I was born with one hand, but never let it get to me; there was no need as my friends and family are both supportive and proud.
How did my obsession start? Well, as a kid, my nan bought me a Vidal Sassoon hairdressing book from a car boot sale. I studied the step by step stages of cutting and styling, and my friends would come round and I’d experiment on their hair giving them all types of layers and fringes.
My first foray into cutting was at the ripe old age of thirteen. My best friend Rachel had long hair, so I chopped it all off to her shoulders; I didn’t even use hairdressing scissors, just an old pair from my mum’s kitchen. After that, I’d get up early and go to her house before school and do her hair.
As a teenager I’d ask friends if they wanted highlights or a new hair cut. I’d even mix up the colours in the boxes not knowing what would come out; a bit risky but never – thankfully – a disaster.
Always wanting to work in the industry, my situation meant I was unable to train as a hairdresser and complete all the units required for an NVQ, so I studied Graphic Design at Southampton university instead. But when I finished the course I knew it still wasn’t really the career I wanted.
Moving to Tufnell Park two years ago to take a job in fashion, still the need to be a hairdresser niggled, so I contacted the awarding body VTCT, who recommended the TLT Academy in London. Some great news came through the door a couple of days after that: I had been sponsored and was to start at the Academy in February, training in level 2 and 3 hair colouring.
I’ve learnt so much since being at TLT and my confidence has grown hugely. My teacher, Kylie Turner, is understanding and has great patience. I also recently trained with celebrity extensionist Shane O’Sullivan, who does the likes of Katie Price, Amy Childs, and shows like TOWIE and Hollyoaks.
Of course no one can actually teach me how to be a hairdresser because they don’t have one hand, but they can show me how it’s meant to be done. I watch what they do and figure out a way to do it, simple as that really. I get a bit nervous when being taught a new technique, although sometimes I even surprise myself: recently shown how to do extensions (there’s quite a few fiddly bits to hold and pull the hair through) I thought I wasn’t going to be able to succeed – but after a couple of goes I had it.
When people ask how I plait and cornrow hair, I just say I can’t really explain and end up using a friend’s hair to show them. The technique is similar to how a person with two hands would work, but I do it with one and an elbow. I use my elbow a lot in hairdressing and without that part of my arm it probably wouldn’t be possible to do what I do.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to overcome is finding new clients. It’s been a gradual process but I now have a small and regular customer base and I carry out styling, colouring and extension service from my flat. People have preconceptions about what I can and can’t do – understandable as I’ve never meet a one-handed hairdresser either.
My friends still take it in turns to sit in the hair chair before a night out, having their hair curled or a quick fringe trim. In fact, I think I’d be offended if they didn’t.
And you know what? Now, right here in 2013, is just the right time for me: I think if you have a strong passion and big dreams you can make anything happen. I just want to show the industry that I’m here – and ready to create some fabulous hair.
If you would like to make an appointment with Ashley contact him via twitter @ashlee_hm or email: firstname.lastname@example.org