The Purefessional Experience: An Inside Look

Interested in becoming a purefessional?

As a stylist, there are many avenues for career advancement. You can become a manager, be a creative director specializing in photo shoots, or even purchase your own salon and run a business.

But if you’re in the Aveda network, there’s another career path that many aspire to—becoming a “Purefessional.”

The Purefessional title is a goal for many educators, but it’s a career path that requires hard work, dedication and superb technical and teaching skills. And for many, it’s not just an opportunity to educate, it also lays the groundwork to advance in other areas.

We talked to four Purefessionals to discover what led them into education and how their careers have evolved into dream jobs. To learn more about current requirements on becoming a Purefessional, visit


Susan Ford
Artistic Director of Asha Salon Spa in Chicago, Illinois; Aveda Freelance Guest Artist

When Susan Ford, Artistic Director of Chicago’s Asha Salon Spa, decided to become a Purefessional in 2002, she knew it was going to take hard work and dedication. She also knew it would be worth it.

Ford, who has been licensed in the U.S. for 20 years, attended an Aveda class early on in her career and became intrigued by the idea of becoming an educator herself.

“A Purefessional is part of the Aveda education team,” Ford says. “When I applied in 2002, you had to be licensed for five years to apply to be a Purefessional,” she adds. “Purefessionals also come only from the Lifestyle salons—they must be able to represent the whole line.”

Ford’s path to becoming a Purefessional started with an audition in Minneapolis at Aveda headquarters.

It was a 15-minute audition in front of Aveda’s creative team—which is usually a panel of three people—based on current cuts,” Ford says. “They were looking for the correct verbiage, presentation and technical skills.”

Once Ford passed the initial test, she was sent to a week-long boot camp where she worked on mannequin heads and presented topics chosen by Aveda creative team members, all while being constantly evaluated.

“Not everyone passes boot camp,” she says. “If it’s obvious someone is unprepared, they get sent home.”

Once you’re a Purefessional, it’s time to educate. You get booked to teach the Aveda curriculum in Institutes, other salons and distributors in your area, as well as in your own salon, and refresh your skills every six months.

In 2011, Ford used her experience as a Purefessional to launch a new career as a freelance guest artist for Aveda.

“I have created a series of hair cutting curriculums, which have all been approved by Aveda, that I teach to the Aveda network,” she says.

Ford, who works three days behind the chair and serves as the Artistic Director at Asha, spends her days off—Sunday and Monday—teaching client-friendly cuts, an area she has always been passionate about.

“As a guest artist for Aveda, I send all my classes to the Aveda creative team and they go over them to make sure it’s in line with what they are teaching as well,” Ford explains.

In her role as artistic director, Ford pushes the salon into newer trends, keeps stylists updated and provides inspiration.

“Being a Purefessional groomed me for the next step in my career,” Ford says. “It opened me up to a network of the best of the best and allowed me to learn information directly from them.”

Being exposed to new education and a different level of talent gave Ford opportunities she had never even dreamed of, like doing photo shoots, which she started after attending an Aveda class in London.

“Every six months you’re being updated,” she says. “It’s trickling down to every salon. It comes down from the creative director to Purefessionals to salon coaches, so everyone gets the same education.

I would recommend becoming a Purefessional if you want to take your profession to the next level,” Ford says. “Education is where it starts. It energizes you if you’re in a rut and it’s constant stimulation.”

Melissa Hollenbeck Topp

Melissa Hollenbeck Topp
Director of Color Department, Ruiz Salon in Austin, Texas; Advanced Color Educator; Aveda Mentor Color Purefessional

Melissa Hollenbeck Topp has been a colorist at Ruiz Salon in Austin, Texas, for 14 years. To say she’s passionate about color would be a huge understatement.

So seven years ago, Topp took her passion and channeled it into creating a career path when she became a Purefessional.

“When I started at Ruiz, they set up goals for me,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do education and started educating for the salon. Next I became a color educator for Neill, our distributor. And as soon as I met the amount of time needed to apply to be a Purefessional (five years working for Aveda), I went for it.”

At the time, Topp was the only educator from Neill ready to become a Purefessional, so she attended a boot camp in Wisconsin. Boot camps used to be held exclusively in Minneapolis, but now are held regionally throughout the year.

“There were about 30 of us at the start of camp, and by the end only five colorists and seven cutters made it,” Topp says. “Each day, you go in and draw a technique out of a hat. You show the technical side of the style and give a 15-minute presentation at the end of it.”

