Iconic Vancouver hair salon Suki's celebrates 50 years in business

Suki Takagi, founder of Suki's Hair Salon, is pictured on Nov. 23, 2022 as she celebrates her business's 50th aniversary. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Suki Takagi, founder of Suki's Hair Salon, is pictured on Nov. 23, 2022 as she celebrates her business's 50th aniversary. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

One of Vancouver's most prestigious and awarded hair salons is marking 50 years in business.

Suki's Hair Salon is founded by Suki Takagi, originally from Tokyo, Japan.

Takagi began her career working for Gene Shacove in Beverly Hills, whom she describes as the "godfather of the industry" in the United States and whose clients included top movie stars and models, including Elizabeth Taylor.

She says she remembers Beverly Hills dominated by male hairdressers in the 1960s, whereas women were given shampoo or manicure duties.

But Takagi, who was the top student at her beauty school, says all that mattered was talent.

Suki's Hair Salon
Suki's Hair Salon

"I was very successful in Beverly Hills," she said.

"It didn't matter who you are, Asian or Japanese or women, as long as you're good."

In 1972, Takagi moved with her husband to Vancouver and purchased her first salon — which still exists in the South Granville neighbourhood.

Building a company that will 'never discriminate'

As Takagi walked into the property with dreams of building Vancouver's best salon, Takagi says she was faced with a grim reality.

"Surprise, surprise. All the stylists working in that salon said, 'We will not work with women nor Asians. We'll never work for Asian,' and they walked out," she said.

"And the client said very similar things. They did not trust female hairdressers."

In that moment, she says she decided on the philosophy her company would follow for years to come.

"No matter how many years I'm going to take, I'm going to build a company that will never, never discriminate [based on] nationality, race, colour of the skin, religion or no religion, culture, custom, language and very importantly, sexual orientation," she said.

"And for these 50 years, I'm very proud to say we have never been compromised."

Over five decades, Takagi's business has grown from the original five-chair salon to five upscale salons across three cities — including Victoria and Surrey — and a hairstyling academy, with nearly 200 employees.

'100% quality and all fashion'

When she opened her salon in Vancouver, Takagi says she wanted to bring something new to the table.

That meant quickly adapting her work to the city's rainy climate.

She says she designed unique hairstyles for each guest that not only complemented their hair type and bone structure, but also suited their lifestyle and profession.

"It's fashion-forward," said Lisa Tant, a style expert and client at Suki's Salon.

"You have your person everywhere you go, and for me, it was coming to Suki's first because I knew it would be 100 per cent quality and all fashion," Tant said.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"To have maintained the level of quality and high style for 50 years is a remarkable experience and even more difficult for a single mother, a woman of colour, to do at such a high level all the time," she added.

Ashley Hood, general manager at Suki's, describes the company as a "career salon" with a very low turnover of hairdressers.

She says people who come to work at Suki's find a sense of community and tend to stay and grow together.

"One of Suki's first apprentices, Kenny, is still working here to this day. He's been with us for 47 years," she said.

"We all just kind of grow and expand together. I've been here for 15 years and in the history of Suki's, that's just like a little tiny blip."

To celebrate 50 years in business, Suki's hairdressing team will present five shows from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29 at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown.