whitney landa hall
There’s nothing not to like about this cool, calm and sophisticated Bird from Iowa. Whitney shares with us her journey through fashion and beauty, learning to enjoy the moment and the downtime she spends with husband, Alex, in their beautiful Prospect Park home.
Do you remember your first week in New York?
I do. I moved to New York about 9 years ago from Des Moines, Iowa. I had two suitcases and that’s about it. It was a total culture shock. It was very different from what I was used to, I had to learn how to immerse myself into that new culture, which I wouldn’t change for anything.
The experiences I had living in Crown Heights made me who I am today. That first week was really an opportunity to dive right in to my new life in New York … I got water dumped on me by the locals because I asked where the train was!
What do you mean?
It was the middle of summer and my boyfriend at the time and I asked where the shuttle train to Target was. All these kids and parents were outside playing with the fire hydrants and filling up buckets to throw on each other. The mom was like “get them!” The kid ran over and dumped a whole bucket of water on us.
And didn’t tell you where the train was?
Yeah. I was crying and cussing and we realized that the shuttle train was right above us. They obviously thought that we were idiots and were shouting “welcome to the neighborhood!” We ended up walking there because we were soaked. That was my first day here. It was pretty crazy and something I’ll remember forever.
Was New York always on your radar?
It was. I went to school for fashion design and I did an internship in New York for three months the summer before my senior year of college. The internship was with a small up-and-coming indie brand called Libertine. It was screen-printing on re-worked vintage clothing. Something that is kind of “done” now but back then it was really new.
I had a really great opportunity to be on my own, meet new friends and experience the city. I was living on Lafayette below Canal. I pretty much had the time of my life for three months.
After the internship I went back to school, completed college and immediately moved back to New York. It felt right and I felt so comfortable in this city that I knew I had to try to make it my home.
What were you doing when you first got here?
For the first 2-3 months I was looking for jobs. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew I did not want to be a fashion designer even though I went to school for that. My mind was more set on behind the scenes, like producing fashion shows, making all of that come to life.
I had a really good internship at a casting agency for a couple of months. From there I received another internship at a high profile fashion production firm called KCD. They produce all of the top fashion shows for Saatchi, Calvin Klein, and Marc Jacobs. It was really interesting to be in that world, but all of the expectations they put on you made me really not want to be in that world for long.
The whole attitude of the fashion industry isn’t for me. I think having an internship was kind of detrimental as well because I didn’t want to be fetching someone’s lunch. The pressure of the fashion industry makes people, specifically girls, feel like that’s something that they have to do in order to become successful. I just didn’t feel like I wanted to be a part of that.
So I transitioned from fashion to beauty, which was actually very easy for me. My mother’s a hairdresser, she’s been in the industry for about 35 years and she owns her own hair salon and day spa in Iowa. I was completely comfortable in that world.
Do you find the attitudes different in the beauty industry?
Completely. It’s more open, everyone’s really willing to give somebody a chance. I really enjoy the beauty industry. I don’t think I could be anywhere else right now.
What are you doing exactly?
I work at Arrojo Studio, which is a mega brand. We have a hair salon, cosmetology school, advanced education academy, and we just opened up two new locations in Williamsburg and Tribeca.
I, personally, work on the product side of things. We have a 40-piece hair care line. When I first joined Arrojo six years ago it was no more than 12-15 products. I’ve had quite an influence in choosing fragrances, testing products and choosing the design of the packaging.
I’m actually wearing some right now! The volumizing foam.
Oh, great! The price point’s excellent. We’ve really stayed true to our mission of giving products to consumers that are easy to use; you can buy 2-3 products and not break the bank.
I have a hand in the entire process of putting a product out and I also work with about 120 of our 350 salons across the country that carry our products. When I first started with Arrojo my boss, Nick, asked me if I wanted to be that voice to the salon owners. Of course I jumped at the opportunity because I knew that the products and his vision were going to be successful. It’s been a really great journey.
Do you work out of one salon in particular?
