BABE #88: SHELBY COUNIHAN,
Owner @ Shelby Counihan Designs
Shelby and I have known each other since high school and although we weren't super close friends, we always made it a point to be supportive of each other's work. She worked at my grandma's hair salon and was a patron at the restaurant I served at, so I like to think that we've always shared a mutual appreciation for our respective Hustles. She and her art are so well-loved and respected in our local community and I couldn't be happier to highlight the hard work she does every single day. Thanks for chatting with us, Shelby! You're definitely a babe.
Babe you admire and why?
Sam Daly, owner at Bottleblonde76. She’s a local Sarasota babe, fellow hair designer, and pretty much just an all around badass. She creates gorgeous mermaid-colored hair and inspires me to test my creativity not only with hair color but in general. And of course, my Momma. She has always supported my crazy artistic ideas and she’s "momma dukes" to so many more than just my brother and I.
How do you spend your free time?
I love to be on the water, enjoy snorkeling when the visibility is right, fishing (when I’m catching) and of course painting!
Must-have item in your purse?
My planner! If it’s not in my purse, I have that mini heart attack most people have when they lose their phone. My planner is the heart of everything I do and if it’s not written down, it’s not happening.
Favorite beauty item?
Mascara for sure. I have been blessed with obnoxiously long lashes and I love to accentuate them. L’OREAL Voluminous in Carbon Black (with the curved brush to be exact.) People always ask!
Three things we can always find in your fridge?
Champagne (lol) hummus, and garlic. Lots and lots of garlic.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Probably my Dad's Chicken Picatta! I have been spoiled with his home cooked meals since I was born.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Probably my grandfather on my mother’s side. I never got a chance to meet him and I feel like it would fill in a lot of blanks and make sense of all my “your grandfather would have been so proud of you” moments!
Going to Michaels when I need NOTHING.
What’s something most don't know about you?
Most people don’t know that I suffer from MS.
Tell us about your hustle:
I am a independent hair stylist at West Ave Salon here in sunny Bradenton, FL. I specialize in creative and corrective color. I am also a freelance artist, and the salon doubles as my personal art gallery. I typically paint marine life and am known for my use of bright, vibrant colors. I build and paint custom corn hole boards and hand-make all of my picture frames and signs (with help from my dad). I design and sell custom t-shirts, baby onesies and children’s clothes also run an Etsy store!
What does your typical workday look like?
I am certainly a morning person. I usually wake up between 6-7am and let my two Chihuahuas (Porter and Lilo) out, get them fed, answer any client emails/messages, check social media (of course,) shower and get ready for work, then head to the salon and take care of my clients for the day. I luckily get the pleasure of making my own schedule, so it's different every day. If I’m not at the salon, I’m at home painting or making and filling design orders for clients!
When did you decide to become a hairstylist, and how’d you get started?
I have actually worked in salons since my sophomore year of high school, when a friend of mine who was a stylist's assistant needed someone to cover for her during athletic seasons. I didn’t even know how to use a curling iron at the time. I also picked up a second job assisting for a man at the salon my mother had gone to since she was pregnant with me. Learning from two different salons with two different styles and techniques was a lot, but after high school, I decided to go to cosmetology school and further my career in the industry. I ended up testing out early and received my cosmetology license in 2013. I then worked alongside a well-known stylist in town until 2015, when I branched out as an independent stylist. Today, I work for West Ave Salon, which is owned by one of my childhood best friends. I love what I do!
Would you say you’ve always had a creative spirit? Where do you think that comes from?
I have always been creative; I get it from my Momma. When I was little, I took art lessons every Tuesday after school. My parents kind of forced it though, so when I was able to make my own choices, I actually chose sports. I played volleyball for years but always carried markers in my backpack and got in trouble for “drawing” my homework vs. writing it. When I realized I could be creative whenever I wanted with art, I picked it back up. Almost every day in high school, I would start a new picture. At that time it was mostly words and quotes twisted into shapes and bright colors that no one could read, but I remember after three hours of volleyball practice, I would come home and not be able to sleep until I finished the picture I started that day. I realized I didn’t have to draw what someone told me to, and I didn’t have to only paint on Tuesdays after school just because my parents were paying for it, and I rekindled my passion for art and creativity.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial mindset? Did you always plan on commissioning your work?
I didn’t. I honestly have social media to thank for so much of my exposure. I would draw or paint a picture and post it online, and was always shocked by how many people appreciated and wanted my work... which made me want to create more. One day I decided to make a baby onesie with one of my drawings (via iron-on transfer) and immediately had so many people asking for them! I stared there, and now sell them at several local restaurants and boutiques around town. From there, things kind of just snowballed and I was able to share the rest of my work with people who were interested. Slowly, my paintings, stickers, t-shirts, onesies, corn hole boards and hair coloring became an income I never expected!
