Head of the class

Holly Back taught hundreds of young women to snip their way to success and self-respect. Now, her go-for-it attitude will show you anything's possible when you believe in yourself.

Holly’s life lesson learned:

No matter how difficult times are, focus on the positive and look ahead.

Arms folded, head tilted, Holly Back stands in the centre of her North Vancouver teaching salon, quietly studying her hairdressing students hard at work. “Nice job,” she says to Brenda, who is busily twisting rollers onto a plastic mannequin’s head. Then to Laura, who is holding up a faux strand of highlighted hair for her client to see, she whispers, “I’d go warmer.” Holly, 53, sounds like a coach standing on the edge of a playing field. And today, dressed in black running tights, a sporty yellow vest, her lucky socks and sneakers, she even looks like one. She’s a runner all right but that’s not why she’s chosen this outfit. Her salon and school, Holly’s On The North Shore, is holding its third annual five-kilometre fundraising run this Sunday. To promote the event, Holly invited staff and students to join her in dressing as if they’re set to drop their scissors and head out for a jog.

At the moment, with her students progressing at their stations, Holly’s more in the mood for a quick coffee in the bright classroom next door. Settling into a chair at a long table, the 35-year veteran stylist smiles as she looks out the window to the front deck where staff and students sometimes hold parties. Beyond the deck you can see the downtown Vancouver skyline. It’s important to Holly that her students have an inspiring view while she teaches them about colour techniques, facial nerves and blood circulation.

You’d think this kind of concern for their well-being might be one of the reasons why her staff wrote to Chatelaine to nominate Holly as their Soul Model. After all, most of them learned to snip, sculpt and blow-dry from her during the 13 years she’s been teaching. It’s not. The reason isn’t the run she’s organizing either, even though the event’s raised more than $30,000 over the past three years. No, Holly is a Soul Model to this group, explains stylist and former student Lesley Hartwell, because “She taught us that every one of us has the ability to reach for our dreams.”

Holly’s own dream has been to constantly push herself forward through the challenges life tosses at her—and there have been more than a few. All the while she’s kept contributing to her community and working to raise the status of hairdressing—and trades in general—as a career of value. In doing so, Hartwell says, Holly continually coaches everyone around her to do the same thing.