Originally published on White Noise

September 2018

As someone who battled with acne for over a decade before finding a peaceful resolution, skincare is one of my biggest passions. I’m very eager to meet someone who loves it just as I do. As Jin Kwon walks over with a warm smile, I notice how flawless her skin is, a vivid testimony to why Korean beauty has become so popular across the globe. Jin is the CEO of Tonic15, a company that scouts for the best Korean skincare brands and brings their products to the UK.

Korean-born Jin’s love of skincare was passed down from her mother. She gives me some contextual background on skincare in Korea, explaining that going to a dermatologist is part of everyday life in the Far East. Just like my own, her journey with skin cosmetics has been an on-going one. “I realise how important skincare is as I age. I’m 34 now, soon to be 35. A face isn’t just a face. It isn’t just about what brand you put on it. It’s how stressed you are, how you manage it and what you eat. Your lifestyle shows on your skin.” It’s true. Processed sugar, dairy and hormonal changes turn my skin into an angry, bulbous battlefield.

Much like myself, Jin has always had her heart set on starting a business; she tells me that she originally wanted to set up a Korean fried chicken place when immigrating to London, but her husband wasn’t so keen. Graduating with an MBA from the London Business School last year gave Jin the kick that she needed. “I felt it was my last chance to start up a business.”

She decided to take the plunge and utilise her network of beauty magazines, spa, professionals and friends in the beauty industry. Jin explains how the scouting and on boarding process works. “If I find an interesting brand, I’ll reach out to them and help to bring them into the European market. It’s quite difficult because we have to go through regulations and compliance,” she says. “I’ll work with the brand on their branding and marketing in the UK.”

Finding a routine that works for you is a game of Russian roulette with your visage, which Jin knows all about. Her business partner in Korea works alongside a number of Korean beauty brands, meaning Jin always has plenty of samples to try out. “I’m the master guinea pig. I have panel including people with different types of skin. Everyone has different skin so you have to test it on a lot of different types.” She compares her skin to her husband’s. “He has oily skin with acne. I have dry combination skin. I can’t promo what I don’t believe in. My goal is to share high quality products that I like and that works.”

I’m interested to know Jin feels Asian beauty has become so popular in the West.

She says, “The quality of Korean products is outstanding. Korean beauty is such an interesting space and its customers are super demanding when it comes to beauty. They’re really well educated. People are always checking the ingredients of products. If a brand has really harsh ingredients like parabens, then people never buy it.”

Ever the eager beaver, I want to know more about the ingredients in skincare products from the East.  “In Asia, horse oil is very popular. It has a lot of vitamin E. I’ve seen seahorse as an ingredient. Korean products are known for ingredients like snails and those are good, but now you see a lot of plant-based ingredients. I’m more focused on that. I make sure there are no harsh ingredients in it.” Harsh chemicals are a no-no for me too. They can mess with the skin’s natural barrier, causing inflammation, breakouts, dryness and rashes. I steer clear of products with benzoyl peroxide, which make my skin dry and itchy.

Korean skincare is infamously known for its 10-step routines, which Jin doesn’t abide by. “It’s about making sure you clean, nourish and protect your skin. You don’t need to use 10 products. It’s about finding the right skincare routine that you can use within a short time and keep it simple.” That’s exactly what Tonic15 does with its 15-minute fixes. “Everyone’s busy. No matter how busy we are, we should have those 15 minutes of taking caring of ourselves.”

With autumn on the way bringing with it dry and cold air, it’s time for a skincare overhaul, but not all at once. Jin says it’s important to build a relationship with each product to see how it reacts. She gives me some more tips “You shouldn’t exfoliate seven days a week, but it’s good twice or three times a week to make sure you don’t have dead skin cells piling up.” She says, “It’s good to moisturise and mix a little bit of oil for a good hydration level. During the changing season, you need to use products that are thicker in texture.”

With enviable skin, I’m dying to know about Jin’s routine. “If I have make up on, I’ll use an oil cleanser and then I’ll use a foam cleanser and toner,” she explains. “It depends on how lazy I am, but I’ll use a sheet mask and moisturiser, or Essence and cream moisturiser. Twice a week I exfoliate. When my skin feels dull, it’s a bit of a psychological thing, I’ll use a sugar polish or mandelic acid.”

If you feel like jumping on the Korean beauty bandwagon, here’s a rundown of Jin’s favourite products.  “Black sugar polish from Klairs.When you use it, it’s such a treat. It exfoliates really well. You feel the difference. It has the oil in it as well as shea butter. After you exfoliate, it keeps your skin moisturised and balanced.” Toner? “The mandelic toner is milder than your typical AHA or BHA toners. It works for sensitive skin.” Serum? “Huxley has such good quality prickly pear seed oil. It’s not sticky but has a velvety texture.” What if you’re looking for a quick fix? “We have the Huxley sheet mask.” What’s the last step? “Mist with oil is important. Essence with lotus leaf extract by the Lotus is lovely with a lovely scent.”

Jin sends me away with my first taste of East Asian beauty. It’s a mini pamper kit including a scrub, a selection of masks, as well as a chemical exfoliator (to slough off those dead skin cells and clean out my pores). It’s too early to see the effects, as you should really commit to a product for at least 28 days (it takes roughly that amount of time for your skin to regenerate), but the difference in quality is obvious. I’ve completely fallen in love with sheet masks and I’m eagerly awaiting my next batch of Korean skincare products.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m officially a K-Beauty convert.



Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

From snipping the locks of Diane Abbott to P. Diddy’s mum, we met the celebrity hairdresser shaping an afro revolution.

Walking down a narrow corridor into Derek ‘DeCutter’ Clement’s section of Bella & Bello Hair and Beauty in Ealing, I’m met with a flurry of customers entering, leaving and waiting. Known for his dedication to black hair, the Grenada-born hairdresser’s career spans over three decades. Having worked with the likes of Billy Ocean and Patti LaBelle and in the historic Splinters salon, his CV is enviable. The DeCutter range now encompasses hair products, cosmetics, and nutrition. He’s even penned a series of erotic novels set in hairdressing salons.

Derek shared the secret of great haircut, the future of black hair, and how he impressed P. Diddy.

You’ve said that hairdressing found you after you visited a salon. What was it about that visit?

I never knew about hairdressing and the services provided by Mark James hair supplies online . I must’ve been 17 or 18, walked into Splinters International, owned by the late Winston Isaacs. While I’m sitting there waiting for my girlfriend to get her hair done, I saw all these black people. As a black child going to school, the white kids would be pushed to excellence and we weren’t. I thought to myself, “Bloody hell. When I leave school, it’s quite likely I’ll experience the same thing, so I need to work for a black company.” But no such place existed. I went to the West End, and there it was, a black salon! Owned by black people!

Splinters was nothing but brilliant. It was the Motown of hair. You were taught to speak, to dress well; the standards were extremely high. The place was massive. There could have been 50 young hairdressers working at the same time. I started shampooing hair, I moved up to become artistic director of the company and, soon after that, I owned my own shop.

How have you seen black haircare change?

Black hair’s evolved phenomenally. We used to emulate the white salons, the big names like Vidal Sassoon – the Trevor Sorbies, the Daniel Galvins of the day. Winston Isaacs himself was a Sassoon-trained hairdresser, so he brought the technique of cutting white hair into afro hair. Our approach was to ensure that afro hair was relaxed, that it moved, bounced and had direction. We expanded on the idea. So when you see a customer from my shop, you’ll see the bounce. Afro hair moves with shape and balance. Afro reincarnation, that’s the term I use! For years, it’s been straightened, it’s been Jheri curled, but 90% of our clientele prefer the natural look at the moment.

What was it like working with the likes of Billy Ocean and Patti LaBelle, as well as managing P. Diddy’s personal barber shop in New York in 2001?

