Heathfield hairdresser celebrates 30 years of styling

13th November

Not many people can claim to have never worked for anyone else during a 30-year career.

Owner and founder of Sister Styling in Broad Oak, near Heathfield, Teresa Willis says that hairdressing was all she ever wanted to do after falling in love with her future career at the tender age of just ten years old.

This month she and her team celebrate 30 years since Teresa first opened her salon on 5th November 1989. During that time Teresa estimates she has completed an incredible 45,000 haircuts and now has people travelling from all over for her expert help.

Teresa Willis in her salon

“My sister, who is ten years older than me, was a hairdresser and introduced me to the industry. I went to Heathfield Community College and then went to Lewes College where I did one day a week while completing an apprenticeship with my sister. At that time the salon was called ‘Hair by Sue’.  Finishing my qualifications coincided with Sue becoming a full-time mum and closing the salon.

“I finished my apprenticeship and at age 17 and immediately became self-employed. I spent six months as a mobile hairdresser building up a clientele before I bought the salon. Unusually I’ve never been employed by another person or business. I am proud of that but it’s meant I’ve never been able to take a holiday and completely switch off like others can. Funnily enough I even did someone’s hair on a beach in Jamaica. I didn’t know her but she was about to get married and needed some help,” Teresa chuckled.

The original salon was half of its current size and was expanded in 1995 to accommodate more staff. Since then the numbers of staff have fluctuated with the economic climate. Currently there are four team members plus Teresa. Becca, Sue, Jean and Teresa’s niece Emily who works on a Saturday. During her holidays from university Teresa’s daughter Amelia works in the salon running a nail bar and helping out where needed.

Teresa says she couldn’t have achieved what she has without the help and support of her family. For 25 years her mum Joyce used to wash 250 towels for Sister Styling every week and had a pivotal role. “She is very unassuming but gave me strength as did my father. They helped me in all sorts of ways like with book keeping and banking and picking up supplies for the salon.

“I can’t believe 30 years have gone by. It’s a huge sense of achievement and I have enjoyed every minute. There have been struggles and ups and downs, but overall it has been incredibly rewarding. I have amazing clients some of whom I have looked after since I started and I’ve also enjoyed seeing young members of staff develop and being part of all my staff members’ lives,” explains Teresa.

One of the special cakes given to clients on Sister Styling’s birthday

The mum-of-two says she still loves doing hair and is still constantly learning with the industry continually changing with new techniques and new products being launched all the time. For Teresa it’s colouring hair that is her passion but she has also built a reputation for helping clients to tame curly and unruly hair and not shying away from a challenge.

When asked about her biggest achievement Teresa says that it’s the small things that give her the most satisfaction. “Sometimes people are really nervous when they first come to the salon but over a period of weeks and months we develop a relationship and they become more relaxed and enjoy their visits. Once you find a hairdresser who understands you and you can trust – you will probably stick with them for life. Clients want honest opinions and for their hairdresser to be confident. I will always say if I don’t think something will work even if the client really wants a particular style.

“It’s not just about trusting me with their hair, clients tell me all sorts of things that they wouldn’t tell others – but when I lock the door at night I leave everything I’ve been told in the salon,” she smiles.

As for the future of Sister Styling, Teresa says there are no plans other than having a better work-life balance herself and spending more time with her family.

And what is Teresa’s advice to budding entrepreneurs? “You have to be flexible and adaptable. When the climate changes you have to act and when fashions change you have to adapt. One of my biggest strengths has been being able to reinvent myself. I have sacrificed a lot to keep going and I could have made my life easier by going to work for someone else.” 

And for youngsters thinking about entering the profession? “I still love it as much today as I did when I first started. It’s precious when you find a career that you love so much. If you want a job that will grow with you and be rewarding, hairdressing is a good choice. British qualifications are recognised around the world and lots of people actually come here to train. One of the things I would like to do is mentor young people who are starting out.”

For more information about Sister Styling or to make a booking visit the website.