Karen Wallington

Co-Founder of Noggin Oil and Founder of Modlocks

Modlocks founder and Noggin Oil Co founder Karen Wallington is a world renowned loctician (dreadlock practitioner) with a Red Seal Endorsement in cosmetology. She has over 20 years experience in the care, styling, and maintenance of dreadlocks for all hair types. Karen has built her brand so effectively that she is in great demand internationally. With a reputation as one of the top locticians in the industry, she often travels to work with celebrity clients, including NFL and NBA athletes. An excellent example of entrepreneurial creativity, passion, and drive, Wallington was only twenty four years old when she opened her very first salon in downtown Toronto in 2001. Shortly thereafter, pioneer company Knotty Boy (natural care products for dreadlocks) commissioned Karen to co-author the training manual for their loctician course using her proprietary techniques. Today, Karen is increasingly in demand across North America as a public speaker and educator in the natural hair industry.  Though she hasn’t abandoned the loyal clientele who needs her and insist they would be lost without her, her primary focus now is teaching Modlocks dreadlock techniques and speaking about her expertise at hair conventions across North America. Karen has also made quite an impression in the media – she was in the top ten on Slice TV’s popular Superstar Hair Challenge produced and hosted by celebrity stylist Marc Anthony and recently worked alongside celebrity hairstylists Philip Wolff and Alfredo Lewis in the first ever cut, colour and dreadlock collaboration for Instagram. Karen has been quoted by media continent wide on various aspects of hair care.

Where did the idea for Noggin Oil come from?

As a professional dreadlock specialist, I’m always thinking up ways to improve efficiency and the all-over experience for my clients. Over the years I’ve developed new techniques, modified old techniques and invented some rather useful tools, but the number one challenge I face in my job is how to alleviate scalp tenderness. The same problem happens for professionals who braid or install hair extensions. It’s inevitable we need to pull hair to do our job and at times it can be painful.

Then one day when a client was talking to me about a migraine she recently had, she described the pain being “in her scalp” rather than in her head. As soon as I heard the word scalp, I thought about hair which made me think about using essential oils to remedy the pain and a roller applicator to roll between the dreadlocks. It seemed like such an obvious solution I had to wonder why no one had ever thought of it before!

The second half of the story happened on the day when Brian Philips sat in my chair. Brian had already been a client of mine for four years so we were close. We built a strong mutual respect because both of us are hairstylists and salon owners. Brian also has his own natural hair/skin care line so I knew he’d be able to guide me on how to turn my idea into a product, resource the packaging etc. and bring it to market. I enthusiastically shared my idea with him and then suddenly Brian jumps right in to tell me that he too was working on solving a problem with how to clean his scalp without submerging his dreadlocks in water. The two ideas complimented each other so well we almost instantaneously decided to put the ideas together and create a whole brand of products designed and formulated specifically for dreadlocks and all sectioned hairstyles.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, my schedule was fairly straight forward, starting with breakfast in the morning. I would pack lunch for our son and my husband walked him to school so I could do my morning yoga and answer work emails. Most days I’d be in the salon with clients from 10 AM to 6 PM so my husband was more the primary caregiver. Supper is usually around 6pm and we’d take turns putting our son to bed. Most evenings, I’d follow up with my morning emails and schedule my clients’ appointments. Recently I adjusted my schedule to designate Mondays to work on Noggin Oil.
However recently, all the priorities have shifted. Noggin Oil continues to sell online but my salon, Modlocks, is temporarily closed. I’m still doing yoga in the morning but now I’m the primary caregiver while my husband works from home. These are unprecedented times and adjustments need to be made accordingly. Despite all the changes, I really try to make the little moments in between count. I thrive on flexibility in my schedule so that I can change my priorities as need be. I think productivity is subjective. Some days I’m motivated to knock everything off my to-do list while other days are go with the flow. Right now, there’s a lot of going with the flow.

How do you bring ideas to life?

