. I love seeing everything come together from head to toe and it feels so good to collaborate with other creatives.
What characteristics make you successful in the beauty industry?
Working with celebrities means there is no room for ego. It’s so important to have an adaptable personality and not to take things personally. More than talent, making sure you are of service to your client and make them feel great will go a long way. There are a lot of wild personalities in the industry and we’re all artists so it’s hard not to get competitive or take things personally, but you have to remind yourself that you will attract clients who are like you, so think about what you are projecting into the world.
What does it take to build a beauty brand from the ground up in today’s world?
Consumers are more educated than ever and want to be involved in the process of what beauty means. It’s no longer about a pro telling you what to do or buy, instead consumers want to feel like they are a part of the conversation. We’re seeing so many amazing social-first beauty brands pop up and it’s created for great communities of conscientious consumers who feel connected to something larger. I love that founders can have a direct form of communication with their audience and address what real people actually want and need. I’m so impressed with how Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Gores have launched Summer Fridays as a social-first company that now is available in major stores like Sephora.
What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?
I love partnering with brands and creating something amazing! One of my biggest accomplishments in 2018 was creating a line of hair accessories with Kitsch. It was such a career bucket list moment to be able to design beautiful pieces and see them come to life. I love watching people wear them and getting feedback from real people wearing them!
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
There’s enough work to go around for everyone. Don’t be threatened by your peers, be inspired by them. There’s always going to be enough work for us all to be successful.
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
My amazing partnership with Tresemme which has allowed me to lead the hair backstage for shows like Jonathan Simkhai, Cushnie et Ochs, and Alice and Olivia during New York Fashion Week. I’ve always looked up to the legends who key shows like Guido Palau and Odile Gilbert so being in their company is such an honor.
Where does your passion/drive come from?
I didn’t grow up with a lot of money and I always had to work for what I wanted. My father was an immigrant and worked so hard to support our family. I saw my parents struggle to support 2 daughters and a son with a disability that I’ve always really pushed myself to be my best and accomplish something. I hated hearing ‘we can’t afford that’ or negative connotations around money and success that in my late teens and throughout my 20’s I worked so hard to change my conditioning and mindset. I am constantly pushing myself to be better and grow to build the life I want.
What are the common challenges you've seen among female hairstylists?
Even in a female-centric industry like the beauty industry, it is still male-led. Among the top tier of talent, there are few women and the boards of many of the major brands are still majority male. The industry can feel like a “boys’ club,” where men look out for each other and the women have to work twice as hard to get noticed and be twice as careful about their actions and appearance. High-profile women can often be threatened by women around them, so they prefer to have male glam squads. Women also have to worry about the impact having children will have on a freelance career. As the breadwinner, it’s hard to think about taking time off to have a child and how that will impact crazy work hours and travel schedule. Overall we’re still working for gender equality in the beauty industry, just as we are in all industries.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road and switch gears to find success?
It’s important to remember that every experience in your life serves a purpose. Although it may seem like one door is closing, another one will always open and we have to be prepared to make space for that in our lives. It’s hard to let go of what we are attached to, but sometimes our attachments can limit us and we need to make space for growth. I heard a great quote about how worrying about something before it happens only means you worry twice. I try to keep an open mind while taking each roadblock and setback one step at a time.
Whose career really inspires you?
Jen Atkin’s career inspires everyone. I worked for her for years when I first moved to LA and she has been the most significant mentor and influence in my life. I admire her humble beginnings, how hard she works, what a big heart she has, her sense of humor, energy, and confidence! She has been able to expand out of just hair and make a name for herself as a businesswoman, pioneer, innovator, and influencer. I am honored to have her in my corner and will always look at her accomplishments as inspiration!
What’s next for you in 2019? What are you most excited for?
I am stepping into the unknown in 2019. I will be with a new agency January 2019 and it’s a big unexpected change in my life so I am trying to keep an open mind and be ready for what is to come. I also have an exciting TV opportunity that will air in the spring, more hair accessory drops with Kitsch, and hopefully a lot more travel, clients, and surprises in store!
Photography by Annie McElwain Photography
Photoshoot skincare provided by Dermalogica