Welcome to Byrdie's new series, The Hustle. We're profiling diverse, interesting women and female-identifying folks in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these women are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
Kiyah Wright always knew she was destined to become a hairstylist. The Washington D.C. native grew up working in her grandmother's salon and enrolled in cosmetology school by the time she was 16. Since then, Wright has hustled to make her beauty dreams come true. In the '90s, she moved to New York and worked as the in-house hairstylist for Diddy's Bad Boy Records. In the early aughts, she took her talents to Los Angeles to do "Hollywood hair."
Wright's two-decade journey in L.A. has led to incredible opportunities—she's expanded her client roster (which now includes celebrities like Jennifer Hudson, Laverne Cox, and Ciara), won two Emmy awards for her work on The Tyra Banks Show, and launched a hair line called Muze Hair. Not to mention that she just released her first book, From Beauty to Business.
Ahead, Wright details her career as a hair artist, the products she always keeps in her kit, and how she practices self-care as a busy creative. Keep scrolling to get to know more about Kiyah Wright.
What was your journey to becoming a celebrity hairstylist?
I became a celebrity hairstylist at the early age of 14. I met Puff hanging around Howard University when Bad Boy Records was launching. He said, "I have a music label I'm about to start, and I want you to do the hair for my artists." I mainly worked with Faith Evans, someone I carried my career with for quite a long time. I stayed in New York for close to eight years. Then, I moved to Los Angeles and have been here for 20 years. I'm a salon stylist at heart, but I branched into doing Hollywood hair when I arrived in L.A. I've worked with people such as Gabrielle Union, Angela Basset, Zendaya, Kerry Washington, Ciara, and Tyra Banks. I've had a very fruitful and prosperous career.
What does your day-to-day look like?
In the morning, I get myself ready and go to the gym. I may do interviews, and then I'll do freelance work or go to the salon. I am still a salon stylist. If things get a little slow on the freelance side, you should always have something to fall back on. I still love the everyday woman, which keeps me in the salon.
What are some of the challenges of being a celebrity hairstylist?
The biggest challenge is scheduling. It's hard to figure out where things fit in my day's schedule because I'm the type of person that's always doing something. Every chapter is a new challenge—there's always a new project or something.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a celebrity hairstylist?
The most rewarding part has been getting the accolades. They're like a token of appreciation in the industry. I've won two Emmys, a Hollywood Beauty Award, and a Golden Scissor Award in D.C. I am one of those people that is constantly asking, "What's next?" I never really take a moment to reflect on the big wins because I'm so busy trying to get to the next thing. But every day, I get to see all of my accolades as a reminder.
Working with clients that continue to come back is also a great reward. For them to constantly come back to me despite my hectic schedule lets me know I am doing my thing. Knowing my gifts and services are needed makes me feel good.
What's one takeaway you want stylists to remember after reading your book?
I want people to remember the stories because they are inspirational. I wrapped my life stories into business circumstances. I wanted to share so many pitfalls or big wins with my audience, but I also wanted to share my resources to help people solidify their future and feel inspired. This book starts from the beginning, like getting a business license and permit. If you want to have your own business, I have touched on everything you need to know.
What is your creative process like?
A lot of times, it starts with the artist. When I work with artists like Ciara, they are very clear on what they want the look to feel like. She is very involved because she was a stylist when she was younger. It is nice when my artists know what they want. I then start my research and do searches on Pinterest. You can see what someone else has done and pull from that. I love to work with great stylists as well. I am not afraid of working with stylists that are better than me—I love doing that.
What are your five must-have styling products?
I use the Muze Hair Last Look Hairspray ($15) to give the hair body and set the curls. I love the Tancho Wax Stick ($19) in Japanese Lavender—it helps blend hair over the tracks, spike hair, smooth edges, and tame flyaways. Ebin 24HR Edge Tamer ($11) is another favorite. Unite Hair's 7Seconds Leave-In Conditioner ($27) is great. I always turn to Pantene's Gold Series Collection because the products help soften the hair.
What has it been like navigating this industry as a woman of color?
It is a good feeling to have achieved so much success in my career as a woman of color. I do feel like there is favoritism regarding guys in the industry. Most successful beauty gurus are men, and men lead these beauty brands. I never try to focus on those things, but I do notice it. The girls love the boys. They shout them out, give them a lot of recognition on Instagram, and never give the girls any shine. But I don't worry about it.
What are your self-care techniques?
I work out about four days a week. That helps keep my mind in order. I also take care of my skin. I make sure I am groomed because when you look and feel a certain way, everything is aligned with that energy.
I've been into listening to Tony Robbins and Esther Hicks. When I listen to Esther Hicks, it feels like 15 minutes of solutions. I've started repeating these mantras to get my mind right: "I know how powerful my mind is, and I know I can get through anything even if I feel terrible. I know that it is not permanent or real. I know I can change, and I know it will change."