Topp says Aveda looks for stylists/colorists who have good presentation skills and know the material—almost verbatim.

“At the end of each day, you either get cut from the program or move on,” she explains. “If you make it to day four, then you made it and the next three days are a boot camp on becoming a Purefessional.”

Four years ago, Topp took her career to the next level when she became a Mentor Purefessional. In this role, she teaches other Purefessionals updated information every six months.

“Update training used to involve 150 Purefessionals all learning from Aveda’s technical director in Minneapolis,” Topp says. “But it was hard to get the information across to so many people. So they handpicked eight of us to go for color training and I now teach all the Purefessionals in my area.”

Topp goes to the Aveda Institute in Dallas where the color Purefessionals in her region come to her to learn new techniques and trends. She’s also part of Lupe Voss’s Hair Color Magic team which teaches advanced color classes. Everyone on the team is a Purefessional or Mentor Purefessional and they travel all over to teach—mostly in Institutes in major cities.

At Ruiz salon, where Topp works, education is a top priority, and she’s proud to be an integral part of the education team.

“We’re departmentalized, so stylists are attracted to the salon to learn from Allen (Ruiz),” Topp says. “And for colorists, it helps to say the salon’s color educator is one of eight Mentor Color Purefessionals in the country.”

For other colorists who aspire to be a Purefessional, Topp advises seeking out all the information and education available as well as finding a great mentor.

As for her own career, Topp is still on an upward path. “The next step for me would be entering NAHA and becoming a global artist,” she says.

Steven Royster Aveda Institute San Antonio

Steve Royster—Cutting, Scott J
Master Stylist, Scott J. Salons in New York City
Purefessional, cutting. Photo courtesy of Manesha Johnson

For four years, Steve Royster took lots of classes. Technical classes, public speaking classes, presentation classes—he was a learning machine.

Then, in 2005, he went to his audition in Minnesota—with about 40 other people—to become a Purefessional.

“I like hair cutting, talking about it and sharing with people,” Royster says of his desire to become an educator.

“But being a Purefessional is more than just cutting skills,” he says. “It’s based on behavior and representing Aveda.”

Royster says you also have to have the confidence to handle yourself in front of an audience, salon owners, distributors and other VPs.

Twice a year, he attends regional education in Washington, D.C. to keep his skills current and sharp for the classes he teaches every weekend.

“This allows me to do presentations with a white board so I can simultaneously do cuts and answer questions seamlessly,” he says. “I get my head sheets and PowerPoint ready so I’m always prepared.” Purefessionals have a minimum requirement to teach one class every six weeks, but Royster prefers to work every weekend.

“I love it,” he says. “My travel takes me from Maine to Denver visiting Aveda salons and distributors. Teaching is my passion—there’s nothing better than really connecting with other hairdressers and offering something that gives them confidence,” he says.

Royster would like to grow his career by becoming a Mentor Purefessional, so he can train other Purefessionals, and then eventually become a freelance educator.

“A good educator is a great listener,” he says. “The success of your salon depends on how well you listen to your guests.”

Terri Clendennen started her career off as a hairdresser. But when the salon she worked for decided to departmentalize and she did some skin care training at Aveda headquarters, she was hooked.

Since 1994, Clendennen has been a spa Purefessional, which combines her passion for the spa side of the business with her love of teaching.

Like cutting and color Purefessionals, Clendennen receives new education twice a year, and recently she learned Aveda’s skin care is taking a different path.

“It has been revamped and we’re focusing more on the science of skin as opposed to wellness and relaxation,” Clendennen says. “It allows us to be more competitive with the medispa field and demonstrate that nature works and is very powerful in long-term results.”

Now Clendennen is looking forward to the next phase of education—customizing facial massage techniques. And she’s particularly excited about a new product launch coming in April—18 new skin care products.

“It’s Aveda’s biggest skin care launch ever,” she says. “I know this year is going to be very exciting in the skin care domain because we’re going to have a lot of new information to put out there for techniques, too.”

Aveda’s skin care, which Clendennen calls the “thinking esthetician’s line,” isn’t just what she recommends to clients, she uses it religiously herself.

“Aveda fits my own personal lifestyle,” she says.

“I’ve always been in touch with nature, and in 1990, when I found out it was a natural-based product line and started using it, I put everything else in the trash can.”

Believing in the company she works for, taking joy in teaching other professionals and running an education-first salon and spa have made Clendennen a dedicated Purefessional for decades.

“The products perform and do what they say they’re going to do,” she says. “And I stand by the integrity of Aveda.”

Interested in becoming a purefessional?


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