Mana Dave: On running BLAZE and Pony Professionnel

Reading Time: 8 Minutes

From the beginning of his career, salon owner and award-winning hairstylist Mana Dave has showed no signs of slowing down. Owner of Newmarket’s iconic BLAZE and Pony Professionnel hair salons, Mana has clocked up an impressive number of awards and achievements, one of those being named Redken’s artistic director last year. Zara Overton caught up with him to find out how it all started and gained some insights into his successes...

How did you first get into hairdressing?

It was a very indirect path to becoming a hairdresser and I never had any interest at all in the idea of becoming one. After initially thinking at high school that I was going to become either an accountant or a teacher, I ended up studying apparel technology at AUT. I did a few different retail/clothing gigs and then eventually started working at Maelstrom Hairdressing in Onehunga. Maelstrom was a hair salon that also produced and retailed a clothing range and I assisted with the production of the range as well as offering a made to measure service. I helped out in the salon occasionally and after some time the owner of the salon Tiffany Jane Clarke suggested the idea of a hairdressing apprenticeship. That was really the beginning of my hairdressing journey and I remained with the salon for 10 years before moving into Newmarket with BLAZE.

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Can you tell us about your journey to becoming the owner of both BLAZE and Pony Professionnel?

Leaving Maelstrom to work in another environment was a huge shift for me. I had only ever worked in one salon space and I’d done so for a decade. Initially when I came on board with BLAZE it was in the role of Creative Director. After a few months the opportunity to buy ownership into the salon became available and I jumped at it. I’ve always moved forward in my career on the premise that when an opportunity presents itself, you grab it and then sort out the details later. That mantra has always kept me moving in the right direction.


BLAZE and Pony Professionnel operate in very close proximity to each other on Broadway – how do the offerings at each salon differ?

We like to think of them as sister salons. They’re connected by the same bloodlines. Each salon is an environment founded on an all-embracing culture that creates healthy sexy hair. But each sister/salon has her own unique personality. BLAZE is the big sister, high energy, lots of personalities, very on trend and we’ve aligned with REDKEN NYC and Pureology as our hair brand partners. It has become well established for its hair colour specialisation and some of our team train other hairstylists both domestically and internationally on current hair colour trends and techniques. Pony Professionnel is tranquil and an opportunity to stop, breathe and relax. It’s intimate with only four styling stations but with a large retail and hair spa area. Our hair spa partner is Kérastase, and REDKEN NYC partner with us for our haircolouring services because of the non-ammonia range offerings. Pony has created a niche market for hair spa rituals tailored to specific hair needs ranging from 1-2.5 hour service options. It’s really the ultimate in hair pampering. The Pony menu hair- looks from our dry styling bar are super popular and an easy and inexpensive way to unleash your inner Hollywood starlet for a night out. Our retail ranges cover 23 different brands so we can ensure that we fulfil our mantra of having “everything for healthy hair”.


The interior design of a space is integral to the overall look, feel and the experience of the customer. Can you tell us about the concept for the design behind both BLAZE and Pony Professionnel?

We were very fortunate to have Katie Lockhart on board to help us with the design of both BLAZE and Pony. The two sites each have their own flavour but you can definitely see Katie’s influence throughout the decor. BLAZE is colourful and reflective with floor to ceiling glass. Mondrian inspired panels of coloured glass conceal storage for both our hairdressing equipment and clients’ personal effects. Pony is much more minimalist, the epitome of relaxed elegance. The walls and ceilings are bathed in a sea of white, anchored with a floor of honeycomb tiles and softened with touches of natural elements. BLAZE energises, Pony calms.


The rise of social media has not only meant that people can more easily follow hair trends and celebrities, but also that their self-presentation is more visible. How has social media impacted the way you work?

As in many creative industries, the impact of social media has been huge for our hairdressing industry. In particular, Instagram has been an amazing platform for hairstylists to build their brand and become more visible to their peers and also the consumer. Clients have a lot of information and images about trends and products at their disposal. Sometimes the information can be misleading, creating unrealistic expectations from clients, especially in regard to major hair colour transformations. The Kim Kardashian black to blonde moment is the perfect case in point. It’s about educating our clients to understand their hair. Where their hair is at currently - colour and condition wise. Explaining to them what it will take in terms of time, cost factor and maintenance to get them to where they want to be. Creating a plan and helping them to understand that great hair genuinely takes time and it should never ever be at the expense of condition because healthy hair is hair that looks and feels expensive.