Splinters was the salon to go in those days if you were a celebrity, politician or lawyer. Everyone aspired to Splinters; it was a high-end salon. I was blessed to do all the famous people. As a young stylist, it was brilliant. Sheila Ferguson, Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott, they all came to the salon and I did their hair. I was very blessed indeed.

Were you starstruck, awkward or nervous?

No, I think P. Diddy was quite impressed with me. [Derek laughs.] I’m from London! They loved it over there.

You’re also big on the teaching element of hair.

It’s about honesty. Somebody taught me the trade; it’s incumbent upon me, therefore, to teach others. My daughter’s only two and that’s all she talks about: hair, hair, hair! It’s important to ensure that we create legends of the future. Hair growth is holistic. The hair shaft is actually dead, it doesn’t have any feelings. The hair root however, is within the scalp. So the emphasis should be on healing or nourishing the hair root.

And you run hair surgeries too?

I use this wonderful thing called a hair and scalp facial: coconut oil, aloe vera, mangoes and bananas mixed together and put it on the hair. The scalp is where the hair enters into the world. It’s like your plot of land. It should be healthy, nourished and moisturised for the hair to be healthy. The scalp, to me, is absolutely fundamental.

Do you find that scalp issues are more problematic within our community, as opposed to other ethnic groups?

Not really. I think black hair needs moisture and as a result, I tend to recommend that my clients drink water. It’s crucial. It goes directly to the hair root and nourishes the scalp.

Do you deal with problems like traction alopecia?

Traction alopecia is massive; it’s almost pandemic. Weaving is fine, wigs are great, braiding is brilliant. But we have to ensure that the braids aren’t done too tight, the weave shouldn’t stay on your head as if it’s the be-all and end-all. Wear a wig, fine, but remove the wig at night. Your weave should be done in a way that won’t break off your hair. The problem is leaving a weave in for too long.

Let’s talk about your technique. What is it about cutting that you love so much?

With a good cut, the customer gets the benefit of a great shape. You’ve got three things in a good cut: shape, balance and movement. Without those three things, the hair doesn’t move, there’s no direction. There’s nothing better than seeing a woman walking on the street and her hair’s moving, but it falls back into that shape based on the cut. As a result, I’ve created my own scissor collection. They’re marvellous. I love cutting hair.

What’s been the high point of your career so far?

I opened my first shop at the tender age of 24. It was a three-storey building in Maida Vale called Derek Clement. A year later, we had another shop in Lewisham called Noir. We had another shop in the West End where we collaborated. The year after, I was nominated for afro hairdresser of the year by the Hairdressers Journal. I didn’t accept it. I was young and naïve. I thought, “Why am I afro hairdresser of the year? I’m a hairdresser! I didn’t want to be referred to as an afro hairdresser.” So I didn’t take the award.

Do you mind being called an afro hairdresser these days?

Oh, I love being called an afro hairdresser now! I love it; it’s afro hair! [Derek laughs.]

What’s been your biggest obstacle?

I love obstacles. Obstacles are nothing but stepping stones, so when I come to them, I have to keep it moving. I lost my shop in 2014. It got burnt down. I’ve had to collaborate with others since that time. The only obstacle I have now is to make sure that we get back the Derek Clement shop.

What do you think the future of black hair is?

Black hair is going places. It’s achieved respectability and integrity. It’s a great thing to see that the average black girl doesn’t feel embarrassed to wear her natural hair. I’m looking forward to the different trends, textures and styles. I’ve got this wonderful acronym called BLACKS: braids, locs, afro, curls, kink and straighten. Afro hair can do all of those things. Afro hair is phenomenal. It has no bounds, it’s brilliant. My business partner, Rudy Page, says afro hair is vibranium. It’s the one thing that brings us all together. Wherever you come from or whatever texture, it binds us together.

Originally published on White Noise

July 2018

Instagram is their shopfront and their salon is someone’s living room – their place or yours. But the inexorable rise of the social media nail artist has mostly remained an East London phenomenon. Arnelle Paterson paid a visit to one of the exceptions: Triple N Salon.

