Remember the time when you’d print off a photo to bring to the hairdressers? Women in the '90s brought cut-outs of The Rachel; in 2007 they brought Alexa Chung’s shaggy bob. Now, we bring photos we’ve saved from Instagram: buzzcuts, braids and bleached 'dos of the people we follow and admire from afar. So what if you could find out exactly what cut and colour they have and book an appointment with the person who created it simultaneously? Well, thanks to one of beauty’s most innovative and savvy women, Sharmadean Reid, founder of WAH London, now you can.
Beautystack is Reid’s newly launched network and booking app, which gives beauty fanatics not only key details about treatments and looks – from glowing facials to intricate nail art – but also the ability to view the stylist or technician’s schedule before booking in. Users can upload selfies post-treatment and share notes about everything from the lash curl number and hair toner shade used to their skin sensitivity, meaning an end to burning questions about whether the treatment would be suitable for your hair texture or skin type.
While the app is fantastic for those who always find their next beauty look on Instagram, it also puts the beauty professional front and centre. In the digital age, influencers have a huge hand in people’s beauty choices, but Reid wants to give the experts their due credit. Users can tag their favourite salons including stylists, technicians, dermatologists and colourists, and note their experience with them. The app is easy to use and you can simply search key terms like balayage, stiletto nails, and box braids to name a few. The set-up is framed more like a WhatsApp conversation than an arduous form. It's visually pleasing (all pastel hues and image-led grids), and does what Reid does best: combining service with inspiration, making our beauty life categorically better.
We sat down with Reid to discuss her new venture, helping women thrive in business and building a network dedicated to beauty obsessives.
Hey Sharmadean! Congrats on Beautystack – tell me a little bit about it.
It's a visual booking system and social network platform. You have your profile and you upload a photo of your treatment and put the 411 about it, while beauty pros have a profile where they upload all their work and all their images are bookable. You can save it, share it and comment on it, but the key thing is that if you saw my braided hair today and you were like, "I really want braids for Notting Hill Carnival," you could click on my picture and book it with the very person who did them. You’ll know how long it took, how much money it cost – everything – and you'd read my notes, which might say, "The braids are really good on day three, so get it done a few days before the event."
I won't have to guess where someone gets their hair colour done now!
Exactly. One of the really important things is that women take loads and loads of pictures of their treatments, but they don't feel comfortable putting it on Instagram because it ruins the vibe. I’m happy to take all of Instagram's cast-off pictures and put them on Beautystack because this is all about detail.
And what sets the app apart from booking tools like Treatwell?
All the beauty pros will be vetted by us – if you see someone on Beautystack you should feel that you can trust them because it's my taste and my network. If you got a facial somewhere, I would trust my friend or colleague's opinion rather than Google. I just don't think that's how girls shop beauty now. If you click on someone's profile and you think, "She kinda looks like me, she’s got hair like mine," her review has way more weight because the treatment is likely to be similar for us both.
You're always one step ahead in beauty innovation. How did you get from WAH to here?
I started when I was 24 years old, which is really weird because it's going to be 10 years next year! I was using tumblr and all these other cool tools, but there was nothing that I could start my business with that was comparable. All the salon software systems were incredibly old. They tended to have been built by boyfriends of salon owners and then, as a product, couldn't be innovated upon. So in 2009, instead of building a website, I used tumblr because that's what I knew – I didn't want to pay a web developer £10,000 to build a website that I couldn't edit or update. At the same time, one of the most important things at WAH that changed the game was that we photographed every single nail that came through the door. Bear in mind the iPhone only came out a couple of years before, so there wasn't this culture of cataloguing your treatments. Those Blackberry phone photos were so fuzzy and I'd put them in Facebook groups because there was no Instagram.
I think we pioneered a new way of how a beauty salon runs, because we regularly updated our website. Other salon websites would consist of static imagery that would never change. We were uploading pictures every single day and people would come in with those pictures and say, "I want this. How much is it, how long does it take and who did it?" and nine years later it still happens. We’ve never had a system that we’ve been truly happy with. We were all stood around the WAH salon's reception when a bunch of schoolgirls came in with folders and folders of screenshots from our Instagram feed, and I just thought, wouldn't it be cool if you could just book the picture?
It's great that you're putting beauty professionals at the centre of the app, too...
Ultimately I think that beauty pros are the next influencers. If both a blogger and my facialist recommend a moisturiser, I'm going to believe my facialist because she’s an expert. So my goal is to give all of these women not only the money to run their businesses but essentially increase their influence in the beauty world because I've been there, where we are literally the bottom of the pile. My ultimate goal is to just represent the beauty professional community and help power their work.
How has the start-up scene changed since you started out a decade ago?
There’s a community in London that didn't exist when I opened WAH. There was no entrepreneur hub, co-working spaces – there were no coffee shops when I started! The day I opened the salon in Haggerston, we had to go to Shoreditch to get a coffee! I feel like I'm an old millennial who has seen the clear change in the way people shop, the technology people are using and how things are built.
Did you always think you'd end up in the tech space?
I never started WAH to open a chain of nail salons, it was always a place for me and my friends to hang out – all the stuff around it and the nails was just the reason to get them in. I actually think what I'm really good at is helping women make more money and giving women business advice. I genuinely love doing that, so that's why I set up Future Girl Corp. When I was 28, I took a year and a half out and moved back to my hometown of Wolverhampton to think about my future. I was going into my 30s, and my 20s took a detour with WAH; I was going to be a stylist and a creative director but opening the salon took over my life. So in my 30s I wanted to help women make money, because economic participation is the only way to gender equality. We didn't just do nail art with WAH, we actually created this whole micro-economy of girls globally that started businesses based on the fact that we made ours. Beautystack is a way for all these girls who are braiding hair and doing nails on the side to make more money.
The fact that you use your platform to share your knowledge and experience is fantastic – a lot of people pull up the ladder behind them once they've succeeded.
I think I just enjoy seeing progress in any field. If something is different from the last time I saw it, it makes me really excited. I definitely get personal satisfaction from seeing these girls grow. I've had eight girls in a test group for Beautystack since last summer, who shaped everything about the app. The last girl I met now does my lashes and she had one bar in Crystal Palace and she said, "Oh, I opened Lash Land when I was young and the branding wasn't that cool, but I was thinking of doing this thing called Slash Beauty." I told her to make a deck and find a place in Portobello Market – it’s popping round there and there’s no lash bars, and I wanted to be able to get my lashes done when I wanted! Two months later she'd found the location, got a small bank loan, used her savings and opened it. She’s going to double her money and grow as a business, which is the thing that I get real pleasure out of.