One of New Zealand's most sought-after hair stylists has moved home to Whanganui and is setting up shop.
Sam Su'a was born and raised in Whanganui, but left at the age of 19 to pursue a career as a hairdresser. After training and working in Palmerston North, he moved to Auckland to work for renowned hair stylist Stephen Marr.
He has since gone on to work for some of New Zealand's top fashion labels such as Karen Walker, Zambesi, Kate Sylvester, and Helen Cherry.
Now he has brought his skills and experience, as well as his wife and two daughters, back home to Whanganui to open The Studio, a 'loft-style' salon at the top of The Treasury on Victoria Ave.
"We literally put two pieces of paper out on the table and wrote pros and cons for Auckland and Whanganui, and Whanganui was the clear winner," Su'a said.
"We miss our families, and we want our kids to grow up with their grandparents.
"There would be no way I could open something like this in Auckland either, it would be a quarter of the size."
Su'a said he wanted The Studio to be more than "just a generic hair salon", and had spent months transforming the second floor space in The Treasury from an old office to a salon that had the feel of a "New York or Japanese-style loft".
The Studio stocks sustainable and non-synthetic hair products, and clients can minimise any plastic waste by using The Studio's refilling service.
"It's almost like you're stepping out of Whanganui for a little bit, although in saying that there are some beautiful views of the Sarjeant (Gallery) and the museum from up here," Su'a said.
"My first thought was to create something that was a little bit off the beaten track, and something discoverable. It would be great for people to come up here and think 'oh, this is cool', like a hidden gem kind of thing.
"I didn't just want to fit the 'mould' of a hair salon. I wanted to have that feeling of design and creativity, so hopefully when people come here they feel inspired and start thinking creatively too, whether it be about architecture, or food, or anything really."
Su'a said while styles and fashions had changed during his 17-year career, he had noticed that people were becoming happier with their natural hair.
"No one was happy with what they had naturally. If you had straight hair you'd want curly hair, and if you had curly hair you wanted straight hair.
"More and more people are accepting what they have and just want accentuate it. Natural is what suits us the best, I think."
Su'a said he hadn't been sure of what he wanted to do when he left school, but knew that whatever it was would be "hands on".
"I was just a Whanganui kid who didn't quite know which direction to go in, but once I had captured music [his high school band Xodus won the Smokefree Pasifika Beats competition in 2002], I knew I wanted to do something creative. I was into fashion, and me and my mates would be changing our hairstyles every second day almost.
"We'd have Afros, then we'd go spiky. We'd always be biking around to all the op shops and picking stuff out.
"I chucked myself into a hairdressing course to see if I liked it, and the rest is history. I found my passion, and I still love it to this day.
"I love creating, and talking to people and making them feel good."
Su'a also aims to build a team of stylists at The Studio, and use it as a "training ground for the next generation of stylists".
"Hopefully there'll be the opportunity to take an apprentice up to Auckland with me too, and expose them to that type of training. There's a different approach up there, and I guess it's quite considered and follows the direction of fashion.
"It's always good to pick up little tricks from different stylists as you go along, and that's something I've done over the years. I've been a sponge to my surroundings, and if I think that something looks cool, I'll try and add it to my arsenal."
"Hopefully I can give back to people, and help someone who is like I was back in the day."
At present Su'a alternates from week to week between The Studio and his salon in Auckland, but said he was planning on spending more time in his hometown as the new venture progressed.
The Studio is located on level two of The Treasury, at 98 Victoria Ave.