Allen Ruiz is a man with a mission – to make his clients look and feel better. As the owner of Jackson Ruiz Salon and JR Salon, Ruiz and his stylists have done a lot in that regard for Austin women and men.
Photographs of Ruiz’s work show a man in supreme command of his craft. And this 2007 North American Hairstylist of the Year with a staff of 90 to oversee still spends four days a week behind the chair.
His hairstylings have won international acclaim. The cover story in a recent issue of Russia’s Hair Now magazine features his work. In the magazine’s photos his models’ hairstyles soar with bold lines that reflect breakthrough creativity.
Ruiz’s originality and flawless technique have also made him the lead stylist on some of the most important fashion runways in the world – for designers like Thuy and Propr.
But to decompress from his place on the international stage, sometimes Ruiz stays in his salon at West Fifth and Lamar to clean up at night.
“You know, I just love it,” he says. “I reconnect, and it’s a reminder of why I’ve done it all.”
Connection is key to Ruiz. At heart, he is a family man, drawing on his own family’s strength and warmth to fos- ter that same close feeling in his salons – both for his clients and his employees.
Maybe it started when his grandmother taught him how to crochet. It’s easy to see how that activity of creating something beautiful would translate to the realm of personal style. And the first job he had picking raspberries showed him that nothing comes easy. In fact, that’s what his first boss in hairstyling, Aziz’s Beverly Cox Miller, told him. “She said that the first forty hours pays the rent! I’ve never forgotten that.”
As Ruiz talks about his years growing up, his smile widens, his bright eyes twinkle and his dimples grow deeper.
Watching television makeover shows around the age of 12, he knew that he wanted to be a hairdresser. In high school he started cutting hair for his friends and family. He thought about college, but the lure of hairstyling was too strong.
His days of work and training right after graduation from high school prepared him for the long hours he’d end up devoting to his craft.
“I went straight to Vogue Beauty College at Ben White and South First,” he recalls. “I rode the Number Ten bus every day – from my house to school and then to my job nearby waiting tables at Jalisco’s and back home.”
After working for two well-known Austin salons, Aziz and Bella, Ruiz realized his goal of opening his own shop when he was 28. “When we opened it wasn’t about playing it safe,” he says. Many would-be entrepreneurs in this business start small and hope they’ll grow into something bigger. Ruiz began at a high level and propelled up from there.
He says he wants his clients to have a totally different experience when they enter his salons. No blasé coldness prevails at Jackson Ruiz Salon downtown or JR Salon on Burnet Road. A person walking through either door is enveloped with welcoming friendliness and conversation. The warm color schemes and woodsy, spice-tinged aroma invite deep breathing and relaxation.
“We are not pretentious. We give people a tour and let them explore around – we want them to feel comfortable.” Potential clients find that they can get massages, facials, body treatments, waxing, hair removal, and eyelash extensions at Jackson Ruiz Salon.
Ruiz says his staff’s training program is an integral part of the vision. “We put as much into it as any other set of professionals would receive.” His team hires promising stylists just out of beauty school, taking them through a year to 18 months of education, including chair-side manner and etiquette.
He adds that all the young hairdressers at his salons are trained in ways to connect with their clients. “We say if you don’t have it, then where is your intention?”
Whether it is customers or staff, Ruiz wants to have an investment in people’s lives. Bianca Castillo, a stylist at JR Salon on Burnet Road, reinforces what it is like to be a part of the Jackson Ruiz family. She says that Ruiz’s enthusiasm rubs off on his employees. After almost eight years with the operation, she is still energized by her work environment.
“The family atmosphere is one of the reasons that I’m still here. It transfers into the advancement of our personal lives, too,” she says. “It’s been a whirlwind of growth and Allen never stops dreaming and going after what he wants.”
One rule that initially turned some stylists away from working for Ruiz was that he made it clear “we were going to do something different and would be salary based.” Service providers would not be taking tips. He had his motivation for that decision. “Part of it was to elevate the level of the profession.” In that regard, Ruiz says that they have a comprehensive benefits package for their employees. It comes back to the corporate vision of compassion and caring. “With stylists who are trained as specialists in cut and color, all else falls into place,” Ruiz says.
One more aspect to that importance of family – Ruiz has been with his partner for 13 years now. “We met at a party and somehow I knew that he’d be a part of my life from then on. We’ve lived in our house for 11 years.”
Ruiz says he appreciates the liberal nature of Austin. In his home life, he likes to read and listen to music. “I love ‘The Kite Runner’ – it’s one of my favorite books. Such a great story.” And when he’s running around the lake, the sounds of Duffy, Kanye West, and Goldfrapp on his iPod keep his energy level high.
Ruiz helps keep the creative spirit of people around him elevated, too. Local photographer Tania Quintanilla, who has done many shoots of Ruiz’s work, says that his innovations have shown her how far you can push the envelope. “His hair styling is way more advanced than others. At first, when he’d describe a concept, I’d say, ‘Allen, this is crazy!’ Then I would see the results and say, ‘I get it!’” Quintanilla adds that she is now a devoted client of Ruiz herself. “After I saw what he did for me, I decided that I am only going to let him cut my hair.” But all of the Jackson Ruiz’s stylists do fine work, she says. “I asked Bianca Castillo to cut my sister’s hair. When I saw the result, she looked so good, I said, ‘How did you do that?’”
So what turns Ruiz off? “People who live without passion. I’m fortunate to have found something I really like to do.” That passion is why he takes the time to travel and teach others about the art of hairstyling.
His own passion extends beyond the scissors and the walls of his salons. Believing he must be true to the planet, Ruiz only uses earth-friendly Aveda products, making him one of that company’s key partners. He recently flew to New York for an Aveda photo shoot and has traveled all over the globe doing shows and shoots for them. He counts Antoinette Beenders, Aveda’s vice president of creative, as his mentor. “We’ve worked together for five years. She has an amazing eye for fashion and a great sense of business.”
As for his connection to the local community, he says his business relies on word-of-mouth. That has been their mainstay. That method of spreading the message is reflected in their donations to charity auctions and support for good works around Austin. “We believe in giving back to the community. That goes back to the values of our company: compassion for each other and for the earth.”
What’s in the future? Maybe more salons. But whatever happens, it will be done with the Ruiz family concept as the guiding vision. “I am committed to surrounding myself with a team dedicated to the craft and great customer service.”