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“You can earn a lot as a hair stylist”

Born into a family that couldn’t afford food or clothes, Thomas Tandle today earns a fortune styling Bollywood biggies’ hair.

Star hair stylist Thomas Tandle’s life story is truly inspirational. He had an extremely difficult childhood. His family struggled to buy new clothes, footwear, and sometimes, even food. He also had to drop out of school after Class X to work in a salon to support his family and earn a living.

Today, thanks to his expertise in hair styling, sheer dedication and hard work, Thomas has become the first person in his family to own a house in Mumbai, drive a big car, and run a salon in the upscale Sun-n-Sand hotel, and will soon open several more across India. “I never wanted to become a hair stylist. My father wanted me to follow his footsteps and become a mechanic,” says Thomas. But his older sister Stephie, then 21, was working at a Nalini & Yasmin salon, and asked 19-year-old Thomas to give hair cutting a shot. “The first time I entered a salon, I wanted to run away because there were just women there,” he adds, laughs.

But he didn’t, and started working as a junior hair stylist, giving washes and blow drying hair. “That small room in the salon became my window to the world. I met interesting people every day who would share their life stories and experiences with me.”

That got Thomas hooked to hair styling to a point that he studied hair all the time. “I could see hair everywhere and would constantly try and analyse his/her hair structure and imagined what hair cut would suit them better.”

A year after working at a Bandra salon, Thomas was moved to Nalini & Yasmin’s Sun-n-Sand salon, which was well-known for its outstanding blow dries. But the stylists there didn’t use a nozzle. “I saw what they were doing and learnt to give great blow dries using a nozzle without any products. That’s my USP even today.”

It was the blow dries with a great finish – smoothness and a great fall – that won Thomas several clients. “Luckily for me, my first client was Sussanne Khan who referred me to many others, including Pinky Roshan, Hrithik Roshan’s mother,” says Thomas. What also helped Thomas was his determination to give the best hair cuts ever. “I had to make it happen to get out of my financial situation and for my sister, who made innumerable sacrifices for me.”

As time went by, Thomas also convinced his clients to let him cut their hair, starting with trims. He, obviously, was good, and that’s when Nalini and Yasmin started sending him for various hair cutting courses to enhance his skills. At one point, they also wanted him to go abroad to learn, but Thomas couldn’t. “I was in no position to take a loan to fly to a foreign country and study. But that didn’t deter me. I would tell my colleagues to teach me what they learnt abroad.”

Ten years after working with Nalini and Yasmin, Thomas partnered with a businessman to launch his own salon. “That was the highest point of my career. I was on top of the world,” he says. After running it in two different locations in Juhu for five years, Thomas signed a deal with Nalini and Yasmin and took over their Sun-n-Sand salon, where he met his wife Trupti.

But even after so many years, Thomas works all 365 days and has never taken a single day off since he has been working, except during Covid-19-induced lockdowns. “My break is the 90 minutes I spend in the gym everyday. That’s how I vent out my anger and frustration and feel refreshed.”

Thomas then gets back to work, cutting hair, doing blow dries for a very selective clientele and supervising every aspect of running a salon, right from how a customer is greeted and treated to managing and training his juniors and colleagues at work.

One very important lesson he teaches them is honesty. Thomas claims that he will never agree to do a hair treatment that is harmful for a client’s hair, nor will he ever sell products that they don’t need. “In the last ten years, I have never done hair straightening and never will as it damages hair,” says Thomas. “In the long run, only honesty will help you sustain your business.”

What a hair stylist must do is carefully study their client’s hair texture, his/her personality, suggest a hair cut accordingly and treat them well. “Some people want shorter hair, someone more funky, but it’s our job to explain what would look good and what not,” says Thomas. “We are often asked to give haircuts that can make a face look thinner, is easy to maintain and can be tucked behind one’s ears. The demands are many and we have to cater to as many as possible.”

The job becomes slightly harder with celebrities. “I haven’t really had any actor throw tantrums, but I have to ensure their privacy and make them feel comfortable,” says Thomas. “They may not ask for it but when they walk into the salon, other clients stare at them. Hence, you rather make them sit in a separate room.” Some celebrities also ask for hair cuts at home.

Looking back at his illustrious journey, Thomas is grateful for being a hair stylist, a profession that has helped him lead a successful life and earn money. “This profession has a lot of scope. If you are great at your job, you can earn lots of money, own and run a chain of salons across the country or even world,” says Thomas.

Picture credit: Sarth Parab

Riddhi Doshi
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