Can you tell us about your involvement as Redken’s Artistic Director?

I’ve been involved with Redken NYC for a huge part of my hairdressing career travelling abroad, working on stage and facilitating in workshop environments for the ongoing education of hairstylists. Most recently I took on the role of Artistic Director for Redken NZ which allows me to develop our resident creative team and oversee the look and feel of the work that we create for our domestic market and fashion partners. I absolutely love it. I can directly see the impact it makes and that is rewarding for me.


What do you like most about having businesses in Newmarket?

Newmarket is my home and my neighbourhood. I like to call it “my hood”, it has everything I need and I love it. I’m a true local, I live and work on Broadway. Newmarket is a great transport hub and fashion hub. It gives excellent access for our clients for both public and private transport and it has a reputation for being a mecca for fashionistas. The upcoming development of our local Westfield will definitely help to enhance the balance of live, work and experience.


Hair competitions have given hair stylists a platform to showcase their work on a larger scale and become recognised for their skills and talents. For yourself, picking up multiple Hairdresser of the Year awards, among others, has added to your ever-growing and impressive track record. How have these competitions helped you grow your brand?

It creates a buzz for our brands and some amazing PR opportunities have been generated from those wins. When we opened in 2008, we were the new kids on the block in a market of very established hair salon brands. We took out our first win for NZ Hairdresser of the Year and it really helped to launch our brand and profile. We’ve been extremely blessed with that success continuing for us each year throughout our decade of operation winning both local and international hair competitions in a realm of different categories. Competitions tell both potential clients and prospective employees what you’re about. It supports our brand’s core value of self development and gives us an opportunity to stretch ourselves creatively. That definitely links back into the real world of life on the salon floor.


Has there been a particular award you have won that has meant the most to you?

Probably our most recent win in London for the International Trend Vision Award. After winning gold in our national competition we went on to compete with around 80 other teams from around the world. We secured the top prize, the Platinum Award in Colour, which was incredible. For our team, it was a confirmation of our love for hair colour and our commitment to ongoing education. For our kiwi hair industry as a collective, it was a huge deal to be represented in such a positive light on an international stage.


What are some of the top hair trends for winter?


There’s definitely a shift to shorter shapes like the pixie cuts worn by Kate Hudson and Zoe Kravitz or the cropped bobs from Vanessa Hudgens and Victoria Be

ckham. But the two hottest trends are baby bangs and the momu. A short choppy fringe aka ‘baby bangs’ on your existing haircut is an easy way to reinvigorate a style that you’ve had for awhile. But it’s important that it’s tailored for your face shape. The momu or modern mullet is a reinterpretation of the classic shag and it’s a great way to transition from long to short. It’s heavily layered with lots of shaping around the face and looks amazing with curl and texture. Right now, curl is everything. In terms of winter hair colour, look at introducing dimension into dark hair with chestnut in the form of balayage or face framing. Blondes should look icy and smokey and copper is definitely the new red.

What is your favourite hair product?

I love products so it’s difficult to narrow that down - I need options. For haircare I love the Megasoft Mask from Redken’s All Soft range. It makes your hair feel super soft and silky. For shine and scent I love Kérastase’s Chronologiste Fragrant Oil, it’s luxury for hair in a bottle. For styling my own hair, I use Redken Brews Hairspray to lock my ‘brodry’ in place.


Fashion and hair styling often come hand and hand, especially when it comes to Fashion Week. What is the Fashion Week experience like for you/a stylist?

If you’re a Hair Director for a show, it starts weeks before Fashion Week, liaising with the designer about hair concepts and doing hair trials to mock up the concepts on a model. It’s about having a consistent theme through hair and makeup to support the fashion story. On the day of the show it’s generally organised chaos. You meet with your hair team about 2.5 hours before showtime to demonstrate the look and then as models arrive you share them with the makeup team to have them ready to be dressed backstage for first looks. It’s not uncommon to have models running to your show from another show in hair and makeup that needs to be totally revamped in no time. That’s when the creative chaos really kicks in.


Between the competitions, managing staff, working in salon at BLAZE and your role with Redken, how do you balance your time?

