Story By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography By Kacy Meinecke
Thirty years ago, Eric Fisher had the chance of a hairdresser’s lifetime – a coveted job offer that 200 other hairdressers had auditioned for in New York City’s top hair salon.
Instead, he opened a salon in Wichita and in the three decades since, he has proven that in his industry you can work from anywhere and be “just about anybody you want to be” as he tells potential students in a promotional video for his acclaimed Eric Fisher Academy.
From Wichita, Fisher has built a hairstylist’s empire and a reputation as an industry innovator – running three salons and a cosmetology school that is one of the busiest student salons in the country, offering continuing education workshops for which he brings international stars in the industry to Wichita, developing motivational products and creating a successful business training program for beauty industry professionals.
That’s in addition to working as a hairdresser – he still takes appointments weekly at his Wichita salon, a photographer and a platform stylist. In the hair industry, being a platform stylist is a kind of crowning achievement – “the rock star among hairdressers” is how some describe it. Platform artists do industry trade shows, promote styling products – in Fisher’s case it’s Aquage – and do other educational and professional work.
So why Wichita? You could say he did it for love. His hometown sweetheart from Wichita – they got married at the Vatican while he was working as a freelancer in Italy – wasn’t ready to move to the Big Apple. Fisher has no regrets about making that choice, raising four children with his wife, Mary, and setting up his entrepreneurial empire from the heart of America.
“I love Wichita. I really love it, and I’ve lived all over,” Fisher said, as he ticks off doing work in Greece, South Korea, Hawaii, London, Paris, Turkey and elsewhere. He travels extensively to do shows and more all over the world, so he’s still living the jet-set life that comes from having an international reputation.
“It’s been an amazing career – not good, not great, amazing,” said Fisher, who’s won numerous awards and accolades as a hairstylist, educator and entrepreneur and has been featured in magazines including Vogue, Elle, Glamour, Good Housekeeping and Seventeen.
It’s not unusual for parents to want their kids to follow their career paths. In Fisher’s case, his dad – a military veteran who brought his family to Wichita to work for Boeing as a test pilot – was hoping his son would follow his military career. Instead, Fisher chose to follow his mother’s. While she’d graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in literature, she opened a hair salon, Aristocrat Hair for Men, in Wichita.
“I loved watching what my mom was doing,” he said. He loved seeing her interactions with her clients, their show of gratitude and appreciation for how she helped them look good and feel good.
His online bio expands on the other appealing aspects of a hairdresser’s career: “Later he dated a hairdresser and when he would visit her in the salon the environment sparked his interest. He viewed it as an opportunity to listen to great music, be around plenty of girls, dress trendy, and be in a career where people looked forward to seeing you.”
Fisher went to a couple of cosmetology schools in Wichita after high school, but his real training – and introduction to international life – came at age 19, when his father dropped him off at Heathrow Airport in London while transporting a plane from Wichita to Kuwait. Fisher recalled his naivety at the time, not knowing how to hail a cab and more. His father nonchalantly told him, “You’ll figure it out.”
Indeed he did. In London – the heart of hair in the 1980s – he studied at the Vidal Sassoon Academy. From there he started his freelancing career that took him all over, before putting down his roots with Mary in Wichita in 1987.
When he opened his Wichita salon, he brought the European concept of styling assistants and apprenticeships to the business. He also built on the relationships and knowledge he’d acquired living and working abroad. From other successful Wichita entrepreneurs, he learned how to build a successful business.
Ten years ago, Fisher opened the 17,000-square-foot Eric Fisher Academy in a former grocery store in the Crossroads Shopping Center at Central and Ridge in Wichita. It soon gained a reputation as one of the top cosmetology and aesthetics schools in the country, bringing in students from all over the U.S. With his industry-wide reputation, Fisher brings in major guest and celebrity stylists for quarterly seminars and an annual summit – like the barber who cuts the hair of several players for the New York Knicks and Ann Bray, a stylist for the “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” movie.
“I don’t bother with anybody but the best,” he said.
He’s proud of the fact that 98 percent of his students pay back all their student loans, a marker of both the school’s and the students’ success. There are other markers of success, too – like the fact that every month more than 14,000 services are delivered at the school, customers keep coming back and more.
Recently, he developed a cosmetology school curriculum called “Prosper U,” built on Fisher’s experiences of running a school and observing and visiting other schools.
A recent Friday morning tour of the academy quickly encapsulates a lot of what Fisher is about – a friendly, outgoing guy who cares about his staff and students and really enjoys his work. (All of his students get his personal cell phone number to stay in touch with him, bring up concerns or share celebratory news.) There’s a short conversation and hug for a model who has stopped in to see a student, a stop by the desk of his marketing staff to thumb through a hot-off-the-press textbook he’s had published, praise for the students’ work showcased on the photographs, several of which he’s taken, hanging on the walls and pride in visiting with the “learning leaders” in the different classrooms.
He gets excited about the potential each of his students have and hopes his enthusiasm catches hold.
“I love being a good hairdresser and I like to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways.”