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The story behind CURATE Awards, Australia’s newest competition for hairdressing apprentices, with Justin Pace

20 Feb 2024 by Kitomba

Created by Brisbane hairdressing icon and reigning AHIA Creative Australian Hairdresser of the Year 2023 Justin Pace, CURATE Awards is a unique competition to discover the freshest talent in the Australian hairdressing industry, no matter your location.

The Kitomba team sat down with Justin to learn about the exciting new initiative. Watch the interview on our Instagram, or read the full transcript below.

Why did you create CURATE?

We have a huge problem in the industry with our dropout rate of apprentices, and I think it’s because apprentices just get bored. We are a creative industry, and I think sometimes we get caught up in training all the time – we train, train, train, train, train. My salon has won Best In-Salon Training for the last two years so training is a massive part of my work, but it’s not getting apprentices motivated. A big question for us salon owners and managers is how can we motivate our apprentices to stay in the industry – and that’s why I created CURATE.

What were your main focuses when creating this competition?

I had two main focuses to keep in mind when creating CURATE.

Making it accessible to apprentices

Back when I started in hairdressing, we didn’t have social media. We didn’t even really have the internet. But nowadays we have a thing called YouTube. So all of my apprentices have been watching these tutorials online, so they know how to cut and colour. Do they technically know how to cut and colour? No, but they know creatively how to do it.

So what I’m finding is that they’re all coming into the salon, wanting to cut and colour hair in the first six months. And I’m like: “Hang on, you’ve got to pass shampooing, you’ve got to pass blow drying, you’ve got to pass my systems to be able to touch my clients.” And I don’t want to change that, because what I’m afraid of in our industry is that we drop the standard of hairdressing. Because of the huge issue with our dropout rate of apprentices, the industry is pushing apprentices through faster. But by getting them through faster, something’s got to give and I don’t want the training to give.

So my idea was that we could keep them on a training structure in the salon, but let them be creative outside. That is one of the major reasons why I created CURATE.


Making it accessible to people who live in regional areas.

I’m from a place called Mackay, 80,000 people, a small country town in North Queensland, and I did my apprenticeship up there. What I think is happening is that regional people just feel like they’re missing out. I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the country and educate people but when I’ve been sent to places to educate, we only go to major cities. The hairdressers that live in regional areas just aren’t getting the exposure that they should – it’s one of the reasons why this year I’m focusing on going to regional areas to educate.

What I did not want was a still photo entry. Not to knock other photo competitions, but as someone who competes, it comes down to budget sometimes. You need styling, photographers, and studios and these budgets get big.

I didn’t want them to spend really any money. The only money they have to spend is a $50 entry fee, just to cover the costs so that we can keep the competition running next year. That’s why it’s recorded on the iPhone, it’s edited on the iPhone, and I’ve had phone calls asking “Do we use professional models?” but you don’t have to. The main thing is, I wanna see the personality of the apprentice coming out in their presentation.

What is your best piece of advice for entrants?

So my biggest piece of advice is to practice. One thing that I learnt very early on in my apprenticeship was that what’s important is not the win – it’s the journey on how you get there. I remember in my early days when my boss made me practice, practice, practice for an upcoming competition. The day before the competition, she said to me “You’re not competing.” I was just like “What?” And she explained that the whole idea around that exercise was to get me to practice and not actually to win and that’s always stayed with me.

You shouldn’t try to get up, grab your phone and record it first try. What I advise is to get a mannequin, and practice, practice, practice on the mannequin. That way, once you’ve got your live model, it’s not the first time you’re recording it. Remember that you only get one go on your model. So actually allow your mannequin for all your mistakes – make your mistakes, learn from them, make them better and do it as many times as you want.

Once you’ve done that, and you feel 100% confident, you can move on to your live model. And then you’ve already done it three or four times.

justin pace quote

What can you win?

For all 4 winners, there’s a full-day photoshoot in Sydney with me, a great photographer, stylist, makeup artist and a model- I’ll be teaching them how to set up a professional photoshoot. Plus, I’m going to get them in there playing and doing some hands-on work.

I’ve been working very closely with Lily Blue Communications and they will also be writing a personal bio for the winners. The bio is great to send to media if they want to grow and enter awards in the future.

From the team at Mocha Group, we’ve got tickets to the AHIA Creative Awards so the winners can experience what an awards night is really like. Plus, they’ll get a ticket to the Hair Festival as well for some education.

Finally, all the winners will receive a $6,000 scissor kit from Excellent Edges, which will set up their hairdressing career with a kit.

Why should salon owners and managers encourage their apprentices to enter?

I think there are two major benefits to the salons if their apprentices enter. First of all, it allows the apprentice to be creative, which keeps them motivated. As I mentioned earlier, we get caught up in training all the time – I’ve got a very strict training program at Co and Pace and we train, train, train, train, train and because of that, they’re not on the floor early and often get bored. CURATE is a way to motivate our apprentices.

The other reason is for recognition. We have some incredible partners, like Mocha Group, who will be announcing the finalists so the PR and recognition you’ll get for your salon would be incredible. Plus, it’s a great way to promote your apprentices, and therefore your salon, to your area.


Who are the judges?

We’ve created three pools of judges. The first group are hairdressing influencers, a part of the awards is about making a reel, and how you present yourself. The second group is made up of young and upcoming hairdressers who are definitely making footprints in this industry fast and hard, so we have a voice from a group that a lot of the younger people are looking up to. Then, we have what I call the “wise pool” which is the older generation that’s come up with the old-school live competitions and is just really creative.

I’ll also note that we have a mix of creative and commercial judges, so you can create an entry that is either creative or commercial and it’s not gonna get voted either way.

What awards can you win?

So we have four different awards:

  • Colour & Style – URBAN
  • Cut & Colour – URBAN
  • Colour & Style – REGIONAL
  • Cut & Colour – REGIONAL

Regional vs. Urban

Since I wanted to focus on making it accessible to everyone in the industry, I decided to split the awards into regional and urban. Because regional people tend to not think they’re good enough to compete against urban. It’s just a mentality that we have. So by separating them, I give them their own platform so that they can stand up and be recognised, come to experience the industry events on offer, and be a part of the photoshoot.

Colour and Style vs. Cut and Colour

So at first, it was just going to be Cut and Colour. But then the question came up, can every first year cut? Can every student that’s at an RTO (Registered Training Organisation) cut? And we’re like, no. But can they colour?

Colours are a thing that they learn pretty early and the same with blow drying. So that’s why the colour and style award came in. The whole idea was that if you’re a student or a first year, you can enter the colour and style and then if you’re a little bit more advanced in your apprenticeship, you can enter the cut and colour award. But I’ve had phone calls from people asking “Can you enter both?” and 100% you can enter both if you want.

I am trying to tick every box: Have you been hairdressing for three months or have you been hairdressing for three years? The whole idea around these awards is to make it accessible for every single student or apprentice to enter.

Enter the CURATE Awards today!

Kitomba is a proud sponsor of the CURATE Awards, which aims to attract, inspire and grow Australia’s next generation of hairdressers—supporting the sustainability and future success of our industry.

Kitomba General Manager Alyssa Dowsett said: “Here at Kitomba, we are dedicated to helping salons succeed and for the sustainability of our industry, it is so important that we invest in attracting, growing and developing our next generation of talent. We are so proud to be a sponsor of the CURATE Awards this year and we can’t wait for all of the entries to come through from our future hairdressers and salon owners.”

If you’ve been in training as an Apprentice in Australia during the awards period, here is your chance to showcase your talent! Learn more about the awards or get started by clicking the button below!

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