That’s the motto for a hip new cosmetology school in town
This is the first time I’ve ever owned a blow-dryer,” says Dafni Moon matter-of-factly. “I’m still learning how to use mascara.” In some ways, her lack of experience with primping, teasing, and spackling isn’t surprising; the 24-year-old Moon grew up here in Santa Cruz, a self-described “hippie girl” who didn’t have much interest in makeup. But what is a little surprising is Moon’s career choice: she’s just months away from testing for her cosmetology license, studying at the city’s newest and hippest beauty school, The Cosmo Factory. An afternoon talking with some of the Cosmo crew went a long way toward explaining the school’s motto: “This Ain’t Yer Mama’s Beauty School.”
“I got this kit when I came to school,” Moon continues, seated at a table outside The Cosmo Factory’s Pacific Avenue studio, where it shares a building with the Mill Gallery and Sheenix Salon. “It’s a blow-dryer, a flat-iron, a curling-iron and shears. I’m just learning how to use it all, because it’s the first time for everything for me.” Guiding her is James Fisher, the Factory’s founder and head instructor; he started the school with his partner Kaia Cornell, the school’s assistant director and IT manager. Sept. 14 was one year exactly since they first opened their doors; in that time, they’ve successfully prepared seven people for the rigorous state cosmetology board exam, which requires 1,600 hours of course work and a grueling four-hour test. “Our first graduation was June of this year,” Fisher says proudly. “And they’re all working now.” No mean feat, as the county unemployment rate reaches above 10 percent and recent graduates of every institution are desperate for jobs.
As Cornell explains, the goal in founding The Cosmo Factory was to prepare students for careers working in media and fashion: “We specialize in giving our students the opportunity to work on sought-after gigs such as films, TV, fashion shows and other events,” she says. “The whole academy will go on-site with bags of hair implements and cases of makeup, and get two dozen models ready for their show, for example, or go on-location to prepare the hair and makeup for the cast of a local film.” Their next gig is the 4th Annual Santa Cruz FashionART Runway Show, produced by MichaelAngelo Gallery and Art Studio, where they’ll be sharing hair and makeup duties with their neighbors at Sheenix Salon. They’re also involved in the arts community in other ways; they feature an ever-changing display of visual artists on their walls, and are included as a stop on the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Art’s First Friday art tour.
Fisher hopes that the school can serve as both an artistic and economic catalyst for the lower Pacific neighborhood: “This town is evolving,” he says, standing outside the studio and glancing across the bustling parking lot. “Our goal is, as this area develops, to have a place where people can come, buy their beauty supplies, and give them education on retail. We want to help the city develop this redevelopment corridor down here, and support the town through its evolution.” He says he wants to repay the incredible generosity the community has shown The Cosmo Factory since it opened, and teach his students a skill that they can take with them anywhere in the world: “With a career like this, they can’t farm it out of town,” he explains. “They can’t ship it overseas. Right now, as jobs are going away, if they take my job and ship it overseas, I’ve got to go with it. As a gypsy—and we all are gypsies here in Santa Cruz—you’ve got to be able to do your art anywhere.”
So what brings unconventional students like Moon through the Factory’s doors? “My mom!” she says, laughing. “I have scissor mania. I’ve been cutting my own hair for years, and it got to the point where my mom said, ‘You need to go and cut somebody else’s hair, because you don’t have any left.’” Despite being a makeup novice, she loves the creative outlet cosmetology provides: “I love the theatrics of it all. It’s so fun to make people look completely different.” But she also feels that in many ways, stylists are part of a healing profession, similar to massage therapists: “Our society does not touch each other,” she says. “The only time you’re getting touched, getting human contact, for a lot of women is when you’re going to the beauty salon. Just having your hair washed by someone else, having it brushed, being pampered—you can make someone look and feel totally different by doing this.” Fisher agrees: “We’re not here because we have to be here,” he says. “We’re here because we absolutely want to be here. We want to rub your feet. We want to rub your hands. We want to take care of you.”
But Moon is aware of the negative connotations surrounding beauty schools and their students: “It really is not a respected field. There’s this whole stigma of being dumb, of not being able to go to college, so you go to beauty school. You just do nails and you do hair and you sit around in curlers and gossip all day,” she says. “It’s because it’s not book-work or a college degree. It’s a trade, a craft, something where you use your hands she’s excited to have an ability that will last all her life, one that she can take anywhere: “I just want to be able to travel and have these skills. You do this 10-month program and take the exam, and then you have this certificate forever. And how fun would it be, to sit on the porch as an old lady with all your friends, smoking cigarettes with rollers in your hair?”
The Cosmo Factory is at 131 B-Front St., Santa Cruz, 621-6161, thecosmofactory.com.