Curl Expert Shari Harbinger on the Importance of Education in the Hair and Beauty Industry

Image: @shariharbinger


An experienced and gifted stylist, Shari Harbinger co founded the DevaCurl Academy in 2006. Today, thousands of stylists worldwide use DevaCurl’s signature cutting and coloring techniques, including the Pintura highlighting technique. 

After nearly 25 years with DevaCurl, she has branched out on her own with a professional education program. Her goal is to develop talent across the country. She now cuts and colors the hair of curly clients at the Jeffrey Stein Salon.


NaturallyCurly: Why did you decide to become a stylist?

Shari: For as long as I can remember I’ve had a passion for all things beautiful, colorful, and musical. It all started with a sewing course that my mother enrolled my sister and I in down at the local mall. I was fascinated with fabric, color, and textiles and immediately jumped in – creating a pair of brown corduroy pants and a matching vest. I had never felt cooler. I loved what I had created and was flying high from the experience. “Step aside Halston! Out of the way Diane Von Furstenberg! There’s a new kid in town!” 

I continued to explore fashion – and at the age of 8, I spent time redesigning my mother’s hand-me-downs. Then, something happened. I discovered the hair magazines of the 70’s. Think hundreds of glossy pages filled with boho chic styles like the shag, fringe, bangs, and braids galore. 

And just like that, my passion for sewing evolved into something new – hair! I traded in my sewing scissors for a pair of drugstore cutting shears. And, I immediately decided to transform my Barbie’s hair. I cut her bangs just like the magazine models – and an indescribable rush of dopamine ran through my veins. I couldn’t wait to try out my talents on real hair, which is where my best friend Marianne came in. I showed her my Barbie creation and assured her, “I can totally give you the same look!” And…she agreed to it. My impatient hands immediately got to work. I was so excited, that I never thought to ask my mother (or hers”> for permission. You can guess how this ended up. Less than an hour later, the scissors were confiscated. 

The news of my creation became a story for the ages: Shari “Scissor Hands” Harbinger destroys tresses of next-door neighbor.If only I had a more sophisticated pair of scissors.” My mother informed me, it wasn’t the scissors fault. And if I ever wanted to be like the great Vidal Sassoon, I should probably consider a career in cosmetology. Cosmetology? Beauty school! Sign me up! Oh, wait–I was still only nine. 

I was accepted into the Fine Arts Program, Binghamton University (BA”> and studied Music & Management in the Arts. I had the chance to spin records with a talented and diverse group of creative geniuses. But that wasn’t all I was doing. At the same time, I was building up my reputation as the premier dorm stylist.

It was no surprise to anyone, including my parents, that I would abruptly switch career paths and find my way back to hair. My true love was beauty, fashion and hair care. It was where I was meant to be. 


Curl Expert Shari Harbinger on the Importance of Education in the Hair and Beauty Industry

Image: @shariharbinger


NaturallyCurly: You were one of the original stylists at Devacurl. How has the curly world changed since then? 

Shari: In 1996 I partnered with the Devachan Salon founders. We quickly realized the need to share our findings and successes with curly hair with other professionals. I took the lead on turning our philosophies, principles and techniques into scalable digestible programs and in 2006, we co-founded the DevaCurl Academy. 

At our salons, we taught our team how to cut, color and style natural textures. And with this new understanding and approach for caring for curly hair, we guided our clients by teaching them to embrace their natural curls through hydration and styling. Soon we realized that our approach to hydrating and caring for curls was a game changer, for curly girls and the industry. We were on a mission to help clients, but also to help guide stylists around the country so that they too could have the same success with their curly clients that we had with ours. 

This ever evolving curly client wanted more. As we continued to develop our brand, the need to learn how to properly cut and shape this now beautifully hydrated fabric became more evident. The client continued to shift their mindset around their ideal image and now wanted a relevant and more provocative shape to support their natural texture. So we spent the next 20 plus years developing and perfecting our cutting and coloring techniques.

Curl Expert Shari Harbinger on the Importance of Education in the Hair and Beauty Industry

Image: @shariharbinger

NaturallyCurly: You specialize in coloring curls. What excites you about coloring curly hair? 

Shari: My passion for fabrics, color, and textiles stayed with me from a very young age. When I realized that we could breathe new life into curly hair with multi dimensional color, I became obsessed. 

As we developed the Academy curriculum, I had the opportunity to develop a highlighting technique with Denis daSilva, who created  Pintura highlighting. This approach, along with his patented tool, eliminated the need for foiling and the results on natural textures were nothing short of a masterpiece. 


NaturallyCurly: What type of training did you have when it came to coloring hair?

Shari:  At 23, I quickly landed my first job as a sales consultant with Clairol and simultaneously enrolled in cosmetology school. I dove into the industry full force. As a member of the sales education team I realized my love of teaching. But soon after I had an epiphany, “why am I selling color? I’d  rather be doing it and teaching it!” In 1989, after receiving my cosmetology license, I worked for various salons in NYC before going to Schwarzkopf USA where I became a platform artist. I couldn’t get enough and I learned so much from other colorists. At the same time I served as Director of Education for Paramount Beauty Distributors where I led education programs for a variety of brands including Schwarzkopf, Logics, Bain DeTerre, Nioxin, and Artec


NaturallyCurly: How does coloring curly hair differ from coloring straight hair? 

Shari: Depending on the intensity and strength of some hair colors and lighteners, the coloring process may result in some dehydration to the curls leaving them lackluster. Curly hair typically needs more moisture and should be treated like a delicate fabric, think cashmere!

You need to make sure the hair is hydrated and prepared for a color service. Curly hair also lives on (or off”>  the head differently due to its texture so how we view the color will be somewhat different post color service.   


NaturallyCurly: Are there rules of thumb it comes to coloring curls. 


You need to honor the fabric ( curly or straight”> and fully understand the choices you make with regards to product, strength,  timing, and placement, Understanding spring factor, density, curl type, hydration and how the hair lives and lands on the head with respect to texture and volume will determine which products and techniques I’ll use when coloring the hair.

I always balance technical color theory with what I know to be true about the behavior of curls. And I am always tapped in to my intuition. I honor it always as I formulate the best possible color approach for every client that sits in my chair. 

NaturallyCurly: What are some of the hottest trends in coloring curls?


Multi dimensional effects will never go out of style on curly hair. trends come and go and each client and their stylist have different ideas regarding trends. But no matter the texture, I think that bright fashion colors are on trend right now. And while this trend may come and go, the color choices and categories available today can be more gentle and temporary for naturally textured hair, which allows the client and stylist numerous opportunities to explore different trends. But, I’ve also noticed curly girls always want dimension to showcase their texture.

NaturallyCurly: Are there colorists who inspire you? 

All of the colorists I’ve taught, trained with and work with inspire me. I remain both the teacher and a student. This will never change as long as I am part of this community. There are so many exceptional artists in this business that I admire. it wouldn’t be fair to single any out. I am in awe of the artistry that I am witnessing today in the beauty industry.

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