Yes, I do. I work out of the salon on Varick Street. In our office we only have about four people on the product team. For me, being in the salon environment is really necessary. Sitting in an office all day and working in a creative environment wouldn’t be as creative as it is now having the salon so close. I have that instant access to stylists who can tell us how they’re using a new product and we have a really good relationship with the salon team that helps us in everything that we do.
What’s your favorite part of the job you’re doing right now?
The thing I enjoy doing the most is the product development because it gives me a creative outlet. I kind of have to switch gears because one minute I’m fulfilling a stock order for a studio and the next minute I’m on a phone call from a consumer asking about how to use that volume foam…
Steph: Was that you Magda? [Laughs]
Or I’m taking an order from my client or I’m trying to push sales for a really high goal that I have. So it’s not only a sales job, it’s a thousand other things. Being on a small team you have to multi-task.
What’s the hardest part?
Sales. It’s always been my weakness. Maybe it’s my reserved mid-West qualities. I don’t like to push people. My way around doing that is having really good relationships with my accounts. They trust that I’m going to sell them a good product that I feel strongly about.
I use the products constantly and that’s the only way we’ll ever be successful is if we use the products and believe in them 100%.
Just going back to what you were saying about the beauty and fashion industries, why do you think there’s such a huge difference in the attitudes?
I think beauty is a little bit more approachable. Anyone can get into the beauty industry. I’ve just heard some not-so-great stories about the fashion industry and those that go straight out of college into design don’t seem to have the greatest of work experiences.
Even in a recession people are always getting the haircut or buying lipstick. So I think I’m selling something that everyone needs in some way or another.
Small luxuries make you feel better!
You live in Prospect Heights. How do you like this area?
I love this area. I would never want to live anywhere else. We have incredible train access, Atlantic Center is down the block and Barclays Center has opened up which is cool because it’s bringing something different to the neighborhood.
There is a very strong neighborhood vibe here. It’s not super young, which I enjoy. No offense but I don’t think I could ever live in Williamsburg. Alex (my husband) and I are so calm and we love our nights to just hang out in our home.
I would be hanging out here all the time if I lived here.
It’s a very quiet neighborhood but everyone knows each other. It’s great having a dog because it gets you out of the house and we’re so close to the park.
Do you have any favorite restaurants in the area?
Obviously Milk Bar because Alex owns that … I suppose I own it now as well. There are some eclectic restaurants in the neighborhood like Chuko, a ramen restaurant we like to go to a lot.
There are a couple of pizza places. Franny’s is up the street. It’s really good.
At this stage of our Bird interviews we’re always like “where are we going to eat after this”? Do you have any recommendations in Soho around where you work?
One of my favorite places around there to get a drink after work is pretty secluded. It’s called Blue Ribbon Bar. They have a nice little wine bar off the beaten path.
Luckily I work on Varick, which is a little far west so it’s quieter. I’ve only ever worked in Soho.
Is there any advice you would give to yourself at this stage in your life?
I think the hardest thing about being a 30-year old is that you’re transitioning from your 20’s to your 30’s and it’s a completely different stage in your life. Right now, being married for a year and being in a job that I’ve been in for six years, I’m thinking about the future.
I’m personally very hard on myself because I expect a lot of myself so I think that the best advice I could give myself is to relax, enjoy the moment, don’t worry about the future, things will happen when they happen. Have fun. Life’s too short to not do that. That’s how I’m feeling right now.
Just out of curiosity, you guys weren’t together very long before you got married, did it just feel right?
It felt right immediately. I’ve known of Alex for a long time because he’s had Milk Bar for about 6 years now. When I was living in Fort Greene, he was living there so I would see him around the neighborhood all the time but we had no relationship whatsoever. Not even a “hello”, he didn’t know who I was but I have always known of him just because he’s a local business owner in my neighborhood.
When we met it just clicked. It’s weird; I think “how am I married to him?” I’ve always been seeing him around, thinking how handsome he is and now I’m married to him and we’re thinking of having a child.
That’s amazing! Final question … what do you think of when you think of New York?
Opportunity. You can be whatever you want, do whatever you want, you can meet whomever you want. I think you have to have strength to do those things if you want to live in New York.
People are pretty friendly and I think it’s because everyone is from somewhere else. It’s a big melting pot.