Growing up in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, Hoa always loved the regular visits she made to the salon with her sister and her mother. Not only did she enjoy being pampered by a hairstylist and her assistance, but she was fascinated by their hair creations and never got bored of watching what they would do next. She always looked forward to her next visit to the salon, and before long she began to dream of one day becoming a hair stylist herself.
But is was a turbulent time in Cambodia’s history. During the civil war of the 70s, Hoa’s family had been forced to leave Phnom Penh for Vietnam; now they were back, life was promising, businesses were booming, including those of Hoa’s parents, but personal safety and security were still very uncertain. Hoping for a better and more stable future for their five children, Hoa’s parents made the difficult decision to leave their country. In 1986, it was not possible to leave openly, so the family abandoned their possessions and escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand.
Life in the refugee camp was incredibly difficult. Since it’s inhabitants were prohibited from doing business working for money while in the camp, Hoa’s family lived off their savings, with no sense of when they might be able to leave. However they kept occupied with volunteer work, school and courses, and continued to hope for that brighter future. Hoa was thrilled to discover that there was a hairdressing course on offer, but she was told she was too young for it. Undeterred, she followed one of the mobile hair stylists around , watching her and learning, and after a time, she became her volunteer assistant.
After three years in the camp, the Canadian government sponsored Hoa’s family and they were able to come to Canada n 1989. Excited to have their dreams realized, they settled first in Calgary, where they experienced a place completely different from Cambodia. Three winters in Calgary convinced Hoa’s parents that they needed to live somewhere with milder winters so they relocated to Nanaimo, a town they grew to love. Although Hoa and her brothers and sisters initially didn’t like this new home, they eventually came to appreciate the beautiful surroundings, the beaches and the forest trails.
Since English is her third language, school in Canada was challenging for Hoa, but she worked hard and during her final year, her guidance counsellor sent her on a hairdressing work experience so she could get a sense of how it would be to work as a hair stylist and own a salon business in Canada. At the salon she chose to volunteer at, the owner and stylists were very friendly and they showed her many tips. They were surprised she already knew so much about hair.
Hoa graduated from Nanaimo Secondary School in 1996, and from hairdressing from Vancouver Island University in 1997. There she learned a lot about cosemetology, and also had the opportunity to get involved in regional hair competitions held by the Hair Association. In these she completed against 25 to 30 other competitors and infront of a large audience – nerve-wracking, but exciting as well. She won three awards (1st place in Evening Long hair up-do, 1st place in Consumer fashion Daytime, and 3rd place in Progressive hairstyle. This experience and these wins gave her a huge boost of confidence as she moved forward into her professional life. She immediately began to apply what she had learned: in particular, that creating hair for her clients is not just about dressing their hair, but about creating a look that will suit their personality and lifestyle.
Over the next 5 years, Hoa worked in a few salons and competed again in a hairstylist level (qualified hairdresser/licensed) event, where she placed second place in Consumer Fashion daytime category. She also volunteer her talents , washing wigs and hair pieces for cancer patience, and cutting hair to raise funds for charity. She then got married, and moved with her husband back to his hometown of Vancouver – an opportunity that she found very exciting as she knew it would provide a broader arena for her talent.
After five years in her own Yaletown salon, Hoa moved to her current location in the heart of Downtown Vancouver – a light filled salon on the 6th floor of the historic Vancouver Block Building. Hoa continues to educate herself in the latest trends in hair by subscribing to salon magazines, attending classes and workshops, and taking in hair shows on a regular basis. As well as being an award-winning stylist, Hoa is the mother of two beautiful children James and Holly.
Now a hairstylist for 25 years, Hoa loves Vancouver and it’s diversity and is looking forward to continuing to share her experience with the people she meets.