The Next Generation of JC Leaders: Sumiko Proulx

Sumiko Proulx, 19, (she/her) is a proud yonsei, Métis woman with aspirations to move the hairstyling industry forward. Not only does she hairstyle, but J was also selected to play on the Canadian National Team for inline hockey, and she likes to sew and explore Vancouver! Her great-grandmother was born on Powell Street and is inspired to reconnect with her culture and the JC community! [@styled.byjp]

Thank you so much for meeting with me! I asked you to be a part of this interview because I see you as an emerging leader within your industry. Could you describe to me a bit about the projects you’re working on or what you’re pursuing?

I’m working on getting my Red Seal for Hairdressing right now. I’m in school and working in a hair salon right now trying to get practical experience. I’ve taken on a couple sewing passion projects. I’m just trying to master my craft right now – that’s literally all I’m focusing on. For me, there’s so much gratification through making someone feel confident. That’s a huge reason on why I chose to pursue hair styling. Sometimes you’re the first person to tell someone that they’re beautiful in years! They leave your chair feeling super happy and that’s something that I want to do FOREVER.

How do you see yourself as a leader – or as someone who will be a leader within the industry?

I want to be a positive influence for young girls. When I was younger, I asked myself, “Why don’t I look like that?” There was a huge lack of representation in the media when I was a teenager. Eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to be 5’9 and have naturally blonde hair.  I want to be someone in the beauty industry that can be like, a mixed-race person, show beauty, and be successful without necessarily looking like the ‘ideal’. I wish that I had somebody to look up to in that way when I was younger.

Do you have any goals as you prepare to make your way fully into the industry?

For me, my goal is to never have to turn someone away because of the texture of their hair, or anything like that. I’ve seen that happen and it’s super uncomfortable and unfair! Afro hair and Asian hair aren’t commercialized the same way that white hair is. Those hair types come with their own set of different challenges to colour and generally require different care. A lot of the time, people just don’t know what to do with it. They can think things like, “Asian hair is too stubborn to cut, Asian hair is too stubborn to bleach.”

True. I had a hairstylist in Toronto and she was one of the only Asian people in the salon. She was one of the first people to tell me that Asian hair was in fact different and actually required different attention for it.  I was so glad that she knew how to deal with my hair – especially because I was bleaching it out!

For sure. It’s coarser, thicker and obviously a lot darker than typical Caucasian hair. It has to go through a lot more processes to get where it needs to be. That’s where you often find ‘issues’ with it as it’s more time consuming, and some stylists don’t want to have to deal with that. Also, some products that work for some isn’t going to work for others.

Is there something or a skill that you’re really into right now?

I really like styling. Currently still learning how to master colours – but I’m also really interested in doing vivid colours!

How would you describe your relationship to being Japanese Canadian?

I’ve been trying to connect more with my Japanese side lately. In high school, I was in a First Nations program and I learned a lot about different cultures and different practices within First Nations communities. But never once did we learn about the Internment and I feel like a lot of that learning was lost, resulting in that side of my culture being suppressed. Now, I want to learn the language basics at the very least. So, when I finally visit Japan, I can order food and stuff!

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

If I could look at her, I would say: where you come from is equally important as who you are. I remember trying to suppress my different cultures because I wanted to fit in with the girls at school. I would tell her to embrace her features instead of trying to hide them [through makeup]. I was 15 in 2015! We’ve progressed a lot since then. There’s so much more representation now. But then, the ideal was the Victoria Secret angels.

It’s crazy it’s only been 5 years and so much has changed!

Yeah – we’re getting there. We’re not where we need to be but it is so much better than before.

Who was your biggest inspiration?

When I was younger, I looked up to my brother a lot. We went through a decent amount of stuff as children – and just watching him make his own money and be independent was really cool. I never ever caught him slipping or being down on himself. I looked up to his confidence and how he carried himself- how he embraced everything. He’s always been extremely good at embracing our different cultures.

Goals or any pursuits for the future?

This year, I’m really excited to get my career going and get my Red Seal. I want to become fully independent and navigate the world on my own. I would also really love to do the hair backstage at a fashion show too.

Favourite place in Vancouver?

I love Buntzen Lake. That’s where I spend all my time in the summer! And I also have a newfound love for Cypress Mountain – I hope to spend a lot of time there next season. Anywhere with the ocean, lake, or the mountains. That’s why I love living on the West Coast and I doubt I’ll ever leave.

Favourite food?

Udon. Nabeyaki udon takes the cake.

Sumiko Proulx can be followed on Instagram @styled.byjp

By Mika Kobayashi Embury
Community Programming Coordinator