Walk into an Edwards & Co salon on any given day and you’ll be greeted with the familiar sights and smells: a faint whiff of bleach, the low hum of a hairdryer, the melodic chatter between colourist and client. But this is not your average salon.

The entire operation is run by Jaye Edwards, a 26 year-old colourist from rural NSW who moved to Sydney 11 years ago. He had a single goal in mind: escape the monotony of life on the fringes. “Honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew that there was more waiting for me in the city [compared with] where I grew up,” says Edwards. “I ended up getting an apprenticeship at the first hairdresser I walked into,” he recalls. “They literally threw me straight into a trial shift, and by the end of the day I was working for them.”

This accidental introduction to hair is all the more impressive when you consider that in the space of 10 years Edwards now runs a small empire of four salons (there’s one in Melbourne and Byron Bay, too) and a nationwide education program.

In an industry that is very hierarchical (even the most promising hairdressers spend decades climbing through the ranks from first-year apprentice to director of cutting or colour), how did a freelancer from Australia’s cherry-picking capital open his first salon at the age of 23? After an initial investment into a salon where he was freelancing fell through, along with all of his life savings, Edwards pushed on. A remarkable testament to his vision and tenacity, the misfortune only solidified his resolve. “From then on, I was determined to do my own thing. I literally borrowed money from anybody I could – I had three credit cards, I had loans. It got to the point where I didn’t know how I was going to pay rent.”

“It was terrifying,” he admits. “But it worked out in the end.”

From that point on, Edwards set fire to the rulebook. It’s his propensity for the unorthodox that has in some ways alienated him from the “salons that do things the old way”, but it has also brought him closer to a generation of hair stylists (many of whom he counts as best friends and mentors) that is forging a new path. You wouldn’t guess it at first glance, but Edwards & Co is a business that has just a small handful of permanent staff. The rest are freelance colourists, stylists and makeup artists who rent chairs in the sprawling warehouse studios when they’re not out working on commercial and editorial shoots for the likes of Vogue, Russh and Cosmopolitan.

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Although it may sound like a chaotic environment, the team is about as tight as it gets. It also turns out a business model based on freedom and flexibility works wonders for tapping hard-to-get talent. “I feel like that’s been a major factor in building the amount of salons I have, because you can have people on your team that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to have otherwise. If they weren’t working for themselves, with me, they would probably be opening their own salons.”

Known for creamy blondes, caramel tips and rich brunette colours, Edwards has developed a signature look that is synonymous with the beach-to-bar lifestyle of Australian women. It’s what he refers to as “the Australian version of rich-girl hair”; masterfully hand-painted, sun-kissed highlights that have been rolled into glossy mermaid waves. The style has seen the brand’s Instagram following explode to 48,000.

Edwards and his band of freelancers have garnered an impressive following of beauty editors, social influencers, actresses and models. The most high profile of these is Australian model and beauty entrepreneur Lara Worthington (née Bingle), who has been with Edwards as a friend and client from the very beginning. “I met Lara through my old boss who used to colour her hair. She came into the salon one day and requested me, and the rest is history.” Now women come in to the salon requesting “The Lara”.

With a fifth salon in the works in Brisbane Edwards shows no sign of slowing down. While he didn’t plan to expand so rapidly, the once-freelancer has stuck to his vision to create more spaces that speak to a generation of creatives after diverse and dynamic careers. Call him the millennial Renaissance man.