With nearly 10 years under my belt, when it comes to acrylic nails, I’m a veteran. Stiletto, coffin, oval, ballerina, square, French, plain, and huge chavtastic gems – I’ve had them all. You’ll usually find me on the high street amongst a stream of Vietnamese chit-chat, low prices and minimal interaction. Today, however, I’m ready to take it to the next level.

Mobile and home-based nail artists have been popping up all over my Instagram feed with a brilliant array of designs and colours, but until now they’ve been primarily in South and East London, and I’m not prepared to make a nearly two-hour trip.

Triple N Salon is one of the few independent nail technicians in West London that offers the kind of nail art you’ve got pinned to your Pinterest board, and I’m pretty pumped.

The woman behind it, Niki Nikolova, opens the door to her home nail business in Isleworth, which started in February this year. She describes nails as her passion, a hobby that she’s had all her life. It’s no surprise when she tells me that she grew up around hair and beauty: Niki’s mum owned a salon in Bulgaria complete with nail technicians and she used to observe them working their magic. In fact, she’s only had someone else do her nails once or twice. I think I’m in safe hands.

Bulgarian-born Niki moved to the UK nine years ago, and that’s when she started to experiment with nail art. “Back then, my English wasn’t even entry-level. It was really bad. I couldn’t understand English for a few years!” she admits. “It was time for my GCSEs and they gave me a list of subjects that I had to choose from, and I was thinking: what subjects can I pick where I don’t have to speak English?” she laughs. “And I thought: art! Oh my God, that’s it! I’m going to start drawing. My teacher was such a great lady that I fell into it.”

She went on to study computer animation and effects for films at university, but nail art was always at the back of her mind. Later, after bagging an office job in Colchester, she had a revelation: “The guy that was sitting next to me, every single second that he wasn’t working on an actual project he was researching stuff. He was into the job, and I wasn’t,” she confesses. “I was trying try to sneak a look at nails, or thinking about what I was going to do to my nails that night. I was really good at my job, but that’s not enough. You have to like it as well.”

After a year, Niki decided to get her hands off the keyboard, and into some adhesive. “I wanted to be my own boss. Being able to schedule my own time – I absolutely love it. I usually prefer to work in the evening. My brother is five years old and when he’s not at school and someone has to take care of him, we can take turns.” Judging by the beaming family photos surrounding the room, it’s obvious that family is important her. “It shows me that in the future when I have kids, it’s going to be so easy. I also love going on holiday, so this is perfect. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission, I can just book!”

I ask her about a typical workday. “On most days, I work 11 or 12 hours back to back.” My eyes widen at her response. “But it’s so fun, I love it! And sometimes those hours are travelling between clients, so it doesn’t really count.”

It’s not only Niki’s new-found freedom that she enjoys. “There was this girl that had an operation on her toe and her whole nail was gone, so she needed something because she was going on holiday,” she recalls. “It was just so sad – you want to look pretty! So I did an acrylic extension and she was so happy. It made my day.”

Want to be a nail art pro? “It’s just practice. Everyone has different nails and you have to know how to work with that. You can’t do one or two people and expect to be good.”

Niki’s technique is completely different to what I’m used to. Each small movement is carefully calculated. I’m impressed that she remembers the exact size and even hue of ombre that I wanted. It feels different too, less plastic, more nail-like. Showing me an array of samples, she realises how indecisive I am. Is it that obvious? “I’ve got three shades of pink. I think the middle ones are more like the ones you showed me,” she smiles. Phew.

Niki warns me that my nail-biting habit may affect the longevity of my acrylics, although I’ve never had that problem before. She also gives me some pre-holiday advice. “Be careful with sun lotion, same with chlorine or swimming in the ocean. Don’t bang them against anything, or open cans with them.” I leave feeling pretty inspired.