Understanding how to balance time and spend it where it will make the most impact for your business is crucial but it’s challenging. There’s always something that needs to be done and when we first started out it was my initial reaction to just jump in and do it myself. However, experience and time gradually teach you to fight that urge and instead focus on building a team and structure that look after those areas so that you can do the things that only you as an owner can do. In the salon I’m at a point where I need to focus more of my time working on the business rather than working in the business. But it’s most definitely made a difference. It’s challenging when competitions kick in because it requires me to access a different part of myself to do that well, so it’s a process to get into that headspace and with practise I’ve gotten better at that. When I facilitate for Redken the travel element internationally is amazing but tricky to juggle, so this year I’ve focussed more on domestic work which makes it easier to juggle around my other commitments. It’s a very full workload but I love it because it challenges and grows me.


Where do you find inspiration?

It’s random and varied but over time I’ve realised that inspiration happens for me when I’m in the right headspace. I need to create the right headspace for the creativity to kick in and it’s generally when I’m out walking in the morning or laying in bed thinking. I’m a visual learner and I love to watch movies and documentaries about people, places and history so that generally sparks my creative process. Hair is about structure and colour palettes so I’m always pulling inspiration from areas outside our industry - architecture, interior design, fabrics, art, fashion. They’re different mediums but they’re about similar concepts. When I shoot for a photographic hair competition I’m creating a character, who is she, what is she about, where does she hang out, who are her friends. I’m telling her story. All of that to showcase a hair colour and cut.

Team culture is a big part of the day to day running of a business. How do you cultivate your team environment?

It sounds cliched but it’s the truth. Your team make or break your business. It’s important that you understand and define the type of culture that you want, what it looks and feels like. This lays the foundation for your team environment. We have a team code that we founded on three core values - respect, self development and community. They are our foundation for how we operate as a team internally and with everyone externally - clients, brand partners and industry associates. We use it when we hire so we recruit the right people who are about the same things. Those values become the measuring stick that hold your team accountable to operating in a way conducive to the environment that you want for your work space. It tells people who you are, what you believe and how you behave.


The emotional labour that goes into the role of a hairdresser is very important in forming relationships with clientele, sometimes even more important than the cut or colour itself! How do you manage and maintain this aspect of the job?

The relationship is everything. This really applies to any business but with our industry the nature of that relationship is taken to another level. Many of our clients have been with our BLAZE brand from day one so that’s almost a decade. They have not only contributed to our growth but have had the opportunity to watch us grow as a brand and salon team. The foundation of that relationship is communication, listening with the intention of wanting to understand. Knowing what they need when they don’t know and when they can’t verbalise it clearly. It’s about creating an environment that allows our clients to feel safe so they can relax and trust us to help them


What would your advice be to any budding entrepreneurs?

Focus on knowing who you are as a brand and what makes you unique against your competition. Understand very clearly why you want to create your own business because you’ll need to use that to motivate you through the challenges. Surround yourself with like minded people and work on your relationships with your team, your customers and your community. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, your business is people. Try things, repeat the things that work and change the things that don’t. Mistakes are not only okay, they’re an integral part of working creatively and growing your business.


What is Newmarket’s best kept secret?

With Westfield undergoing refurbishment the only place you can go now to eat with a view looking down onto Broadway is the Rialto Centre foodcourt. Grab a bite and watch the world go by below.


It’s 10am on a Sunday morning, where will we find you and what are you doing?

It varies from week to week. Both our sites operate on a Sunday so if we have a sick team member, whether it’s a stylist, a salon assistant or front of house, I step in to cover the role and “keep the engines running”. We run a very busy appointment book so it’s challenging to reschedule clients when someone is sick. But if our team is healthy, then I’ve probably just finished a workout at City Fitness on Nuffield St, grabbed an Almond Flat White from Elemento on Remuera Rd and I’m heading back to the apartment on Broadway to jump back into bed for some Netflix. A lazy Sunday morning in bed is a luxury for me so I always try to make the most of it.


What are some of the challenges you have faced with owning a business?

Self management of your time, your energy, your headspace. Looking after yourself so you can self manage. It’s taken me a long time to really fully grasp this concept but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. That’s why it’s important to love what you do. Understanding and listening to your market and evolving your business to address your market’s needs. Know who you are as a brand and find the market for your business.


What’s next for BLAZE and Pony Professionnel?

BLAZE will celebrate its 10th birthday this year so we’ll definitely need to mark the occasion with a party. It’s an achievement for any business to still be thriving after a decade. Pony is about to launch its new seasonal menu look so there’ll be a few exciting things to interest everyone. But overall we want to focus on working towards our first decade for Pony Professionnel and our second decade for BLAZE! It’s our destiny, it’s our tagline. “ BLAZE loves you, be all you can be xx”



350 Broadway, Newmarket


Pony Professionnel

290B Broadway, Newmarket