anci Lee has always had a passion for fine art. It was while she was working on her art degree at university that she was introduced to the idea of becoming a hairstylist. She explained: “When I was a student working on campus, one of my coworkers had grown up in a family of hairdressers. She looked over at me one day and said, ‘You know, you would be a fantastic hairstylist.’ It was an idea that really excited me, but asking my father who was a professor to drop out of university to pursue it was not an easy feat.
“Despite this, I enrolled in beauty school in Memphis, Tennessee, and it wasn’t long until my background in fine arts started to pay off. I would do little things like painting tiny detailed pictures on nails. The woman who owned my beauty school also owned a beautiful high-end salon, seeing the work I had been doing, she offered me a job as an assistant.
“From there, I got the amazing opportunity to work with Robert Cromeans, Paul Mitchell and Horst Rechelbacher, right at the beginning of my career. I think because I was able to meet these artists who went on to become some of the biggest names in the industry, it showed me the possibilities that were out there for hairstylists.
“I still wanted to finish my art degree, so I moved to New Mexico and worked in Mark Pardo’s Salon while going to university part-time. Art School helped me develop color and design principles to add depth to my creative abilities in the hair world. The next thing I wanted to do was move to a bigger city, either New York or Los Angeles. The deciding factor was based mainly on the climate, I don’t like cold weather, so I decided to go to LA.
“The first salon was Dean Rhoades Salon in Beverly Hills. Dean was awesome ,he was always trying the newest and latest trends and services such as lash perms (what we now think of as lash lifts) and eyebrow tattooing (microblading). He encouraged us to learn everything and anything. Extensions in the late 90s, early 2000s were becoming more popular but clients had misconceptions about them, that they damaged the hair, etc. Dean wanted us to learn how to do extensions and apply them correctly. So, I went to see the ISSE in Long Beach, and when I found the Great Lengths booth I had their extensions put into my own hair. I was immediately hooked! Great Lengths had an established education program so if I were to offer them in the salon, I would know exactly how to apply them safely, without damaging the hair.
“After attending the class I was fortunate enough to have five or six clients waiting in line for extensions. That was the beginning, it was the best choice I ever made.”
Nanci Lee then went on to work with Kim Vō who still owns the salon she works at today. Together they worked on television shows like American Idol, and Extreme Makeover. “As time went on I started getting more involved with Great Lengths, eventually becoming an educator for them and they’ve been stuck with me for the last 15 years!”
These days, Nanci splits her time between working as a senior stylist in the Kim Vō Salon in West Hollywood and working for Great Lengths USA, educating and creating editorial and social content for the brand. Nanci added: “I am truly honored to work with amazing members of the industry like photographer Richard Monsieurs, and Great Lengths Executive Artistic Director Danielle Keasling. Photo shoots are something I love doing and I am so lucky to have a balance between having this creative outlet while also getting to travel and educate the next generation of extension stylists.”
Since the early 2000s, the market for hair extensions has grown astronomically but Great Lengths’ status in the industry remains consistently high. I asked Nanci why she believes Great Lengths has remained as top dog for so long. She said: “The number one thing for me is the ethicality of the sourcing of Great Lengths’ hair. Our hair is chosen from a select few temples in India where all the hair is donated willingly. The money paid to the temple goes back to service the community. The hair then goes to our factory in Italy. It’s funny; in America, when we think of the word “factory”, we think of a grey and smoggy industrial park. In contrast, the factory in Italy is nothing like I could have imagined. It’s a family-owned company out in the Italian countryside, more of a picnic location than a factory! The processing itself makes a very low impact on the natural environment, using non-toxic materials and recyclable water. Everything about creating Great Length’s extensions is transparent, traceable and ethical, they are blended by hand, and of the highest quality possible.
“I compare Great Lengths’ extensions to a Rolls Royce or Louis Vuitton Bag: a product that is extremely well made with every detail considered. Every product is consistent and of premium quality. Everyone who works for Great Lengths is proud of what we do. That’s why I have stuck around for all these years!”
Another thing that sets Great Length apart is its commitment to quality education. I asked Nanci to tell us a little bit about what is offered in the Great Lengths class. She said: “We teach everything, from learning how to consult with a client to marketing and social media. We give our students a three-page questionnaire for their clients to ensure a through consultation. We also teach stylists how to educate their clients on proper maintenance of their hair in between appointments. Then, of course, we teach the different application methods which we dedicate a whole day to getting hands-on experience. We also go through hair cutting techniques and how to blend the extensions into the natural hair. We talk about chemical services, colouring the extensions, perming them, and so on. We even go into how to market extensions as a service, and how to endorse them on social media.
“Every classroom is a little bit different, so we always make the effort to get to know the students, their experience, and what they are wanting to get out of the class. From there I can cater the lesson to fit them more specifically. Sometimes I get brand new stylists who are still assisting and sometimes I get stylists who have 20 years under their belt and want to add another skill to their repertoire. Great Lengths’ classes are always flexible to suit their needs.
“Another thing I do is I always give out my contact information as well as the contact details of the Great Lengths support team. I want my students to know that they can always DM me or call me up if they have questions or need a reminder or two. We are always there to help, and we don’t want our stylists to be shy if they have a question.”
“Presently, we are supplying all of the stylists who take our course with some extensions so they can immediately start an application when they return home. I encourage them to start on family, friends or enthusiastic clients for their first few customers. It’s a great way of getting more experience and getting more comfortable with the techniques.”
I asked Nanci Lee what she loves most about teaching the next generation of Great Lengths’ stylists. She said: “The thing I love about educating for Great Lengths is just knowing how extensions can enhance a stylist's career. One of the things I love about sharing the skill of extensions is knowing that we are giving stylists access to a whole other creative outlet. Extensions open so many doors and possibilities for stylists to be creative and try new things. On the other hand, knowing that we are also giving stylists an opportunity for financial freedom. You know that saying, ”work smarter, not harder”? Well, that’s what extensions are all about. The amount of money you are able to make in a short period of time is amazing, and incredibly liberating for stylists.
“It’s also about stability. One thing that amazed me during Covid was that I did not lose one extension client. I actually gained three! Extension clients are dedicated clients, especially when you use Great Lengths. I know from personal experience that the product is so good you get addicted. Your hair always looks good, and you feel great too. I have clients who have lost their hair for medical reasons, I have clients who are up in front of audiences, professors, judges. There is no one type of extension client. They are all just people who know what makes them feel beautiful, and they stick with it!”
For readers out there who are determined to bring hair extensions into their salon, I asked Nanci Lee what advice she has and where to get started. She said: “I think the most important thing is for stylists to do their research before choosing a brand. Look at a bunch of options and try to find one that is the best for you. The main things I would look out for are that the company can ensure you will be getting a consistent product every time, that you’re going to get a thorough education on application and so on, and that you are making sure your methods, techniques and the extensions themselves are not going to damage the hair. Choose your clients carefully to ensure a successful result. Make sure you are educated, your clients are educated, and you are putting your clients’ hair health in your best interest.”