Kevin Molin once took over an entire TOWN in California for Aveda Congress — and that’s probably not the craziest thing he’s done in his time at Aveda. Throughout his career, Kevin has worn many hats: Eagle Scout, hairstylist, bookkeeper, event producer, director and more. He’s sharing his journey with us, and why Aveda Congress 2018, our infamous international industry show, is going to be the best one yet.
Aveda: Let’s start at the beginning. How did your career in beauty begin?
Kevin Molin: I grew up in Brainerd, Minnesota, and I started beauty school five days after I graduated high school because I wanted to get out. I was so uncomfortable in a small town, and I knew I wanted to get somewhere bigger. I was scared of Minneapolis so I went to St. Cloud Beauty College and finished in ten months. I moved to Minneapolis the next day and started working in a non-Aveda salon. I was the first person they hired – I was the perm king! I was 18, it was the ‘80s and I would color my hair every week.
My parents were head of Scouting (as in Boy and Girl Scouts), so I had to be an Eagle Scout. What was funny is, I got my Eagle Scout in January, and by then I had started beauty school, so I showed up with blue hair. I had my uniform on and blue hair, and I ended up in the paper.
Aveda: What was life like behind the chair?
KM: I started doing hair and I loved it. I had gone to an event where I saw [Aveda founder] Horst Rechelbacher and [hairstylist and salon owner] Jon English and they’d just launched Color Fixatives, this colored hairspray that would run down your face if you got it wet. I was blown away by Horst and I thought he was so amazing, but I didn’t pursue anything. After doing hair for about four years, I decided to move to Los Angeles. My first dream was to be an actor, but my parents wanted me to have a profession too, so that’s why I went into beauty. I moved right into downtown Hollywood and I was terrified! I didn’t realize at the time that there was no reciprocity [for a cosmetology license], so I had to go back to school for 100 hours. I came from MPLS in the ‘80s and was all Prince-y — I had curly hair and wore smoking jackets and big motorcycle boots and I literally walked around salons in Beverly Hills and applied even to be a receptionist looking like that. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t hire me!
So I became a bookkeeper for a video company. I’m weird because I love the creativeness of hair but I also love finance. I did that for a few years, but I really missed the industry. A friend of mine was working for Sebastian [hair care line], and she called me and said that their head of Education was looking for an assistant. She said, “I’m going to warn you, he’s only hired really beautiful women but come apply!” I did, and what got me the job was that I was a hairdresser and I knew finance. From an assistant standpoint, that was perfect. That’s where I learned education; I was his assistant for a year and then took over all their education seminars. I became in charge of the artistic team there and handled all the logistics. I was there for about 3 years. I left in 1992.
Aveda: How did you end up with Aveda?
KM: That same friend had moved back to Minneapolis and was working for Aveda as the show manager. She asked if I’d be interested in moving back and I was ready; I’d been in L.A. for about eight years and was ready to come home. It was three weeks before Congress when I got hired on the show team. They said, “You’re gonna be in charge of guest artists!” I had no idea what that was, but it was the best opportunity I could’ve ever had to learn this company and learn it fast. I got to work with Horst and he liked what I brought to the table, so for the next Congress, he said he wanted me to direct it.
Aveda: How did that go?
KM: I literally got on the headsets and said to the crew, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m going to try my best and I need you to help me.” It was the best learning experience I ever had. I learned how to direct a show after the first day. Then I started to move into Education; they asked me, along with Kathryn Hamernik, to write the Pure-Fessional [stylist educator] program. We pooled our expertise and wrote it, and launched in 1993. That’s how I started doing education and I’ve kept moving from there.
Aveda: You kept working on the Congress team as well; what was that like?
KM: In 1996, we decided to do Congress in California; it had only been in Minnesota prior to that. They let me shut down the whole main street in Long Beach! We did this amazing Congress and for the after party, the whole main street was only Aveda. We made each restaurant a different theme too; for $500, I got the restaurant for the night, they brought in music. One was country, one was disco, one was blues. It was the only Congress where we’ve been able to take over a city. I moved out there to do that in ’95 because I wanted to learn the distribution side of education and how you book education for salons. I had California, Arizona and Nevada [in my region] so I did that while I was working on Congress. I lived on the beach, so I did [California living] right that time.
