St. Simons hairdresser ‘huge advocate’ for competition

Taylor Cooper / The Brunswick News

Jimmy Van Boxel found the Golden Isles via a “happy accident” and ended up building a business and life on St Simons Island.

Local hairdresser Jimmy Van Boxel has always had a love for competition, but his recent trip to the Hairdressing World Championship in Paris reinforced that there’s always room to improve.

“I don’t want to say it came effortlessly, but I worked hard and it just kind of happened,” Van Boxel said. “I don’t know that I took it for granted, but it just seemed easier. Then last year we show up, and I practiced and everything but I also have a business and employees and kids, so I put in as much time as I could and totally bombed last year.”

Bombing isn’t something Van Boxel — a veteran of hairdressing competitions — is used to.

“I grew up in a salon, my mother and sister were hairdressers, but I really got my start while I was in cosmetology school and hair competitions,” Van Boxel said.

He entered his first hairdressing competition in 2000 while he was still learning the basics of the trade at what is now Empire Beauty School in Chicago.

“I don’t know that I always knew I was so competitive,” Van Boxel said. “When I was in hair school and the administrator of the school asked if I was interested in competing in the student competition in Chicago, it was just second nature. I said ‘Yeah, sure.’ It sounded good, it sounded exciting.”

He did OK in his first outing, he said. His performance was good enough to catch the eye of the “father-son salon-owning duo” of Salon Giovanni, who invited Van Boxel to begin training for the World Hairdressing Championship, also called the hair Olympics.

He lived more than three hours away at that point and had to divide the time he had between training and school.

“We worked, we trained, I put a lot of time and investment into it. I didn’t have much to offer but my time, but I gave a lot of that,” Van Boxel said.

He participated in preliminary competitions to get on Team USA, on which there were men’s and women’s teams and different categories within those. On home soil, he took first place in Chicago, Florida and the Team USA tryouts.

“From there, the organization raised a lot of money from sponsors. We had endorsements and sponsors, so everything was taken care of,” Van Boxel said.

His team hired a Sicilian coach from Connecticut, who coached the 12-person Team USA before and during their tour of Olympic-style hairdressing competitions all over Europe.

In particular, he recalled his winning streak in 2001, 2002 and 2004, when he took top three spots in events in Austria, Germany and Greece, fifth and tenth place in Italy and first in several competitions in the U.S.

“In my early 20s, that was a real nice boost to my career, because I was on the front page of my local paper. They did a big spread about that after I had won the European championship,” Van Boxel said.

After that, he did some more corporate work, representing brands and appearing on infomercials on the Home Shopping Network. He also spoke to aspiring hairdressers in schools and salons.

“It was a neat experience at an early age to have something like that be a platform for so many opportunities,” Van Boxel said.

In 2008, he started his product line uberzoot. There’s a long story behind the name, but it essentially means “supercool,” he said.

That same year, he was recruited by an investment group in Atlanta.

“They had heard of me and wanted to create this mega-spa in Atlanta,” Van Boxel said. “At that point, I was married with kids, and we moved in late 2008 to Atlanta to start this opportunity. Unfortunately, nobody knew that the rest of late 2008 was going to be terrible, so unfortunately after we moved the project was never finished.”

It was while he was stuck in Atlanta with few connections that he met some folks from the Golden Isles, who set him on his current path.

“That’s when I say my guardian angels stepped in. I just happened to meet a couple of ladies from Sea Island by total fluke in Atlanta,” Van Boxel said. “I shouldn’t have met them, but it was just in the most unusual time and it was kind of a godsend.”

After a little convincing, he starting making monthly trips to Sea Island, cutting hair in one of the ladies’ master bathrooms. He eventually rented a chair at another salon, but then decided the business was good enough to make it full time.

“By my fourth visit, I was booked for four days, 10 hours a day. I told my wife and said, ‘What if we could do this every week of the month?’ She said ‘Well, you got me out of Michigan, so it doesn’t really matter now,’” Van Boxel said.

After barely a year in Atlanta, he packed up and moved to St. Simons Island to work full-time.

“We found a house, a church and a school, and so far happily ever after,” Van Boxel said.

A few months in, he got to realize the dream by founding Uberzoot Hair Co.on Demere Road.

“It just kept growing, and as it grew I had to hire more. I hired slow, just to keep it reasonable. That equaled out to about a person a year,” Van Boxel said. “Now here we are, just celebrated our 10th year here on St. Simons. I now have a staff of 11.”

“Over the past 10 years we’ve been grinding, we’ve been growing the business, doing a little bit with products, just stuff typical of growing a small business. And then last year, my trainer from Connecticut, the Sicilian, calls an says ‘Do you want to compete?’”

It had been a while, but the business was going well and his children were older and in school, so it seemed feasible.

“So we started training and last year we re-entered. It was humbling,” Van Boxel said. “It was really interesting because these competitions — the World Championship of Hairdressing — it draws over 1,000 competitors from 50 countries … China, for example, has like 90 people they bring, but then you might find Kazakhstan who has six. It’s interesting to see all these 50 countries, you know, a lot of which I have to look twice and say ‘Where is that?’ It’s actually quite amazing to see when we’re at the opening reception and they do the parade of nations.”

More than anything, 2018’s hair Olympics really reminded him of the dedication and time and work you have to put in to have a shot, Van Boxel said. It turned out that his trainer knew that, but wanted them to go to better prepare for this year’s competition, which was held in September.

Training for a hairdressing competition generally requires a lot of sacrifice on the personal side. It’s not unusual for him to work late, take a mannequin head home and continue practicing into the night.

“This year we kind of held our own. One of us, my friend in Chicago, Giovanni, he took third place in a category. There was a lady on our women’s team that took first place in a bridal category. The rest of us held our own. We didn’t place, but we didn’t do badly,” Van Boxel said.

In part, the competition itself is a reward, he said. He also runs marathons and compared a hairdressing event to the thrill of pushing yourself to the limit.

“There’s this total sense of satisfaction that you’ve crossed the finish line. And that’s exactly what I get out of hair competitions too, but it’s so much training and it’s so much work. It’s really difficult to put that kind of time in and sacrifice a lot of personal time to make it happen,” Van Boxel said.

Having a supportive family makes the whole thing easier, he said, even if none of them are interested in the craft.

“My wife, she’s been with me since we were 17, so she’s always been very supportive of the whole thing. And she gets to go with me. Going to Paris for a couple of weeks isn’t a bad deal. My kids are funny. Obviously, all kids are different, they definitely support me and everything, but it’s funny to see that thread of competition from me kind of go through the kids in different ways and hit them differently.”

Competing at a high level also has the dual benefit of improving his everyday work.

“The level of detail and intensity that we work in and work at for these competitions when we come back to the salon and do normal work, it takes much less effort to technically get the hair to do what we need it to,” Van Boxel said. “When you train at such a high level, it makes common work that much easier.”

Despite the sacrifice, he didn’t want to understate the value of competing, not just in your personal life but professional as well.

“I’m a huge advocate for competition because of a few reasons,” Van Boxel said. “Technically, I think, it sets them apart, and then also I think it communicates to your current and future clientele a high level of dedication to the craft.”

Coastal People appears Tuesdays. Contact Taylor Cooper at tcooper@thebrunswicknews.com or at 912-265-8320, ext. 324 to suggest a person for a column.

-Taylor Cooper