Meet Elissa Honaizer Founder of Coccola Beauty.a beauty salon out of Toronto. What started off as a passion project took a life of its own, creating a space for all women to feel beautiful. An expert in the industry, she started off as an apprentice at the age of 17 years old for Cabellos. “I love what I do, so I had a passion for it at a very young age. I believe if you know your passion, you should get into it young, and that way there is more time to grow and be in it”. A mother to a beautiful young girl, a business owner and a go getter who always gets what she wants!
So you knew from 17 / 18 that you were going to start your own company?
I originally started out in arts, like drama. I did a lot of musical theatre. I always loved the hair and makeup side of being backstage. I didn’t want to be a drama teacher, so I was like what else can I do? So I looked at hairdressing. I was actually a client at Cabellos for many years, and then I was just talking to my hairdresser and I was like “I just signed up for hairdressing school” and they offered me an apprenticeship on that day when I was getting my hair done. I was 17. I was in high school still. I started there and I was there for about 12 years.
Were you always in hairdressing?
Yes. I had the opportunity of being on the Aveda creative team, and I travelled a little bit with that, which was super cool. It was just as an assistant position, but I got to see a lot of backstage stuff. I was lucky to kind of be in the midst of these top-quality hairdressers, and I got to see kind of how Ray ran his business, and how all these other hairdressers from all over the world did. I always liked business, my family is in business, and I loved my dad’s passion for business. They’re in construction, but I loved the idea of starting something. I’m a mom as well. It kind of reminded me of being a mom. You have this baby and you just want to nurture it and take care of it and watch it grow. I only have one daughter but I have three stepsons, but I feel like I can only have one kid because this is like a baby to me too.
When did you have a baby? You were in the midst of your career when you decided to launch your own business?
I would say I knew about three years before I had Eva, I actually got approached by Aveda to open a salon. They were like “We think you’d be a great salon owner. You’ve been in the industry a while.” I was like, “I don’t know if I’m ready yet.” I’ve always had this gut feeling that I felt that I was going to do it, I just knew it wasn’t the right time. I was in a not-so-great relationship, so I knew I didn’t have that support behind me. When I had my daughter, it was probably the worst time. It ignited that “I want to show this girl that you can do whatever you want. It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl.” I just wanted to show her because I cam form a family of 3, my parents are first-generation Canadian, from Italy, and my mom did something when I was young that was super inspiring. I had a brother and a sister and my dad owned his own business, so my mom would do everything. She was like “You know what, I don’t want to be just a stay at home mom, wife. I want to have something that’s mine.” She went back to school to become a French teacher with three little kids. When I saw her do that, it was super inspiring to me, so I wanted to show that to Eva. I wanted to show her “Just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you can’t do it, you know.” Having her just lit that fire in me and even though ideally it’s going to be way more on my plate, I feel like this moment is when it’s supposed to happen. I started in my basement in my house, just doing hair. I got out of hair for two years, because I had started really young and maybe there was something else out there, and I started working in construction like my family did. If anything, it reinvigorated my passion. It lit that flame in me, and I started Coccola when I came back from my maternity leave. I came back from my maternity leave, I went back into construction. I was working at the construction, kind of like I did when I was in high school, I was trying to get all clients back again because I was out of it for two years. Initially, Coccola was just a bridal hair and makeup service, and I was doing a few clients here and there out of my basement. Then, I decided I wanted to leave my toxic relationship. I needed a nest egg to do that, so I was working like a dog, I was like “I need to get money.” I would put money aside, and I was working probably 12 / 13 hour days probably every day, just trying to build my clientele. I had an opportunity when I left him to work out of this little medispa. Basically, the space that I and Nicki work in, it’s like a cooperative beauty workspace, and it’s so great. There’s so much great energy in here, and we all play off of each other. This space came up and I had actually kind of outgrown this space and I’m opening a larger salon in May. Nicky (Nickie?) and I are opening it together. There’s one other girl, she does my extensions for me, it’s going to be a one-stop beauty boutique. It’s going to be botox, filler, all hair services. We want to make it an experience for people. You can spend the day just getting beautiful. We’re going under one umbrella name. It’s going to be called One Hair and Beauty. So our tagline is going to be “Here we grow again.” Nicky comes from a similar situation, from being a single mom, and I feel like we’re the ones you can’t fuck. It’s hard having a kid and doing all of this. We’re opening it together. Holly has a son as well, and it’s going to be great. I’m super excited about it. I didn’t know if leaving Oakville was a good idea because the clientele is so great. But when I was starting up, I was like “the rent is so high.” I feel like Hamilton has a market. There’s just a hair salon. What I took from Aveda, I can’t say thank you enough for everything that I got from that place. They were very forward-thinking in the way they did stuff. It’s always kind of triggered me to kind of be one step ahead. I’ve gone to salons because when I left the hair salon it’s just me. I can’t do my own hair. I kind of went from that, to going to what a soon is. That to me was like an experience. When I was getting my hair done, you get the scalp massage, shoulder massages which I’m going to be implementing in the place. I’m going to be bringing that in too. Those little details are what make a place, I think.