Do you ever struggle to stay creative? How do you combat those blocks?
I honestly fear that one day I will wake up and not be creative. I wouldn’t say I struggle to stay creative, but I definitely do have days where my brain gets clouded. Usually a walk on the beach, a beautiful sunset, a glass of champagne or a nap does the trick!
What is the support system behind your work like?
I have a small family, but they are my biggest supporters. I always joke that I am my parents' retirement plan. My mom does all of my sewing and my dad does all of my building and I cant wait until this all pays off one day and I can repay them. With that being said, having a small family calls for lots of “fake” family. They may not be blood, but they are support. I have so many people throughout my community that respect me for how hard I'm working to reach my goals.
Similarly, do you have a team that helps with your work? How do you manage your projects?
It is certainly a family affair. My mom sews all of the tags into in my onesies, shirts, pillows, and tanks. She proofs all of my work and helps whenever she can, and I honestly think I get most of my creativity from her. My dad helps with building my picture frames and corn hole boards (et cetera.) My best friends know when they haven’t seen me that they can come over and iron, package, and help promote Shelby Counihan Designs. I do struggle with balancing all of my tasks, but I'm getting there. Learning to delegate when I can has been a huge help, but is still very difficult to do. I do see an assistant in my near future, though, which freaks me out!
What is your favorite medium for art? Hair? Drawing? Painting?
I have such a hard time drawing a line between my art and hair favorites. I would have to say for painting pictures, acrylics are my favorite! You can achieve such vibrancy in your colors and if you make a mistake, it's so easy to paint over. And as for hair, I just love a client that lets me do whatever I want!
What are your work environments like?
I work for myself. I couldn’t ask for a more laid back environment. Besides getting a difficult client every once in awhile, I cant complain about either of my workplaces. I will say that when you work from home, the work is always staring you in the face, which does make it hard for me to actually stop working and take a break sometimes.
How has your journey with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affected your work? What have those anxieties and limitations been like for you, and how do you stay motivated to keep hustling?
I was diagnosed with MS in July 2014, and it was such a scary time. I had just graduated from hair school, was thinking about going out on my own as a stylist, and my job was more stressful than I could ever imagine. I woke up one morning numb from head to toe on my left side, and didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t feel the temperature of the water on my hands as I was washing my clients' hair, and my foot and leg felt static. It was scary, but it led to answers. There is such a broad spectrum for MS, and even though I am on the stronger side of the spectrum, it's most noticeable to me when I stop or slow down. For now, I am blessed to be able to see, feel and walk, as most people with this disease aren’t able to do all of those things.
What are some common misconceptions about your job(s)?
I think often times people think that I just paint pictures and paint hair to make a living, when there is so much more to it than that. We have to listen and comprehend what people are wanting and feeling, and interpret when they don’t know how to explain what they are looking for. It’s also extremely difficult to make money selling art, because everyone has their own taste. It balances out having hair as another source of income because being an artist isn’t all glam and glory, at least not yet.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job(s) that we might not see?
I personally struggle with saying no. if my client is going to be late and throw off my schedule for the day, I don’t reschedule them, I make it work. If someone whose hair is black wants to be blonde, I don’t tell them no... I tell them it is going to be a process. If someone local needs a shirt last minute and will get it faster on the spot than ordering online, I'll stay up late or wake up early to make sure I get the sale instead of passing on it. I need to get better about being affirmative and thinking of myself, too, but I'm working on it.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? Least favorite?
My favorite thing about being self-employed is making my own schedule. Having health issues makes this very important. I take medicine that I have to plan my schedule around because it make me feel very sick, and I'm so thankful my career works with my schedule. My least favorite thing is probably never being able to be away from my phone/social media/schedule. Basically, if I don’t have a phone, I don’t have a job.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role(s)?
Creativity, of course. Positivity is also contagious. Staying positive at work and at play makes life a little brighter.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
I need to be better at delegating tasks to those around me who are willing to help. Often times, I think that I can do it all. We all need a little help and guidance every once in awhile, and it IS okay to ask for it.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
I aspire to have a storefront (hair salon/boutique/traveling airstream/gallery/tattoo parlor) of my own! I often have to remind myself that I want to be successful and not to bite off more than I can chew for the time being... but one day! Lord knows I need the space and have worked in tight quarters (aka my parents' house) long enough.
What does success look like to you?
Success to me is working until you no longer have to introduce yourself.
What are your goals for the future?
I would love to buy my parents' house from them. I grew up in the same room I came home from the hospital in, and not many people can say that. I’m close to the Village of the Arts and in a great location in a great town. I hope one day I can raise my own children in this house, too.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are in life.
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