Alexander McQueen’s loss is Canary Wharf’s gain as Blow Dry Express opens for business, writes LAURA ENFIELD
at Blow Dry
Express at Canary Wharf
A brush with the late, great fashion icon Alexander McQueen made hairdresser Sara-Jane Lilwall realise she wanted business success not fame. And she has succeeded, having just opened the third branch of her Blow Dry Express chain in Canary Wharf, aged 29.
It offers woman-on-the-go styling in under 30 minutes from 7am to 7pm and promises it will keep them looking seek and polished for three days.
“I love Canary Wharf. It is like a planet of beautiful, smart business people,” she said. “There is nowhere like it. On the Tube in the mornings I’m very aware everyone has really long, shiny, thick, clean hair.”
Born and raised in rural Rosson-Wye in Herefordshire, she first picked up her styling scissors as a teenager.
Her drive and vision was cemented a few years later when her dream was to be a star of the fashion world. After landing a job for fashion designer McQueen at Manchester Fashion Week she thought it was coming true.
“I was assisting on his show,” said Sarah-Jane who now lives in Wapping. “He shimmied past really fast and I thought it was the most amazing moment of my life.”
But instead of boosting her expectations the experience gave her a heavy dose of reality.
“Afterwards I realised it wasn’t that nice and there was no money in it and that I would always be fighting for every job and getting paid nothing and talked to like crap,” she said. “It was a wake-up call that the fame most girls want at that age wasn’t for me.”
She took the plunge and moved to London in her early 20s and started working for Headmasters, within months landing a fully-funded place on a management degree course.
A role as their youngest manager, aged 23, followed and she worked 12-hour days, striving to impress.
She said: “I have not come from riches but I have got what I wanted because I have always cared about what I have done. My salon went from £100,000 loss to £100,000 profit within a year.”
Hard-nosed business decisions such as sacking staff and not tolerating lateness did not make her popular with everyone, but the young entrepreneur said she learnt valuable lessons along the way.
She began with pop-ups in Spitalfields and opened the first Blow Dry Express in Liverpool Street two years ago using her own savings and investment from a client.
Aldgate followed in 2016. But with the Canary Wharf salon Sarah-Jane said she felt like she had finally made it.
“It is the first time it hasn’t feel like a dream. I really feel like a businesswoman now,” she said.
She says her building blocks for the business are fair pricing and a streamlined booking system where clients can see how much each time slot costs. Customers automatically get a free treatment on their second visit and a free blow dry after spending £300.
Sarah-Jane said: “I have used what I have learnt over the years and I’m not expensive because I’m no frills. It is high quality but and you shouldn’t feel intimidated about coming here.
“The industry goes wrong when people get greedy and think their name is more important than the client. Or if they are a success they can put up their prices.”
Readers can get 20% off a blow dry until August 31 by quoting WHARF at the Canary Wharf salon.
Sarah-Jane said the most popular style for women in Canary Wharf is straight hair with added bounce