Also, I have a very untraditional consultation process. My consultation is, and I think that a lot of hairstylists and makeup artists undervalue how important that initial interaction is. I think it’s literally the key piece in the service. That’s where you establish realistic expectations. That’s where you get to know the person. I’ll ask them about “What does a day look like to you?” “How much time do you have to realistically spend on your hair?” They’ll bring in pictures of something, that I know is going to take an hour. Or, they’ll show me a picture and there are tons of hair extensions in there. They don’t see the detail that I see in it, or how much it’s going to take. At Cabellos i learnt something called vision crafting, which is something that I implemented in what I do here as well because it sets you up to not fail. When somebody says “I want to be blonde like you.” Well, that’s not going to happen on a first go. But, I set a plan in place and we say “Okay, by four visits, we can probably get you as light as you can.” People love that I’m honest with them. I think a lot of the times people want that initial, like when I’ve done weddings, I’ve seen people do makeup and just want to make people happy right away, they don’t want to disappoint them. If I were to show them a picture of Kim Kardashian, people want to look like Kim Kardashian, even if they’re blonde. They don’t realize that their face structure maybe isn’t. Redirecting them into something that actually is going to make them hot. I’ll look at their shoes or what they’re wearing, or their purse and it’s like “you’re showing me this, but your style says this.” It’s all gotta go together.
Because your father was in construction, do you think that helped you in opening your own Boutique?
Yes. My dad is actually going to be overseeing all the construction there. I’m very lucky to have the family that I have. They have supported me through all of this. It’s been great. Both of my parents have really inspired me and pushed me to follow my dreams and do what it is I needed to do to get to where I want to be. My dad’s going there tomorrow to look at how to root the plumbing for our pink sinks. It’s going to be the girliest beauty spot in Hamilton.
Where do you see, What’s your vision to see Coccola Beauty?
What Coccola means is “to be pampered” in Italian. That’s kind of where that started. We’re still trying to maintain what our business is, but one is going to be all of us under one umbrella. I would love to maybe hire another hairstylist. I just hired a coop student on, and she loves it, and she maybe wants to come on full time after doing reception. I would also love to, in the future, educate. That’s something I would love to do. I used to teach and I loved it. At some point maybe having a space in there where I can have people come in and I can educate. The thing is, though, I always want to remain Boutique. I don’t want to overgrow. If anything it’ll be one or two hairstylists and myself. That’s kind of what caused me to leave Cabellos. It kind of just became this factory. The little details were starting to be lost. I’m very passionate about that, so I don’t ever want to lose those little details of who we are.
What inspires you?
My daughter. Every time I see her, and I tell her all the time, she’s like “I can’t wait to work with you one day, Mommy.” She walks around with makeup all over her face or she’ll even draw on my boyfriends face with all her makeup. He’s so good about it. It’s just my family. I’m super passionate about what I do. My clients are everything to me. In the lockdown, I found it really hard because I was saying to my coop student today because she was like “I love how you and your clients interact together.” When my clients come in, they’re like my family. I’m always very genuine and authentic with whoever it is that I meet. I might not be the right person for some people, but for the people, I am the right person for, they’re lifers. I marry all of them. I constantly remind myself of where I started with this business. I just remember scraping to get by with my daughter, and being on E.I. after getting out of there, and my ex, he didn’t really contribute that much, and just thinking “I’m not going to settle.” I can’t settle. It’s just not even in me. I don’t know how people do that. I know that we live in Canada. There’s an opportunity here. My grandmother carted all these people over from Italy to give us the opportunity. I’m going to take all the opportunity I can in the country that she worked so hard for, to give to us.
What is the advice that you would give yourself, or to younger girls who struggle with that, with opening a business?
I have gone through some points where I have realized business does this, it’s never this. Obviously, the longer you’re in it, it’s not as much this. You learn from your mistakes, and you tend to not have as many pickups because you put things in place to make sure that the mistakes that happened don’t happen again. There have been points where I just remember thinking “It would just be so much easier if I had a 9-5 and someone else dealt with taxes and all these other things and ordering product.” Sometimes you have clients who are really fricken mean to you that you just don’t know and you second guess yourself and I think maybe I should just throw in the towel. I would say I always found after when I hit what I thought was rock bottom with my business, that’s when the best shit happens. The second I thought I was going to quit, I was like “No.” I’m not quitting. I’m going to do it. Then, something amazing would happen that would be like okay, I’m on the right path. My boyfriend actually just recently, he’s been such a big piece to this. Meeting him, I feel like the universe brings people into your lives at the right time. He’s just been my saving grace. COVID has been very hard for a lot of small business owners. I had my savings for the first lockdown, and the second lockdown comes around and I was like “Man, how long is this going to be? I can’t do this.” He’s always like, “Alice? You have greatness in you. You can. I just see how great you’re going to be.” That’s when Nicky and Holly were like “Let’s open a spot.” I think I would just say keep going. If you believe in it, just keep going.
You’re saying your boyfriend was kind of an inspiration to you to kind of be making sure that you’re always up?
When I was with my ex, I was never stagnant. He stifled my growth. Mike has been the watering can to my plant for all of this. I never realized how being with a partner can help you. I flourished into this woman that I never thought I would be. Obviously, I have to give myself props for that, but he also has been a huge part of my growing. I tell him all the time, I’m just so grateful fr what you’ve given to me, to my daughter, he treats her like that’s his own. He’s just the best human being. One of the questions was three keywords, and I thought a lot about that. I actually have it on my website. Nobody knows what Coccola means. I wanted to make sure I had tampered. It’s tampered, passionate, visionary. That’s exactly how I would describe myself, or what this business is in three words.
When we are talking about The One, I guess the one would be kind of a house that houses all these different brands.
Holly and I, the hair people, we’re just going to just be one. We’re going to be one hair and beauty. I’m going to be, I don’t want to say closing Coccola, because I’m not. It’s always going to be a part of me, and it’s what’s gotten me to this point. I feel like this is what the beauty industry is becoming. Even in here, Holly is in here too, the hair extension girl. My clients always go to see one of them or both of them. It’s not just one stop. My client today was complaining about how her forehead is moving, and how she feels like she’s getting old and she went and booked an appointment with Nicky. They all go hand in hand. I do feel like we are one unit. I’m fine with being just one. We are One.
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