It was spring 2007, and reality TV was just claiming its crown as one of our biggest guilty pleasures. I, begrudgingly, like many of my millennial peers, am a TV junkie, and Bravo was feeding into it. We were living for the OC Housewives and Jeff Lewis had us all flipping out, but then we were hit with a new competition show, Shear Genius. That’s when the world was introduced to the no-nonsense, black-on-black badass, Tabatha Coffey.
Coffey, making it to the top six before being cut (pun intended), became an instant fan favorite. Even winning that exact title at the end of the season. She may not have won Shear Genius, but many could argue she made out better. Bravo was as hooked by Coffey’s quick, dry, wit and brutal honesty just as fans were. They offered the Australian native her own reality show, Tabatha’s Salon Takeover and the rest, as they say, was history.
For me, Coffey was the badass femme lesbian I had been waiting for to look up to. She was helping people before she even knew she was. When you dig deeper, you find a woman who has battled her demons and come out of it victorious. She has worked through the bullying, the body image issues, the coming out, and is now embarking on a new adventure: helping others as a life coach.
We sat down with Tabatha Coffey to talk about where her love for hair stems from, her passion for helping others, and her new show Relative Success with Tabatha.
It’s no secret that you love the business of hairdressing. What sparked your love for it?
There were a couple things, but the one thing was I would go with my mother to her weekly blow out back in the day. I was an extremely overweight child, and struggled a lot with being picked on in school for it. So I loved going and watching women come in one way, you could tell they maybe weren’t feeling great about themselves, but through the course of getting their hair done, you could see them lightening up. They would laugh, and there was a sense of community. By the time they walked out, the way they held themselves was different. I guess because I struggled so much it was very impactful.
The other thing was, growing up my parents managed strip clubs in Australia, and a lot of the girls that worked in the clubs were transgender. There weren’t many places to hide as a kid in the clubs but my favorite place was in the dressing rooms, watching the girls get ready. I would sit while they did their hair and put their makeup on. Since I was always hanging around, they would put me to work. They taught me how to put hot rollers in their wigs, and how to brush their wigs. It was just another transforming moment, watching all the work those girls put into their hair, and their costumes. The wig was always the last thing they would put on, and that was kind of the defining moment of everything all coming together.
You mentioned being overweight and bullied as a child. How did you cope with that?
Not very well. I was so young, severely overweight, and I went to an all-girls school, so I was ostracized. Having to go to swim class threw me into a tailspin. The thought of having to be in a bathing suit and changing in front of the other girls was horrifying. I remember one time a girl yelled “orca!” while I got out of the pool. So I struggled for a really long time. It took a while for me to get it in check, not just by losing weight but by realizing weight doesn’t define you. It doesn’t define you as a person. But it took awhile to have a good relationship with weight and food.
What drove you to become one of the most well-known names in the hair industry?
I love it. I always put my all into anything I’m passionate about. I’ve loved this industry since I started back when I was 14. It’s an amazing gift, to have a client sit in our chairs and trust us with transforming them. It goes beyond the hair, it’s about how they look, and how they feel about themselves. It’s an honor to have clients trust you enough to do that.
And you put all that passion into running your own business. Watching your family run their business, did you always know you wanted to run your own one day?
No. I grew up in my family’s business, and my mother, who was a very strong influence on me, was a very good businesswoman. My father left when I was young. My mother raised me and took care of the businesses, so I knew how much work was involved. I loved being a hairdresser but I wasn’t sure I was ready for that responsibility. It took me awhile to figure out that’s what I wanted to do. I was happy working for other people until I had that moment, and realized it was my turn. It was time to do it the way I wanted to do it.
The world was introduced you when you competed on Bravo’s Shear Genius. How did you go from running a successful salon to competing on a reality show?
Honestly, it seemed like a bit of fun and a challenge. At the time I had a great career, I had a great business, I was really excited about what I was doing. I was an artist, and traveled all over the world for a product company featuring other hairdressers. Everything was great, but the thought of being on a competitive show for industry professionals was really exciting to me. I was up for the challenge. I think you have to rock the boat sometimes, and not rest on everything feeling good right now. Just cruising along. You have to set new goals for yourself and continue to challenge yourself. I’m competitive by nature, so it just seemed like a good fit for me.
Bravo’s audience loved you so much that they offered you your own show, Tabatha’s Salon Takeover. After Shear Genius, was it a no-brainer to accept?
