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  • Writer's pictureKarla Ray

Occupational Therapist Opts For More Colorful Life

Over the last year or so, I’ve been trying to find and refine my sense of style. 


It’s actually one of the things I told my husband I wanted to work on as a sort of resolution in 2021, before becoming pregnant and really just dressing for comfort and wearing whatever fit. 


After our son was born, my fashion choices revolved around what would be easiest to breastfeed or pump, so it wasn’t really until 2023 that I was able to refocus and start figuring out what I wanted my signature style to be. 


I think most midlife moms go through this at some point. We either hate all the clothes in our closet, wear the same five things, or have no idea how to dress our new bodies after having kids. For me, I have a totally different work identity than I do outside of the newsroom in terms of the style I want to convey, and the challenge is finding a way to feel empowered in both. 


Retailers bank on us being confused and pliable. A customer with no sense of personal style will simply seek what’s easy; the newest trends being displayed on mannequins and tables throughout the stores that fill shopping malls or your nearby Target. The famous scene with the blue belts in Miranda Priestly’s office in The Devil Wears Prada is more accurate than acting- the colors, silhouettes, and fabrics that we seek without even thinking were all carefully selected by someone in a room much like that one, from a pile of stuff. 


So how can some people take the same looks that are available to the masses and really set them off with their own flair, as though the mass-produced looks were somehow made just for them? 


It might come down to color or style analysis. 


Color analysis has been around for decades. I remember my own mother having a consultant over to our farmhouse when I was a child, armed with drapes of all colors of the rainbow and beyond, to help her find her ‘season’. I want to say they draped me, too, but I could not tell you what the results were. But my mother, to this day, stands by those results and very strict rules about what she believes she looks good or bad in. “I can’t wear yellow,” she’ll say, sticking to mostly blues and pinks instead. 


How funny to reflect on the fact that she was then a midlife mom, just like I am now, trying to find her sense of style while raising children. 


The 1980s and 1990s surge of color analyses was spurred by a book titled “Color Me Beautiful,” but it lagged in popularity for years… until recently. 


As the pandemic prompted many to trade in their business casual attire for simply casual work from home sweatsuits and athleisure, our shopping habits changed, too. Fewer in-person shopping trips meant fewer chances for the latest trends to entice you into a new section of the store or a new item into your cart. And now, as much of the world has gone back to pre-COVID standards of work and dress, shoppers are trying, like me, to find their own sense of style and remember how to dress themselves… and they’re often turning to TikTok or Pinterest for fashion tips. And what’s taking over TikTok in the last year? 


Color Analysis. 


This has been a big opportunity for app developers and small business owners alike. For Ashley Hedden, what would eventually become her full-time source of income, started as a quest not so different from my own; a yearning to find her own sense of style as a young mom. Before she would ever become a consultant for one of the largest color analysis brands in the world, she was a customer. 


“I had my third child in less than four years, and was just feeling kind of… gross about myself,” Hedden said. “I felt like all I was doing was looking at babies, spit up and diaper sand all the things, and I gifted myself for Mother’s Day a color consult.” 



Though apps and websites can give you an idea of what your ‘season’ and best colors might be, the best and most accurate results are said to come from a trained consultant, who uses a series of drapes that to the untrained eye may look like sixteen different types of green, yellow, or blue, but actually reveal what makes the undertone of your skin, hair and eyes pop and look their very best. 


“We were like… this is the wildest thing. Who in a million years would believe that wearing your best colors, that complement you, can make you feel so good? And as I just kept digging into it, I learned it’s more than just colors… this is about putting your best looks together. How do you pair your best colors with your best jewelry, with your denim? And then you add in your style, which takes into consideration who you are as a person… and how do you want to be perceived?” 


Hedden learned a lot about herself in that session. She is a Winter- think clear jeweled-tones like the beautiful berry fuschia she’s seen wearing in our interview. Her style- romantic classic… meaning she likes the frills, bows and feminine touches with a little structure to smooth everything out. 


“That's the law and order in my personality,” Hedden said. 


The law and order thoughtfulness meant Hedden wanted to learn all that she could about her newfound closet compass, editing down what didn’t suit her and analyzing each outfit she owned. It also meant analyzing other areas of her life, including her role as a pediatric occupational therapist, working with ill children who were close in age to her own- fulfilling… but sometimes, full of heartbreak. 


