When life drops curveballs and it’s suddenly “everything, everywhere, all at once,” it can get overwhelming—disconcerting even. The key? Just keep swimming, as Finding Nemo’s Dory once said. Easier said than done, for sure; but, take a cue from this city-girl-turned-island-girl: Tish Mahtani.
A hairstylist and make-up artist, Tish is no stranger to life-altering moments. She took Information Systems at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and worked as a Technical Application Analyst for Chevron, an oil and gas company, for five years—all while knowing that her heart was set on a more creative path. While she did her corporate job on the weekdays, Tish was doing hair and make-up for different clients on the weekends. It was they who asked her if she also did haircuts and hair color, which led her to signing up for a course to hone her skills and paved the way for a big life and career switch.
Having discovered her knack in and passion for bringing her clients’ hairstyle dreams to life, Tish decided to quit her corporate job, move to Siargao, and start on this more creative journey. “During the earlier part of my 20s, may existential crisis pa ‘ko. I didn't know who I was, especially when I was doing my day job. It's like I don’t fit in a corporate setting. So, when I moved to Siargao, I just followed what my gut told me,” she shares.
The reason behind choosing Siargao, of all places, may seem obvious, but one still has to ask why the Surfing Capital of the Philippines. As it happened, for Tish, her family’s business plans played a factor. According to her, in 2019, “there was an opportunity for me to move there because our family bought land in Siargao. We started building a hostel. In that hostel was my house, which I converted into a salon. That's when it all started. It wasn’t really planned; it was more like a flow.”
That salon wasn’t a business venture from the get-go. In fact, Tish was just practicing on one client a day and before she knew it, more and more kept coming. It was then that her two-storey space became the full-fledged, operational Ulo Salon on the first floor with her apartment on the second floor. Talk about living the work-from-home life even before the pandemic—in Siargao, no less!
Siargao, for Tish, has become more than just a vacation spot and a second home: “It’s also my therapy,” she confesses. Stay on the island for more than a week and she guarantees that soon enough, one’s going to start thinking of ways on how to live there. “Being closer to the ocean and to nature made me feel healthier, more active, and more present. In the city, you're always on your phone and super busy. There, the rawness became fuel for my creativity,” she muses.
As a hairstylist, Tish feels fortunate enough to have had a variety of clients to work with in Siargao. The island, which was included in Time Magazine’s list of "The World's 100 Greatest Places of 2021,” attracts so many local and foreign tourists that she got to practice her skills on Asian, Caucasian, and other types of hair. She even got to style the hair of beauty queens, celebrities, and influencers, such as Katarina Rodriguez, Rachel Peters, Andi Eigenmann, and Kylie Verzosa—all within a year of opening Ulo Salon. This also became an opportunity for her to educate them on haircare, especially since she had to deal with hair that was damaged by the sun, the salty waters from surfing, and the elements.
Little did Tish know, she eventually had bigger damages to face—way more serious than hair problems. The unfortunate Typhoon Odette struck Siargao in December 2021 and left devastation, heartbreak, trauma, and stress in its wake. Tish and her Ulo Salon were just some of the many displaced victims. “The whole January [of 2022], I was crying. I was lost. It's like you're just plucked out of your reality and tinapon ka lang. I had no savings, no income, no home, nowhere to go. I didn't know how to start again,” she recalls somberly, likening the ordeal to “a little helpless kid who lost her parents at the mall” sort of feeling.
With another life-altering moment (unforced, this time) in front of her, Tish had to stop, absorb everything, and take some time off. “Me, my boyfriend, and a few of our friends decided to move to La Union (LU) in the meantime. It's closer to the beach; it's more familiar to us. We decided to rent a spot for a year and then move to and from Siargao and LU. Now, I have a creative space again and slowly by slowly, we’re rebuilding ourselves,” she says.
Looking back now, Tish chooses to see Typhoon Odette as a blessing in disguise. She thinks, “if it didn't happen, I probably would've just stayed there and wouldn't have left. I probably would've just continued on my path and wouldn't have had so many opportunities coming to me right now.” The many opportunities that Tish refers to is her current LuzVisMin tour, where she goes to different parts of the country and collaborates with salons and barbershops for a cut-and-color pop-up. “I’m kind of enjoying myself moving around and not having a permanent spot where I'm glued to and I have to be everyday. I get to meet other salon owners and creative stylists from all over the country, share our love for the craft, and learn from each other—bringing the community together in my own little way. It's a nice turning point, I guess,” she adds.
Also read: Benibana Beauty Hub Teams Up With Tish Mahtani For A Two-Day Beauty Event
Tish also looks at this tour as her way of growing even more creatively. With Ulo Salon currently on pause, she gets to reflect, find the opportunity to grow, and discover who she really is as an artist as she goes around different places. This, she admits, is what she needs right now: “It’s cool how a tragedy had to happen for you to rediscover parts of yourself.”
Regardless of where Tish finds herself, her reason for pursuing her passion remains the same: the feeling she’s able to give others. She’s on a different kind of high when she helps make people feel good about themselves, which, in turn, helps them do great at their jobs or life in general because they’re in good spirits and good vibes. “That made me feel relevant, as opposed to me working in front of a computer. It's not the same feeling and that relevance in the world gave me purpose. I live for this [kind of feeling],” she enthusiastically shares.
More than a beauty “session,” a day of pampering at the salon with one’s favorite stylist feels like a sanctuary for Tish. She explains, “if you have a busy life, like if you're a mom or if your work consumes you, you take this day off to be pampered and sometimes air out your sentiments to a random person. Then, you go home and go about your normal life again. But, those few hours to yourself is very important to your mental health. You feel lighter. When you cut your hair, it's like inviting change into your life and some people need that.” As the stylist and that “random person” whom clients converse with, Tish gets to feel what they feel and that experience is what keeps her going.
All things considered, Tish has come a long way from her IT career. But, make no mistake—her journey towards pursuing her passion didn’t happen in a snap. In fact, she was initially afraid to let go of the security of the corporate world. While she didn’t believe in quitting her full-time job cold-turkey, she took the time to hone her craft before taking the plunge. For her, “it's just courage. When I built my clientele, that's when I thought that maybe I have enough courage to pursue this [passion] because it's making me happier.”
Now, when asked about where and how she sees her life moving forward, Tish remains hopeful, though a bit hesitant. “Because of what happened to Siargao, now, I know that it's temporary. It's very difficult to invest everything again, like what I did before. I’m more conservative now,” she admits.
In spite of that, Tish is still 100% committed to building her brand Ulo Salon, while still doing creative collaborations and community-building, which she enjoys doing now: “Eventually, [the plan is to] jumpstart Ulo. I don't know where. I don't know when. But, that's in the pipeline. Then, let's see if we can go international. Maybe develop a product for surf hair. Who knows?”
Who knows, indeed.
Photos courtesy of Tish Mahtani and Ulo Salon