Career Code: How Jen Atkin Built Her Hair Empire

Updated 04/14/19

In honor of Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s upcoming book, "The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career" ($17), we’re kicking off an interview series featuring 17 questions (in honor of the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of the most inspirational female leaders in the beauty industry.

We decided to kick off the series with a big one: Jen Atkin. Compressing the celebrity hairstylist extraordinaire’s bio into a pithy paragraph is no easy task, but we’ll give it shot. With mentors who rank among the industry’s finest (Guido Palau, Andy LeCompte, Danilo, and Renato Campora) and an incredible work ethic (seriously, the woman is never not doing something—if you follow her on Snapchat, you already know this), it’s not surprising Atkin worked her from front desk to mega-mogul. Her client roster reads like your dream dinner party guest list—Emma Stone, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, Gwen Stefani, and Jenna Dewan Tatum, to name a few. And her work has been featured everywhere from the pages of Vogue, InStyle, and Elle to the runways in New York and Paris—not to mention virtually every red carpet in Hollywood. But being the world’s most influential hairstylist (to quote The New York Times), wasn’t enough for Atkin. She founded hair inspiration destination ManeAddicts.com and the haircare brand Ouai, which garnered a cult following before it even hit shelves. And we have a feeling this bio is far from finished.

To summarize, the self-made entrepreneur and all-around hair genius is a dreamer and a doer. And an inspiration. So scroll through to see what we learned from 17 questions with Jen Atkin.

Jen Atkin
Ouai
Text reading
Byrdie

“I’m a hairstylist, CEO, and founder of Ouai and Mane Addicts.”

Text reading
Byrdie

“How hard it is to plan anything! I always have to be prepared for anything. And that means a willingness to change plans at the last minute to get the job done.”

Text reading
Byrdie

“For sure a blazer.”

Text reading
Byrdie 

“Kris Jenner. Because I have her phone number, and she is #goals.”

Jen Atkin and her Ouai team
@jenatkinhair
Text reading
Byrdie

“Mane Addicts, Fast Company, Fashion Gone Rogue, Violet Grey, Into the Gloss, Byrdie, and Kardashians’ apps.”

Text reading
Byrdie

“That I didn’t invest in real estate.”

Quote from Jen Atkin
Byrdie
Text reading
Byrdie
  1. “Taking initiative. This is so important because I’m so busy, I need people who don’t need to be told what to do and when to take action to get things done. It’s such a relief to see people get things done before you have to tell them.
  2. “Being a team player. As my team has grown, this has become more and more important. So much of the success of a company comes from a smooth workflow. We don’t have time for drama!
  3. “A willingness to wear many hats. You won’t find anyone on my team say, ‘That’s not my job.’ We all have responsibilities beyond our job titles and are willing to cross over departments to ensure the success of the entire team.
  4. “An openness to feedback. We all know that constructive feedback means that we can grow as individuals and as a company. We have to be willing to hear what others have to say—both the good and bad—and not take it personally.
  5. “A non-competitive attitude. We have to know that supporting the success of others will never dampen our own. I think it’s important to pay it forward and support the other members of the team so we can all grow together. There’s enough to go around for everyone.”
Jen Atkin wearing a t-shirt that says
@jenatkinhair
Text reading
Byrdie

“A black leather jacket and skinny jeans with a GOOD Alaïa shoe.”

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Byrdie

“Scattered yet focused.”

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Byrdie 

“I am constantly looking at websites, Instagram accounts, and Pinterest. We have inspiration all over now!”

Jen Atkin doing a client's hair
@jenatkinhair
Text reading
Byrdie

“Don’t put it off! Don’t waste anyone’s time, and be honest with your employer. There is such a thing as hopping leaf to leaf to get ahead, and sometimes you need to pull the plug.”

Text reading
Byrdie

“I end up eating lunch that’s convenient or on the go since I’m always running around. I end up getting the snack packs at Starbucks way more often than I’d like to admit. If I’m at the office, I’ll order Sugarfish to go, since it’s right down the street. And if I’m working from Calabasas, I end up at Le Pain so I can answer emails at the same time.”

Text reading
Byrdie

“A delayed sense of urgency! I’m someone who is constantly checking my emails and phone. I need staff that are quick to react. If someone doesn’t answer a text for hours, the job won’t get done, or they can miss out on a major opportunity. In the hair industry, I think emerging artists can be too hungry. I think it’s important to have patience and assist as long as you can. It’s such an important time to learn and build experience.”

Jen Atkin with friends, including Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner
@jenatkinhair
Text reading
Byrdie
Text reading
Byrdie

“English breakfast tea, a smoothie, and Barry’s Bootcamp in a.m. My foot massager, Eat Pastry cookie dough, and looking at pet Instagram accounts with my husband at night to unwind.”

Text reading
Byrdie

“Be kind to everyone. Nurture your relationships, and be humble.”

Multiple Ouai and Glossier products laid out on a white background
@jenatkinhair
Text reading
Byrdie

“So many things! I just released four new Barbies that I designed with Mattel. Barbie was literally my first client, so creating new looks that reflected the modern woman was so fun. I’m always working on Ouai and Mane Addicts. Thinking of new ways we can innovate the beauty industry. I’m so excited for the launch of the Ouai supplements, which work wonders on addressing some of the biggest hair issues.”

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