“Having that done, and having it be so impactful to me, it kind of pulled me out from this place of feeling like I'm just going to live in my athleisure-wear because I'm a mom, and then I go to work and I wear my scrubs, and I haven't taken my ponytail out for four years,” Hedden said. “Having that color and style consult pulled me out of a rut that I didn't really realize I was in.” 


Hedden went through the Post-COVID awakening so many of my guests so far have described, of wanting more flexibility in their work… more fun. I can’t think of a more sobering job during the pandemic than one at a children’s hospital to realign your perspective. When the world reopened, her husband’s job changed, too- going from a flexible work from home position to a lot of travel, putting more weight behind the pull for Ashley to take a different path.  


“From a professional standpoint, I was approaching a little bit of burnout, working in an environment of a hospital with kids who are ill, and having children of your own, definitely weighs on you,” Hedden said. “I’d been an occupational therapist for 14 years, and in an inpatient environment for ten years… I had sat for my board certification in pediatrics, which in our profession is one of the top tier things you can do, and that kind of proved to myself that I had the skills to be working with the neonatal population and in pediatrics…. And after that point, I kind of looked around and said, what’s next? What’s my next step?” 


What is it with us as a species that we always have to be striving for the next big thing? The next project? In my own efforts to become the best version of myself, I am in the middle of 75 Hard (if you’ve never heard of it, it’s a mental and fitness challenge that plays out over the course of 75 days) and learning a lot about how to put yourself into a growth mindset.


Basically, there are two sets of people- those who believe their identity, intelligence, and status are fixed and unable to be changed no matter how much effort is put in—and those who believe you can get better at anything, smarter, and change your future, through a growth mindset. 


Those of us always looking to the next thing are the latter, which is both a gift and a curse.

 

“Honestly, I didn’t love [my role at the hospital] enough to pursue something bigger and go after my MBA… that would kind of be the next steps for hospital administration. And that got me thinking,” Hedden said.  


Thinking about how transformative her own color and style session was. 


Thinking about how much fun the consultant seemed doing it. 


Thinking about how much fun it would be to do the same for others. 


“I have to give a shout out to one of my good friends in Austin, Texas, because she was working as a speech therapist as well, and she made this big leap and started working for this color and style company,” Hedden said. “I called her, and I was like, how did you even get involved? It just seems like you’re doing something that makes you so happy, and every time I talk to you, you are beaming and glowing and I want what you’re doing. I don’t know if it’s with your company, but I want to make a leap, I want to do something different.” 


The lingering thoughts were shut down almost as quickly as they started. Hedden called the company’s headquarters and learned there were no franchise opportunities in her region, meaning someone else had already claimed the area where she lives- an effort to reduce competition and confusion.  


“Well, that’s my sign,” Hedden said. “That door is closed, I’m just going to look for something else… maybe I’ll find another side hustle. But it just kept weighing on my mind.” 

She made a second call to headquarters, this time asking to apprentice or assist the current franchise owner for her region. 


It worked. 



“She, our franchise owner, is this amazing human who just has a passion for helping people really be entrepreneurs,” Hedden said.  


Hedden teamed up with four other women, working at first from her own home studio (her kid’s old play room) before eventually moving into a co-working space with her teammates. 

“Which is really fun, because we have coworkers,” Hedden said. 


At first, she stayed on as a part time OT at her hospital. With the risk of starting a new business, she didn’t know if she would have clients filling her books… part of the reason she used her home studio to start. 


“I remember opening my schedule and thinking, okay, if I have like three people for a week, that’s pretty good. Maybe I can keep that up for a couple of months,” Hedden said. “But I very easily, quickly, was able to start seeing 8 to 10 clients a week. It happened really fast, which was really fun.” 


Within three months, she had not only supplemented her family’s income, but she fully replaced her hospital income… and it was time to leave the hospital for good. 


“Timewise, I’ve got to be able to dedicate the right amount of time to this to be successful. I don’t just want to sort of do it, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right and be all in,” Hedden said. 


She attributes the almost overnight success to the groundwork her franchise leader had already put in, and the popularity of color and style in the Midwest where she lives. 


“There are definitely parts of the country where people are like, what is color analysis? What is style analysis? And they kind of look at you like you’re an alien,” Hedden said. “But around here, people definitely know what it is.” 


