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On a Friday morning, Melih Solano stands behind a stylist chair at the Sport Clips location at Coronado Center in Albuquerque. She holds a section of her client’s hair between two of her fingers before cutting about an inch of hair off with a clipper.
It’s a process Solano will repeat with up to 20 clients in a day, and it’s a process that has helped honed her skills enough to take home the top prize at the Sport Clips nationwide The Look Competition in Nashville, Tennessee.
Solano was crowned this year’s Look Champion for Sport Clips on May 3, beating out dozens of other contestants from across the country.
As this year’s winner, Solano took home a $2,500 cash prize, and an assortment of haircutting tools and products. A poster of Solano and her model with the winning haircut will also be displayed in every Sport Clips location in the country and Canada. She will announce next year’s winner.
“I’m very proud of it,” Solano said. “It’s a huge accomplishment for me.”
Though her skills earned her this year’s top prize, and the bragging rights that come with it, Solano said when she began working at Sport Clips four years ago, she only expected to stay for a short time while she familiarized herself with men’s haircuts — something she didn’t have a lot of experience in.
“I definitely had to fake it till I made it,” she said. “… I did not have a lot of experience in men’s hair, I kind of learned on the job. … I was given a lot of opportunities to take a lot of classes to really get better at what I was doing.”
Solano said while she was trained in cutting women’s hair when she attended cosmetology school in 2011, she was drawn to men’s haircuts due to the fast-paced environment and the need to customize each haircut to the client based on their anatomy, lifestyle and hair texture.
“I feel like it’s more of a challenge,” she said. “It’s just a lot more fun.”
Instead of staying briefly at Sport Clips to learn how to cut men’s hair and build a client base after her relocation to her hometown of Albuquerque from Los Angeles, Solano fell in love with the environment.
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In those four years, Solano rose from a novice men’s hair stylist to an area manager overseeing all New Mexico Sport Clips locations and assisting in managing locations in El Paso.
She said the support she has received from the company allowed her to grow professionally, but also personally, since she was only one month sober from alcohol addiction when she began the job in 2018.
“I just want to be the best version of me that I can be and with the support of this company, and my managers that I’ve had, the people I’ve worked with, they’ve really helped me grow and develop into the person that I’ve become today,” she said.
“The Good News Files” is a collaboration between the Albuquerque Journal, 96.3 NewsRadio KKOB and KOAT-TV. The stories highlight good news stories in the community.