Education Director Goes Avant Garde

Behind every student success story that comes out of our academies are the educators and academy staff that guided them through every challenge and new experience of their educational journey. These influential individuals also happen to be incredibly talented artists and creators themselves, but their stories often go untold.


Robina Smith, the Education Director for the Santa Monica TONI&GUY Hairdressing Academy, is one of those wildly talented members of the T&G family who has dedicated her life to helping cosmetology students become successful professionals. But she also has an interesting story that brought her to her latest achievement: Receiving the Photographic Award for Pro Avant Garde this past October.


TONI&GUY Faculty

Smith started her career in the beauty industry as an esthetician. After then going on to get a degree in art history and realizing she could not get much use from it, she decided to add a cosmetology license to her list of professional accolades.


“I had always been kind of jealous even when I was in school of all the fun the cosmetologists were having compared to the quiet little room we were in,” she added. “So I wanted to do more and ended up going back to school for that.”


After earning her cosmetology license, she went to work at a salon in Newport Beach, where she was encouraged to look into the TONI&GUY education program. It was the education that brought her to seek a career with the company.


Smith applied at the Costa Mesa TONI&GUY Hairdressing Academy following the advice of a few of her colleagues. She waited for six weeks to hear back and then was finally called in for an interview. Shortly after, she was hired on as a chem tech.


This new career move allowed her to channel her creative side and use her art background on the colour side. However, it also introduced her to the cutting side of the hairdressing world. As a self proclaimed Type A personality, Smith enjoyed the structure and shapes that cutting allowed her to create.


Fast forward two years. Smith had been teaching at the Costa Mesa academy for this time when she was asked to take of the position of Director of Education at the Santa Monica campus. Considering the offer, she tried on the idea and worked in Santa Monica for a month. At the end of that month, she made the decision to stay and accept the position.


“I never expected to live in LA, but it’s been fun,” Smith explained. “I love the team up here. The team is amazing.”


Next month will be two years that she has been working at the Santa Monica campus. It is here that she achieved her latest feat: taking home the Avant Garde Photographic Award trophy.


Although Smith was inexperienced in the art of avant garde hair, it was a style she had been interested in for a long time.


“I had been wanting to build [a piece] for years,” she explained. “I had finally got to do something I really wanted to do.”


In creating her look that eventually won her the coveted award, her sole inspiration was to use texture. However, her original planned look, was not the one she won with.


crazy hair style by TONI&GUY in Los Angeles

“The image from our team shoot, it’s the same hairpiece as the one I won with, just pulled out and reconfigured. It was actually what my inspiration was and then it didn’t even end up getting selected for the Avant Garde,” she recalled. “It was the rough one that everyone said looked really cool that actually won. So it was kind of organic.”


Smith explains her winning look as intensive, taking 13 hours to build, five hours to secure on the model and between three to five hours to reconstruct for the final product. The entire process was a labor of love for her.


“It was my first time submitting solo and doing this kind of piece. The first look that we did was so frustrating to try and get attached to her head and it was not the most pleasant experience. But once we started shooting, Ashley and Paul Joseph and everybody else was so supportive about it that it was kind of like ‘well, maybe?’”



When the nominations came out, Smith remembers that day being painstaking and filled with technical difficulties.


“I think mine was the last name nominated in that category. So, dread, excitement, disbelief, screaming, crying, all of the above. It was a stressful day. It was a tense moment waiting for those nominations to come out,” she said.

But in the end, she along with a few other individual students and the entire academy were named finalists for their respective categories.


When the Photographic Awards finally rolled around, Smith felt that same stress all over again.


“Everybody I saw was saying ‘hey, that was your piece! It was amazing, you’re going to win!’ At that point you don’t know if that helps or makes you more anxious,” she said.


Then, when her name was finally called to the stage, she experience a whole new range of emotions and her nervousness turned to excitement.


“You get up there and you can’t even imagine how that feels all by yourself and to have those people handing you this trophy and there’s can’t even see how many people are in that room, it’s so big,” Smith recalled. “It’s just a crazy experience, it really is. It just makes you want to do it again, and again and again and again.”


TONI&GUY in Los Angeles

Smith has every intention of trying her hand at an award again. She already has ideas brewing for her next submission. Her sights are set on next year and we certainly can’t wait to see what she does next.