Anyone who has attended a drag show or seen an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race in the past two years will have, even without knowing it, come across the work of Steven Austin.
Steven, 36, has quickly become a fixture when it comes to styling and coloring the wigs of some of the biggest drag stars working on stage right now.
His career in the hairdressing industry began at the age of 14 when he found a weekend job with his local hairdresser in Knutsford. He says he hasn’t had a chance to look back since.
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“I got my first job on Saturday when I was 14 and as soon as I finished school I got my first full-time job,” said Steven, who now lives in Bolton, at MEN.
“I knew what I wanted to do, so I didn’t really want to divert my time and attention away because I knew I was good at it.
“People obviously weren’t very happy with my decision back then, but I think I’ve proven it to be the right decision now.”
At 17, Steven decides to leave Knutsford to make a living in Manchester.
“I moved to Manchester because I needed to leave Knutsford,” he explains.
“From the outside Knutsford is really nice, but being gay there 20 years ago was awful.
“Being gay in high school over there was horrible. I was bullied just for being gay and for no other reason.
“Even when I left high school, I still got yelled at in the streets and on my way to work.
“I knew Manchester was my place. I knew I was going to end up there somehow.
Over the years, Steven says he’s done it all and rose from row to row as a stylist, color technician, and wig technician.
After working in a salon in Swinton, he moved to Kearsley with his partner where the couple now live.
Their house has an extension which has been transformed into a living room where Steven now makes an appointment.
“I’m a hairdresser and colourist sponsored by Manic Panic, so I use all of their colors and do shows for them internationally as well,” he says.
“My clients are more like my friends, they just come and sit down and do whatever they want – they want to experiment and play because if something isn’t right, they know I’m going to fix it.
“It’s not a normal salon and there is never a taboo or off topic – it’s just cool, it’s like going to a friend’s house rather than a salon really.”
Two years ago, Steven was watching an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race when he noticed a potential gap in the market.
He realized that there weren’t a lot of people – especially in the UK – who specialized in styling and coloring wigs for drag queens.
“I did some research and found that there were only a few people in America doing this and the services they were doing weren’t billed for an average drag queen,” says Steven.
“They were pretty expensive unless you won Drag Race and went around the world.”
Steven says he spent months researching how a business could take shape before launching his company SAHA Wigs.
“I spent a lot of money trying out a lot of vendors and different wigs, just checking the quality of the hair and seeing how it looked and colored,” he explains.
“Then I started posting it on Instagram and tagging queens in the posts.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Four Willam was the first one after I kept stalking and tagging her.
“Then it was Tatiana from season two and All Stars – two huge queens right away – and it snowballed from there.
“I haven’t really had to do much outside of Instagram to get my name out there.”
Working mainly through Instagram, the queens will contact Steven and send him photos to be inspired by the look and colors they are going for.
“Once we determine what they are looking for, I will work with my salesperson to make the wig according to their requests,” he explains of the process.
“Then I’ll color it, cut it and style it. I take a lot of photos and videos where I’m going to take the wig out in natural light so they can see the colors in different lights so they know what they’re getting.
“My wigs mostly go to the US and overseas, so it’s important to get it right when it’s shipped to them.
“The whole process can vary from ten days to two weeks depending on what they’re looking for.”
Sometimes queens will even send the wig back after using it for extra work and adjustments – to keep them looking fresh.
“Tina Burner (from RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13) had one of my wigs with three tufts of hair sewn in,” Steven says.
“After Drag Race, she sent it back and wanted two more lots to be added. It was like a kilo of hair once I shipped it – I don’t know how she got hold of it.
Since launching the business, Steven has worked with queens around the world including Drag Race Detox stars Naomi Smalls, Vanessa Vanjie, Olivia Lux, Bimini, Tia Kofi, and Kitty Scott-Claus.
“It’s a really special time for me every time something is worn on the show,” says Steven.
“I made a 60 inch wig for Tayce – I had to make it from scratch and it was the longest thing I have ever done.
“One of my favorite things was when Brooke Lynn Hytes wore two of my wigs while she was a judge for the Canada Drag Race.
“It was a huge deal for me because she was a judge and not just a candidate.
“I’m surprised she didn’t hear me screaming all across Canada when I saw her – I was over the moon.”
He has now reached an impressive feat where his stylish wigs have not only appeared in RuPaul’s Drag Race, but also in every international version of the series – with the exception of Holland, although he created a wig for contestant Janey. Jacké.
While being so closely tied to the show has its advantages, it also comes with some drawbacks.
“If there’s a queen who doesn’t look so good on the show, it can hurt us,” says Steven.
“Some people have criticized me for working with one of the queens just because they weren’t particularly fans of her on the show, but I block them and move on.
“The old me would have gone completely mad with them, but the sensitive 36-year-old self knows it’s best to block out and get on with my day.”
While he hopes to continue working with drag queens, Steven says he wants to broaden the appeal to other celebrities and public figures as well.
“My goals are to continue to be queens but also to make more mainstream celebrities,” he says.
“I would love to do Motsi Mabuse from Strictly Come Dancing, Munroe Bergdorf and Nikita Dragon – these are the people I’m trying to contact right now.
“And, of course, Nicki Minaj. I think she’s going to impose an injunction on me soon because of the number of times I tag her on social media.
With a thriving salon and wig business, Steven says he barely takes time off work.
Even on his day off, he’ll end up touching up or coloring a wig.
“To be honest, I don’t like sitting around doing nothing,” he laughs.
“I always feel like I should do something. With the living room attached to the house, I’ll still pass just a minute but be gone six hours later.
“Then I’ll end up walking around the house with a wig I just colored.
“But, I can’t complain. I love my work!”
You can follow Steven on Instagram here.
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