Barbering and Cosmetology Student Story: How the Pandemic Set One Family’s American Dream in Motion

“Barbering at first was my side hustle… In high school, college, giving cuts on the weekends… stuff like that. But after the pandemic happened I realized, ‘Man, this is a very big business.’ When you educate yourself, you can see how much more you can do.” —Taha Ahmad

Before the pandemic, our student Taha enjoyed cutting hair as a side hustle. This part of Taha’s story may seem very familiar to many side-hustle barbers in New Jersey. Even though it’s required to have a license, many people cut hair on the side without one. So why would you take the time to go to school? Keep reading to learn how the pandemic helped Taha see his side-hustle as something with much more potential—and how his mom joined in on his American dream.

What Led This Mother and Son to Join the Beauty Industry Together

Taha Ahmad immigrated to the United States with his mother, Rehana Shams, when he was just three years old. Being first-generation he has a lot of respect for his mom and always asks her about the story of coming to America. Her words inspire and drive him.

When Taha and his mother moved to New Jersey, Taha found inspiration to begin his own American Dream. He learned about Innovate Salon Academy and realized it was a chance to turn his barbering side-hustle into something much more:

“I saw Innovate and I [thought] okay this could be a good chance right now to … expand in my career.”

He quickly discovered how much he could learn from a formal barbering education. Not only did barber school help him refine his technical skills, but it also taught him business savvy. Taha learned about selling products, barbershop budgeting, hair coloring, advanced cutting techniques, and more. In Taha’s own words, he learned that “not everything is a clipper cut.”

“For the barbers who have already been cutting and are thinking I don’t need to come to school, I encourage them, because I felt the same way, but it really expanded my career and my skills.” —Taha Ahmad

Then the pandemic happened. It made him realize just how big a business barbering is. The importance of barbers, hairstylists, and other beauty professionals became wildly apparent to us all as memes like this one swept the internet.

"After 21 day lockdown, no access to a barber" meme

During the pandemic, Taha’s mother Rehana—like so many of us—spent much of her time at home. Taha told his mother about what he was learning at Innovate Salon Academy, how much he loved growing his skills, and the business opportunities he saw. Rehana was inspired.

“Next thing you know we are both going [to school] together.”

Rehana now attends Innovate Salon Academy alongside Taha as a cosmetology student. She said:

“I was always interested… it was always my passion to do this kind of stuff… cutting hair, doing makeup, doing nails. So I said let’s try! I said I want to do something, so let’s go and do it.” —Rehana Shams

What Taha and Rehana Love About The Industry

“What you thought a haircut was- you see how much more it could be.” —Taha

Taha and Rehana love working in an industry where you can make a difference. Taha enjoys helping his clients achieve the looks they want. Rehana wants to provide a place where Pakistani women can feel safe and at home in her chair. She wants to be a place where culture and beauty meet.


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A post shared by Rehana Shams (@koko_rbeauty)

They are also both inspired by the practical side of the industry—beauty truly can be a great career. As Taha said, you don’t have to be a doctor or an engineer to make money. You can do what you are passionate about and still make a living:

“People think in our culture we don’t really get into the cosmo field or the barbering field. It’s looked at like it’s not good enough per se. It’s a great way to show here in America, you can make money doing anything. As long as you put your mind to it and you’re very interested in growing that business, it can take off!” —Taha

Why Innovate?

Rehana and Taha love that they’re learning about business as well, not just hair. At Innovate Salon Academy, they have an assignment where they have a certain amount of hypothetical money and they have to outline how to set up a shop or salon. It’s really helping them think through all the ways they can make money and the cost of doing business. They are learning what it really takes to be successful outside of just giving a good haircut.

Taha also loves the diversity at Innovate Salon Academy. He and his mom get to share their Pakistani culture with their fellow students and in turn, they get to learn about other cultures as well. They are inspired by this because they didn’t realize how many different things could be done with hair, especially with different textures and types of hair. At Innovate Salon Academy they’re getting great exposure to a wide range of diverse hair.

“Innovate is very diverse. I love that. We have all sorts of cultures here.” —Taha

Innovate Salon Academy also provides eye-opening experiences for students, such as their field trip to The National Barber Museum in New York. Of this experience, Taha said, “It had a lot of history in this little shop. We got to see what tools they used back in the day… it was good insight to see how lucky we are to have what we have now!”

Taha also loved this field trip to the first barbershop in New York City. Since many students at Innovate Salon Academy had never been behind the chair before school, this trip is a great chance to learn the behind-the-scenes flow of a barbershop. Taha even left this trip with a memento he still wears today—a barber pole necklace.

What Do You Hope to Do After Graduating? This Family’s American Dream

The dream is to open a family business. At first, Taha wanted to open his own barbershop, but when his mom joined the team their dreams expanded. Now, Taha and Rehana want to open a full-service salon where people of different backgrounds can come to feel comfortable, confident, and have fun.

They are well on their way. Taha says this is quickly becoming his full-time career and he’s learning so much. Rehana is just starting but would definitely recommend it. She and Taha discussed how important it is to pursue what your passion is because the money will follow.

To those considering joining the barbering and cosmetology industries, Taha and Rehana say this:

“You should wake up every morning excited to go to work. So if you love this, then please do join because if you’re not doing it, you’re missing out. And it’s never too late! But, it’s always better to start sooner than later.” —Taha

“Nothing can stop you. If you’re my age or older just give it a chance. You can do it. If you want to do it, you can do it. Nothing can stop you unless you stop yourself.” —Rehana

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Innovate Salon Academy
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