Not necessarily. Look, I was gobsmacked. Sometimes I sit back and think, “what the hell was Bravo thinking?!” I didn’t go into Shear Genius with any expectations. Well, I did, one expectation. And that was that I was going to win. I really thought I would win Shear Genius. And honestly, in many ways, I did. I didn’t go into it wanting to get my own show. I just wanted to compete with other hairdressers. When Bravo approached me to do Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was gobsmacked that they asked me to do that. But no, I didn’t hesitate. I knew that what they wanted was for me to work with them and the production company on something that I truly believe in. They weren’t asking me to be someone I wasn’t or do anything I didn’t believe in, or go against any industry beliefs. They truly wanted to embrace me and embrace what I believed in. So it was a no-brainer to say yes.
After the success of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover and Tabatha Takes Over, you are now embarking on a new TV adventure, Relative Success with Tabatha.
Yeah, I’m very excited about it. It’s another business show, which I love. I love helping people with their businesses. But what I’m most excited about, is it’s family businesses. I go into various types of businesses but also varying degrees of generations. Families working together, and all the dynamics that go into running a family business. You know, business is hard enough but when you have blood and all the emotional hang-ups we have with family mixed in you have high drama. It was really fun.
Continuing to touch and change lives through your work, you’ve also teamed up with the Hackensack University Medical Center to help cancer patients and survivors. How did you get involved with that cause?
Someone had reached out to me about a young girl who was going through cancer treatments. She was getting ready to go to her junior prom, and was given a wig that wasn’t in very good condition. They wanted me to turn it into something but the wig was in such shitty condition that I couldn’t really do much with it. So I went out and got her a really nice wig, cut it and styled it for her. I did it because everyone–man, woman, child–everyone going through that takes such a hit to their self-esteem and their mind. With all that that little girl had gone through, she just wanted to feel normal. She didn’t want to be looked at with pity or feel sorry for her, she just wanted to go back to school and hang out with her friends. And she just wanted to look pretty for her prom. That’s how it all started. It’s great to be able to give back in whatever way. People think you have to do huge things, they don’t realize small acts or impactful. Maybe even more so.
Up until 2011, the world only knew the Tabatha that reality TV portrayed. Is that why you wrote your memoir, It’s Not Really About the Hair?
After being on TV for a while, people wanted to know more about me. Television is great, but it’s one dimensional. Especially with the type of shows I have, you don’t get to see the other components of my life. You get Tabatha in business mode, you don’t get to see the other sides of me. And the questions kept coming up again and again. How did you grow up? Why are you so strong? How did you get that way? And I felt like writing It’s Not Really About the Hair was a good way to answer all of them. My supporters had asked me and fans wanted to know.
Was it difficult opening up and sharing your story?
It was a struggle. I’ve written two books now, the second was a little less personal, though. We all have our journeys, but everyone can relate to each other. We often think we are the only ones going through the shit we go through, so it’s nice to see that someone else gets it. “Oh, they made it through that, so can I.”
It’s cathartic when you write a book. It’s also one of the most frightening things to stare at a blank page. You just have to dive in and go from there.
Your love for the hair industry is apparent, but what else are you passionate about?
I do a lot of public speaking, which I love. I love connecting with people, and I’ve started life coaching. It’s been so great. I’ve worked with businesses for a long time being a business coach, and through that, I noticed a lot of personal things would come up. People feel so rushed now, they don’t feel like they can express this stuff to a family member or a friend. So I’ve been coaching, and I love it. It’s amazing to help someone through their journey.
That seems like a perfect direction for you.
I’m also working on some online classes for the new year where people can go and access the information online. It’s a great way for people to learn at their own pace. And I’m planning on doing more live events with smaller groups. I don’t like when it’s too many people, that way I can be more hands-on and interact more.
Now that you are venturing into life coaching, if you could give young Tabatha a piece of advice what would you say?
What would I tell young Tabatha? Wow, you’ve stumped me with that one. I think my encouraging words would be that everything you need, you already have, it’s inside of you.
That’s meaningful advice for anyone.
It is. I think it’s easy to forget that. I call them shiny people, we see shiny people all around that seem more polished than we are. We forget we can, if we take care of ourselves in all ways, be everything we need.
If you’re interested in learning more about Tabatha’s events and classes keep on eye on tabathacoffey.com, and be sure to catch Relative Success with Tabatha on Bravo, Wednesdays 10/9c.