Interview: Gene Juarez

The Salon Legend
Photo by Rachel Coward

Photo by Rachel Coward

Gene Juarez — the name is synonymous in the Northwest with beauty, pampering, and cutting-edge hairstyles; there are 10 Gene Juarez Salon & Spas and beauty schools that bear the name. The man who started it all came from a small town with the dream of becoming “Mr. Hair” of Seattle and the work ethic to make that dream come true. Meet the man behind the brand.

Q. How did growing up in a small town in Eastern Washington with two hard-working parents from Mexico create the man you became?
A: Growing up in a small town instills a strong sense of community — members share similar values and dreams, and are generally more united for the common good. This helped me establish a successful culture for my own business, as I focused on surrounding myself with people who shared my values and goals.

Q. What was it that drew you to a career in hair?
A: I was drawn to the idea of a career in hair from a very young age. I loved the idea of doing something creative while also working with my hands … I knew it would be competitive. If I wanted to succeed, I had to be better than the best — and that was always a motivator.

Q. It’s the 1970s and you are watching what’s hot in Europe, and it’s handheld hair dryers. Tell us about what it was like bringing that to the Seattle market.
A: It was very risky. It forced a complete paradigm shift in the industry. Roller setting was previously used and required weekly appointments. A handheld hair dryer reduced time required in the salon, and gave back women control of their hair. My first time trying to use a handheld dryer was a complete disaster. I still remember the model’s name: Claudia, she had beautiful long, dark hair. I got the hair dryer stuck in her hair right on the top of her head … This is when I knew I needed help, and went to London to train for six weeks at the Vidal Sassoon salon.

Q. How did you create the Gene Juarez brand?
A: I created the Gene Juarez brand by developing a positive, open culture based on principles of family — a value my Hispanic parents had passed down to me. It’s interesting to read today’s business journals that are now stating what I always thought was obvious — the best way to treat your staff is as if they were your family.

Q. What was it like handing over the brand when you decided to “retire”?
A: Selling the company was very sad for me, and one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. We were fortunate that our brand was so strong; we fielded several offers to purchase the company, and decided to pick one that was local. My thought process was that in keeping local owners who had exposure and understanding and appreciation of our brand standards would better ensure and protect them, and the people who worked for me. I wanted to make sure my life’s work was in good hands.

Q. Why do you choose to live on the Eastside?
A: I previously lived in Madison Park for years. But as my family grew, I couldn’t find the space we needed and was looking for an environment that was more family-centered. I was able to find that in the Bellevue-Clyde Hill area, and I raised my kids there. Bellevue has grown so much — especially in the past few years — and continues to grow and change. I love the energy of the emerging city. All the while, Seattle is still close enough to us that we can take advantage of what it has to offer as well.

Q. Of all the different hairstyles through the years, what was your favorite look?
A: That is hard to say, as I really like change and am a neophiliac. The best thing I was able to do was anticipate trends, and determine what was going to become a new fashion, and then perfect it by practicing/experimenting. … You can’t afford to maintain a specific look, or you’ll soon become outdated as fashion evolves.

Q. What advice would you give to someone chasing their passion?
A: Having passion is one of the most important qualities you need to achieve your dreams/success, but I don’t feel it’s the only thing. Lots of people have passion, but the ones who truly “make it” are blessed with other qualities: focus, persistence, and hard work. The most successful people are obsessed; passion with obsession is impossible to stop.

Q. What’s next?
A: I still am involved with El Zacetecano Mezcal, and am Emeritus Board Member of Plaza Bank. I spend a lot of my time working with the Celebrity Waiters Luncheon. Our annual invitation-only charity luncheon will be held on May 13 at the wonderful Fairmont Hotel. I recently paired up with the Millionaire Club Charity, a 100-year-old organization that started here in Seattle. They specialize in helping people who are experiencing homelessness or unemployment in the greater Seattle area. It’s a great organization, and they do wonderful work for the community. Last year’s proceeds from the Celebrity Waiter’s Luncheon event helped to open more showers and laundry facilities.

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is the editor in chief at 425 magazine.
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