When I come up with an idea that I know in my heart needs to come to fruition, I just make it happen. I surrounded myself with successful, like-minded people who have different strengths and different weaknesses than me. My circles of people are great sources of inspiration, information and useful advice.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I can’t really think of a particular trend that excites me but the natural progression of cultural blending is a movement that I’m really excited about. The more we blend, the more we learn and grow together as a global family.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m what I like to call an extroverted extrovert. My social habits keep me going. I love talking to others about ideas and strategies because it gets me motivated.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Read the book your mother gave you in your early 20’s called The Wealthy Barber and save that 10%! No if ands or buts!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Wash, rinse and repeat is a marketing ploy to sell us more shampoo. Shampoo strips the oil that protects and lubricates hair and scalp. The more you shampoo, the harder your sebaceous glands need to work to produce oil. Excessive shampooing disrupts the PH balance and the natural production of sebum. In other words, most people shampoo too much.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I actually wasn’t quite sure how to answer the question so I decided to pass it off to my clients to see what they’d say. The best answer I got appeared to be the most obvious after I thought about it. The one thing that I do over and over AND OVER is the physical labour. In my 20 year career, I have invested more than 20,000 hours on thousands of clients’ dreadlocks. No joke. Quick math suggests that even if in the last 10 of my 20 years the average appointment is 2.5 hours and I take an average of 2.5 clients per day working 5.5 days per week and (lets just say for argument’s sake) I work 40 weeks per year averaging one month off…that total alone is 13,750 hours and roughly 5500 appointments just in the second half of my career. What’s my stamina? How do I keep going and not crash and burn? Two things I recommend is to find your passion or find purpose in whatever it is you do. I’m passionate about using hair as a medium to express my creativity but sometimes the work is repetitive so I’m also passionate about people and really getting to know them and understand them. My clients value my integrity and share in my enthusiasm which gives me real purpose. For me, my work is incredibly fulfilling on many levels which grants me flexibility to bounce between parts that I love with parts that get tough. Passion and purpose keep me going.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I’ve utilized PR as well as marketing strategies, making myself available to media looking for expert commentary. As a result I’ve been quoted North America wide bringing more attention and credibility to both of my brands.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A blessing and a curse, I am quick to trust people. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and I see their potential sometimes before they ever see it for themselves. Many years ago I had two failed business’ back to back with people who I presumed trustworthy and like-minded but really weren’t. I spent years of my life and a lot of money learning from those mistakes but here’s how I overcame it: I am the definition of entrepreneur. I am self-motivated and I know my craft. I take risks, I network, I pay bills, I book appointments, I’m creative and I am consumed with passion. I refuse to turn into the person with a chip on her shoulder and pass blame for the choices I make in life. And ultimately, if I let poor past decisions bias present opportunities, Modlocks and Noggin Oil may never have come to fruition. Life cannot have successes without failures.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I have told so many people about this idea so I really hope somebody reads this and runs with it!  I always said that if I was passionate about sewing, I would open a business for people to send me their clothes so I could add pockets. All sizes, fun shapes and colours, interior, exterior, decorative and functional with buttons, zippers flaps – all made to order. This idea came to me many years ago when I was frustrated with the impracticality of clothes without pockets; Especially dresses!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A few months ago I bought an online course with Jim Kwik to help improve my memory. I really enjoyed it and started to follow him on social media for inspiration. Recently he put all of his courses on sale so I’m about to start a 21 day online course to improve my ability to read. It was on sale for $97.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Instagram is the closest thing to a web service that is imperative to my business. It helps me keep up on the latest industry trends, share my work, speak to my clients and potential customers, inspire other people in my industry and educate about our products.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I just pre-ordered Jim Kwik’s new book called Limitless because I want to learn how to learn so that my world of knowledge can become infinitely more.

What is your favorite quote?

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Key Learnings:

  • Productivity is subjective. A flexible schedule works wonders when the world throws you a great big curve ball.
  • Seek people who are like minded with different strengths and weaknesses so that you may learn from and help one another. Don’t let toxic relationships or un-saavy business decisions prejudice new opportunities.
  • Get repped! Hire someone in public relations to get your name out to the media because that’s what PR is for.
  • Find your passion or your purpose; It will ignite stamina for years to come.