An Interview with Hairstylist Courtney Risse

Do you live in Nashville? Do we know the same people? And do those people all have good hair? Well, you can thank Courtney Risse. For as long as I've known Courtney, which is a long time as she is the youngest member of Sister Team Krampf, everyone who's hair I've complimented is a client of Courtney's.

Courtney fun facts:  her legit godfather is Steve Perry (yes, that Steve Perry); she is somehow friends with the lead singer of Everclear, who I met at her wedding; she loves Bruce Springsteen; and she is OBSESSED with the New England Patriots, going so far as to dress as their mascot on game days. Courtney possesses some of my favorite qualities:  she's interesting, kind and quirky. Meet today's bitch, Courtney Risse!

What do you make and what is the name of your business?

I am a hairstylist and co-manager/co-owner of Salon Yaya. Hair is my medium; I sculpt and design while cutting, and paint while doing haircolor. I also am an independent contractor for Redken, teaching product knowledge and haircolor for the brand. 

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I learned that this could be someone’s career while getting my hair cut as a child. I was fascinated with the idea. My parents took me to a place called the Yellow Balloon in California. I cut and colored a lot of my dolls' hair when I was young. 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I started dyeing my hair when I was 13 and never quite stopped. In high school, friends encouraged me to give them haircuts, even though I had no clue what I was doing. It kind of was a natural talent for me, I guess. 

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

I was all set to go to Middle Tennessee State University and start the Art program after finishing high school. Then, a strange turn of events occurred: one of my best friends (the first person whose hair I cut other than my own) was killed in a car accident on the way to MTSU orientation. I was supposed to be with him but backed out in the last second. I decided to not go to college after that. I needed time to re-group from the tragedy and the shock of losing my close friend at the age of 18. 

During that time, I kept dabbling in hair and thought, “Perhaps I want this to be my career, my life…..” I enrolled in cosmetology school in 2002, and shortly thereafter started working as an apprentice at Salon Yaya (it was the salon where my dad got his hair cut and he mentioned to his stylist/the owner that his kid had started hair school). It has been my salon home ever since, and it gives me great pride to say that I have been a “Yaya” for almost 14 years now! I became a shareholder of Salon Yaya in 2015. My team there is like my second family.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

Well, Salon Yaya is a commission salon, so it wasn’t technically “starting my own business”, however, I will say that building a clientele is like building a brand new business. 

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

Pace yourself. As a stylist, you work a lot of long hours on your feet, carrying on countless conversations (almost like being a therapist) all the while being an artist, designer, and chemist. My boss/mentor Marilyn Lipsey told me in the beginning, “Don’t burn yourself out. Pace yourself. Work smarter, not harder.” 

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Building a clientele. It takes so much time. Also, to not take it personally and to move on when a customer is unhappy. It’s inevitable: you are NOT going to make EVERY single person happy. It is so challenging to gain someone’s trust, get referrals, then get THAT person to fall in love with you, and so on and so forth. Then one day, you wake up, and it’s like, “Holy s--t, I am booked for 6 weeks straight!” It takes much patience, but once you get there, it is the best feeling in the world. 

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

I learn a new lesson every day, honestly. I am never quite 100% happy with my work. I am always thinking of a way I could have done something differently, because there are SO many techniques out there. You can be satisfied with your work, but stay humble and open to new ideas, because the hair and fashion worlds are always evolving. The best lessons are the ones I can pass down to my mentees and the associates that I help train. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

I once had to do an updo very early on in my career. I was petrified. I did the best I could, but it still wasn’t the “glam french twist” the woman was looking for. I then realized that if I am going to do this for a living, I can’t turn away services simply because they aren’t my forte or they give me anxiety. So, I started watching tutorials and taking classes. I took control, instead of fleeing; I need to face these things head-on. 

What would you do with 2 more hours a day? 

Sleep. Again, the hair biz is exhausting!

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made? 

Time with my friends and family. I wish I could see them more, but between working 32 hours a week behind the chair, mentoring others, managing the salon, and teaching out of town on some weekends with Redken, it’s tough. My life is my work. Remember that advice about not burning myself out? I walk that fine line every day. Luckily, most everyone that surrounds me seems to be supportive and understanding. The true friends have stuck around.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make? 

Becoming a Redken Artist in 2012 was an amazing achievement, and that led to being on stage at the big Redken Symposium in 2015. I hope to continue to grow with the company; teaching others is really where my passion lies. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning? 


Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work? 

Other hairstylists’ Instagram accounts; I steal new ideas all the time from them. 

How do you decompress at the end of the work day? 

A glass of wine and some TV with my husband. After a long Saturday I treat myself to a massage or pedicure. 

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious? 

Knowing when to say no.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

I was a big Mad Men fan, and it’s almost time to start the series all over! I love to snack on Trader Joe’s Kettle Corn. That stuff is like crack. 

All photos courtesy of Courtney Risse

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Artist and Illustrator, Caryn Cast!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

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2016 Reading Round Up, Part One

An Interview with Artist and Illustrator Caryn Cast