Aveda: How did you make it back to Minnesota?
KM: In 1997, the new president of Aveda called me and asked me to come back. I came back in early ’97, and we decided that was the year we’d do Congress at Radio City Music Hall in New York. We walked in and did a kick line on the stage, because how often do you get to be onstage at Radio City?
I was the very first person to pick up Antoinette [Beenders] at the airport when she was a guest artist. I went to the wrong airport terminal and we didn’t have phones at the time, so I went running through the airport and found this blonde lady sitting by herself. I drove her out to the spa and we became really good friends.
After a few years, I started my own company doing event production and Aveda was one of my biggest customers. I had the opportunity to do events for Delta, I directed the North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA), I did Hair World when it came to Vegas. I got to do some really great stuff and see outside of Aveda.
Aveda: What made you want to come back?
KM: I got called again after about ten years, in 2011. I missed the people; there’s nothing more important than the people I work with. I would call the office all the time because I missed the people so much! So I came back as Executive Director of Technical Education, and then in 2014 I moved into my current role.
Aveda: What do you like about your job now?
KM: I love being part of the conversations around the future direction of the company. I still love doing shows; Congress is my favorite thing in the world to do. The global aspect of the role is great, because you see everything happening in the different regions. We’re learning about the strategy of delivering a level of content that can be adapted and it’s a fun, hard thing. I love my team, that’s what makes me the happiest.
Aveda: Obviously, you’ve done a TON of amazing things in your time with Aveda. What’s your proudest achievement?
KM: The Long Beach Congress was the most dynamic in every way. The stage presentation, the city, being able to create a little world — even the taxis had Aveda on them.
Writing and executing the Pure-Fessional program was so rewarding. It was when Aveda was really taking off, around 1993. We knew we were going to launch in a bigger way and it was a great vehicle to do it. We had 40 people in each group and they were all spectacular. It was a great shift in how we had done education. Horst was really brilliant in that as well; he didn’t believe in one way of doing things. I’ve always carried that with me. In education, you want people to engage, fall in love and find what makes them passionate, and amplify it. Education in the last two years has shifted more than in my entire 30 years of doing this … with the onset of digital, peer-to-peer learning is bigger than it’s ever been. The Pure-Fessional system is so great because it’s peer-to-peer in its fundamental form.
Aveda: What’s one of your most fun memories?
KM: Early in my career, we were in New York and we were thinking about using the musical Stomp for Congress. Horst bought tickets and said let’s go see this show. He was interesting because he was so serious and brilliant, but he’d be like a five-year-old and giggle when he was excited. We walked to the theater drinking wine out of a paper bag, and it’s one of my favorite moments with him. We laughed and we were talking about getting creative, drinking this expensive organic wine. It was a really fun night and I learned a lot about him, how he put stuff together.
We used to do Aroma Girls – it was a big thing, and we’d do it at the Minnesota State Fair, at trade shows. They’d wear green velvet catsuits and had headdresses made of flowers, and they’d walk around and spray aroma. We’d go into everyone else’s booths and spray people. I did the hair on the Aroma Girls, and when Horst passed, [his wife] Kiran sent a picture of me doing the hair of one of the girls that she’d found in his files. It’s in my office.
Aveda: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from Horst?
KM: I used to be very meek, and he made me fight for myself. He was so intimidating and so smart, and he’d throw stuff at you. It made me a stronger person.
Aveda: Let’s talk about Congress 2018. What can we expect?
KM: This one is going to be so much about telling the Aveda story and how Aveda is going to move forward. This evening performance is going to be one of the best we’ve ever done. It’s spectacular. It’s shaping up to be amazing. You think you can’t top yourself but you can always top yourself. You think you’ve said everything, and all of a sudden there’s a whole new story. That’s what makes it fun educationally and from a show standpoint. You think you know how to educate people, and the whole thing changes overnight. I still find joy in all of that. I learn something new every day.