After the appointment, it quickly dawns on me how immobilising nails this long can be, from putting necklaces on to keeping them debris free (the chicken eating experience just isn’t the same). One of my nails fall off in the shower sooner than I expected, and I blame London’s hot climate. Niki advises that I get some nail glue prior to my Marrakesh trip and it does the trick. Nearly a month later, my gel polish tootsies remain intact. Long nails don’t work for my everyday routine, but you can bet you’ll find me with a full set before any special occasion.

Originally published on White Noise

May 2018

To round off our Growth theme, we decided to focus on that one thing that we all have in common.

It’s never just hair. It can signal how your day is going, the weather, your heritage and even your personality.

With 40,000 hairdressing, barbering and beauty businesses in the UK , it’s a pretty big deal. So we headed out to White City Place to find out what coiffed your cheveux.

“I don’t know who I’d be without this kind of hair actually.”
“I’ve started to recede a little bit now, I feel like I’m losing a little bit of me.”
“I feel like it’s important to have some kind of cultural symbolism especially as I work in a very white area.”

White City is a melting pot of diversity, so I expected nothing less than hair being seen as an emblem of identity celebration. What struck me about the comments was the strong sense of pride that people felt towards their barnet.

Upwork Client

American client requested an article on self-development and confidence with the sole purpose of empowering women

November 2017

Why you need to start wearing red lipstick to work

You’re getting ready for work, just about to leave. Can I just add, you’re having a pretty damn good hair day girl! Purse – check, keys, check. One last look in the mirror before you head out, maybe a flush of colour won’t hurt. Hey, what about that Ruby Woo you bought from the store over the weekend? Ahhh, but you’re not sure. A bold, red lip for work? Really? You decide to pass.

If you question the professionalism of red lipstick or make up in general, you’re not alone. A study published in October last year examined how wearing make up to work projects success, but can also lead to objectification.

In the first of two experiments, 40 female college students were photographed with and without make up, and their photos were presented to another group of 128 (mostly straight) male and female undergraduates. Observers had to rate the pictures on ‘attractiveness’ and two components of social status – ‘dominance’ and ‘prestige’, although the words were left undefined.

The study revealed that women wearing make up were seen by men as more prestigious and by women as more dominant. Researchers felt that this was because men have a tendency to not see us ladies as physically threatening (they obviously haven’t seen me on a bad day); therefore our make up doesn’t affect how dominant we appear. Our fellow woman may see us as sexually competitive, and as a result, socially dominant. Previous studies have shown that attractive people are assumed to be competent, hence the prestigious label (my appearance has correlations with my brain power? Err I beg to differ…). To top it all off, there were also assumptions that women were more attractive, more promiscuous, and also garnered jealousy (Insane right? Getting the claws out because of a little Beauty Blender and lipstick action).

As crazy as it does sound, I do get it. We’re almost conditioned to think that way. You only have to do a Google search on the connotations of red and you get adjectives like “passion, desire, lust, romance, danger, and wrath”.

Personally, I don’t wear red lipstick, not because of its connotations, or because of what I’m worried about its professionalism, but because I’ve yet to find a shade that perfectly matches my skin tone (triracial problems). But I love seeing other women rocking a bold red lip, I think it’s empowering, unapologetic and an effortless addition to ANY ensemble.

Andddd I’m not the only one that thinks so. Make up artist Victoria Barnes told The Debrief “it’s a great tool in the boardroom, or for public speaking, because it makes your mouth such a focal point. Red lipstick works if you really wanted to be listened to.” Non-verbal communication as it’s best, at work, or elsewhere… (you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t be coy now, get it girl!).

The icing on the cake comes courtesy of Fashion industry veteran Aliza Licht. She found that from a pool of 460 people, including lawyers, bankers and government work professionals, over 90% of women saw red lipstick as totally appropriate for the office, but nearly 80% felt it also projected confidence at work. Opinions were split about whether it was appropriate for work.

Tomorrow morning, when you’re applying the last finishing touches to your visage – don’t rule out red lipstick, or any other colour for that matter, as an option. You can wear whatever the hell you like, wherever you like, and you don’t have to answer to anyone. P.S, don’t forget a good lip liner too, lipstick bleeding is the worst.