is a coveted British hairdresser who has notched up more than 50 years in the industry. His career achievements have earned him a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), a prestigious award given by the Queen for outstanding service to the community. He is hairstylist to countless celebrities and influencers alike – including Pages By Megan’s Megan Ellaby (pictured) and has a line of product that has garnered worldwide success. BD chats to Sorbie to find out more about his multiple achievements.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in Scotland, but moved to London when I was 11. I had always dreamt of becoming an artist, but (due to bullying) had to leave school when I was 15. My dad (and grandad before him) were barbers, so he put me straight to work in his salon. I had a natural ability to cut and style hair, so Dad sent me to a local hairdressing school where they immediately saw my potential and recommended that I work and train in one of the major hairdressing ‘houses’ of the time. That was where I met the legendary Vidal Sassoon, and my hairdressing journey took flight. Vidal promoted me to artistic director, and I went on to work for him and other well-known hairdressing salons (including TONI&GUY and John Frieda) travelling the world to showcase my work.
A couple of landmark moments in my career – creating 'The Wedge' in 1974, the first hairstyle to be featured as a double-page spread in British Vogue, and the style that became the most requested of that time for women, men and children; and creating the look of the 80s (think Flashdance!) called 'The Scrunch'. This really catapulted me into the limelight, and in 1979 the opportunity arose to open my first salon in Covent Garden, London. Then a product range followed in the 1980s (one of the first professional hair brands on the market) which is still going strong today. Jump forward to 2016 and I am the proud owner of five salons in the UK, academies in both London and China, and an internationally sold product range.
What are some of your hairdressing accolades?
I have been fortunate enough to have won many awards in my career, but some highlights include being awarded the first Patron of Honour for the Fellowship of Australian Hairdressing, winning British Hairdresser of the Year a record four times, and being the first hairdresser to be honoured by Her Majesty The Queen for services to British hairdressing (MBE).
What made you decide to launch your own range of hair products?
My whole hairdressing career has been built around offering clients the best quality cut and colour, and the best overall hair service every time they visit me or a member of my team in the salon. Having my own product range to ensure that this quality was then continued for the client once they were home was a natural fit. We can create the most beautiful cut or colour, but if the client can't maintain this between his/her appointments then we haven't done our job properly.
How did you develop the range?
I have a small, dedicated in-house team who I work with to decide what we want to offer our clients with a new range, then we brief a trusted UK manufacturer (who we’ve worked with for a number of years on our salon range), on what we are looking for from each product. This goes into detail from the fragrance, to texture, colour, in-use performance and finished results. The manufacturer then submits samples of each product to be tested in our salons and also by a panel of our product customers at home. Some products can take as many as 20 different sample submissions until we're sure we've found the perfect formulation!
How involved are you in the research and development of product?
I am involved in the whole process, as is my very experienced team, many of whom have worked with us for more than 15 years! My products are the representation of me, and my salons, that people can take home, so I'm dedicated to ensuring they are of the highest quality.
What makes the brand stand out from its competitors?
I think expertise is one of the main areas – I've been hairdressing for more than 50 years, and creating products for more than 35 years. I put all my knowledge and expertise into everything I do, so I know we are offering premium salon-standard products. As a brand we also listen to our clients and customers. The range is sulphate-, sodium- and paraben-free in direct response to our clients’ needs, the packaging is clearly colour coded to make it easier to shop, we use clear product descriptions to help [clients] choose the perfect product, and the fragrance is a firm favourite in the salon!
Why did you decide to position it into key regimens?
These reflect the key hair types and features our clients look for from their products. Each range is tailored to deliver a very specific hair result, making it easier to shop and find the product that will suit [the client].
What type of testing do the new products undergo?
Rigorous testing by my salon team on their clients and also by product customers at home. A product is only accepted as approved when the testers all give it an ‘excellent’ rating. Any rating below this is not acceptable.
What is your key goal for the brand?
To exceed customer expectations in terms of in-use experience and end results when they use our products.
What has been the brand's key highlight so far?
The two highlights for me have been receiving my MBE from Her Majesty The Queen, and realising my vision to create a wig personalisation service to help ladies suffering from medical hair loss. This led to the formation of the charity mynewhair, which allows me to train other hairdressers across the UK (and soon the world) to be able to make this service accessible to all women in need.
Where do you see the brand in five years' time?
Probably having a few more salons (maybe even one in Australia!). We have just five salons in the UK and one in China. I've purposefully left this number low so that I am able to visit all the salons and ensure that my dedication to quality and precision is being upheld by everyone who works in the team. I will continue to develop and produce products that ensure men and women can make the best of their hair.