No splitting hairs to stay cut above rest

Kate FieldingSouth Western Times
HBM Studio owner and hairdresser Stephanie Harwood.
Camera IconHBM Studio owner and hairdresser Stephanie Harwood. Credit: South Western Times

A life altering trip to Cambodia to help those living in poverty inspired Stephanie Harwood to take more risks with her hairdressing salon in Bunbury.

“I was straight off the plane and was like, we need to do something bigger and different and we need to be a little bit risky in life I think sometimes,” Stephanie said.

“You know, take a chance and take an opportunity and if you fail, you can always say that you’ve tried.

“Because we’re so lucky to live in a country where we have so much opportunity and when you see another country that doesn’t have so much opportunity, you really realise how lucky you are.”

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The 32-year-old was in Cambodia with humanitarian group Hair Aid to teach women – and sometimes men – hairdressing skills.

The women have most commonly been rescued from human trafficking rings or the sex trade industry.

“It’s really focused on how they can literally go into the community as soon as we leave and make money so that they don’t have to do those things and they can provide for their families,” Stephanie said.

“It was quite confronting, especially the human trafficking stuff, I didn’t even think it existed.

“And to meet children that have actually been sold, rescued, brought back ... I’ve got kids as well and I just thought, well I could never imagine.”

HBM Studio owner and hairdresser Stephanie Harwood’s new salon is making waves in Bunbury.
Camera IconHBM Studio owner and hairdresser Stephanie Harwood’s new salon is making waves in Bunbury. Credit: Kate Fielding / South Western Times

The mother-of-two’s emotion is genuine and as we sit in Stephanie’s new salon that is bustling with business and giving off this cool vibe that is becoming a common theme across Bunbury, it is obvious to see the risks she has taken and how they are paying off.

Stephanie took over the lease of the historic Boulters Building in the CBD and has brought the iconic building back to life through her salon, HBM Studio.

“We started in a much smaller shop across the road at Koombana Court and we just outgrew the space,” she said.

“Every day I walked past it (her new building) and no one had done anything with it.

“It was just sitting here and it’s so beautiful, so much potential and I could really see it being such a vibing space where everyone is welcome.

“Cambodia was probably the deciding factor ... I literally got off the plane and I realised that no matter how much I fail and no matter how poor I become in Australia, I’ll never be as poor as the people in Cambodia.

“So I pretty much scraped every last penny out of my bank account and went and signed the lease.”

The new studio is focused on the entire experience of a haircut or style with Stephanie including a cocktail bar in her salon.

“I just wanted to create the ultimate space for an experience, like if you’re going somewhere special it can be special,” she said.

“When we first started building the shop and we were doing the shop fit, people would say ‘oh another hair salon’ and I was like, ‘just you wait, it’ll be something different’ and now that it’s up and running, everyone’s like ‘wow, what a great idea’.”

Stephanie credits her hardworking staff and the support of her two daughters and partner in making her ultimate dream a reality.

She hopes another trip to Cambodia later this year will help keep her grounded.

“I feel like I need that reality check again to know that what I’m doing here is great and what I did there is great,” she said.

“I’m – at the best of times – quite black and white, cold hearted, not very emotional and I came back and every time I opened by mouth about it, I would cry.

“It’s just not me and all my friends and family know that I’m just not like that and yeh, it just really made a big difference in my life I think.

“I sit back now and I think, before I left to go to Cambodia, I never thought I would have had this shop and it looked the way it does and it’s running the way it does and I’m just so proud of it and I’m just so proud that I took the risk really.

“I’ve still got a lot of hard work obviously to pay back my debts and things like that, but I’m all ready for it.”

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