With the popularity of the service, we talked about oversaturation concerns (color pun not intended) and whether it’s a fad that will fade out (another color pun not intended). Hedden admits she’s experienced all of the new business jitters you might expect. 


“Initially, not at all, I was very excited, I thought it was an amazing opportunity, and that I would just do a little shift in life,” Hedden said. “But then I remember the night before I left for training, you’re gone for a week physically doing training, being away from my family and making the drive to Kansas City, I thought- what on earth am I doing? Am I making this huge mistake, is everyone going to think I am losing my mind?” 


When Ashley completed her training, there were 220 or so consultants in the United States, but just a year or so later, there were 350. 

“It’s definitely evolved, and they’re growing as a company, but there is also TikTok and Instagram and people learning a lot of things online and it spreads quickly,” Hedden said. “So with that, I think competition is always good, because that’s how businesses thrive and learn from each other. It has definitely allowed our company to expand and grow into a lot of other avenues, which has been really fun to be a part of.”  


Despite those initial fears, Ashley admits she’s more apt to leap before she looks… and she has never looked back.  


“If you had asked me, not even three years ago, if I would be doing this… I would have laughed and pointed to the 8 years of college I went through, and all the student debt I had to pay off,” Hedden said. “For me it is all about balance. Yes, I can still be a therapist- no one is going to take that way from me, it’s who I am- but right now, the flexibility of the schedule of doing color and style, and I’m still working with people and helping women embrace who they are, in a different way. I feel like it’s still very therapeutic, it’s just different.” 


In her first year, she’s helped a lot of people find their best looks; averaging almost one client per day through group events and one-on-one consulting. Though social media brings in a fair amount of clientele, most of her customers are brought in through referrals.  


“I think that's definitely a benefit of working with a big group; we can see these big parties together, but we have a lot of personal and private sessions too, that are one on one. And you build relationships and friendships with these people,” Hedden said. “I never in a million years would have met half of these people that I'm working with because we're doing such different things professionally, but to be able to connect with them and then they refer somebody else… that’s where the majority of those clients are coming from.” 

The influx of referrals is a testament not just to Ashely’s shining personality and kind approach; a color analysis is simultaneously a self-care and self-improvement activity that immediately pays off. 


“It’s something that’s very tangible. Once you see this, once you see that colors complement you or they compete against you, you can't really unsee it,” Hedden said. “It’s an instant- yes, that makes sense why I love these things in my closet, or why I love my prom dress, or why I picked those colors for my bridesmaid dresses… it’s something that you can definitely see.” 


And at our cores, we all want to feel that best-outfit, fresh blowout, perfect makeup confidence, no matter what we’re working with each day. 


“Everybody wants to feel and look their best… and if you can do itnwith a sweatshirt or a t-shirt from Target because it's in your right color and it's complementing you, that's fun, and it’s also very powerful,” Hedden said. “We see a lot of young teens and college-aged girls, and I just think, gosh, if I had the power of color, knowing what my best colors were when I was going through those teenage years!” 


Your season is set for life, meaning once you know your best colors, they won’t change, even as you get older, get a tan, or get highlights. Armed with all this knowledge, I had to ask- is Ashley constantly analyzing everyone she meets? Was she analyzing me over our video chat? 


“I get that question all the time, and the answer is no. I tell people, 100%, I’m not the color police,” Hedden laughed. “But you can tell when someone’s had their colors done, because they’ve got the combination, they’ve got their jewelry, they’ve got their hair, they’ve got their best denim on, and they just look polished, whether they’re just running to the grocery store or a gala. Those things do stand out.” 


I’m a different person in the grocery store vs. a gala… I always say I’m in disguise when I’m off the air. But as my personal style is something I’m actively working on, I have been actively considering shelling out the cash for a color consult of my own. The company Ashley works for uses the phrase curating confidence to explain its mission statement. 


“Knowing your colors is one part of it, knowing your style is another part, but ultimately the goal is to empower people to feel confident, and feel like you’re the best version of yourself, you know? Whether that means putting yourself together with your best makeup or your hair color or your clothes,” Hedden said. “If you look good, and you feel good, that does portray confidence. I think when people come, they’re looking for that a little bit.” 


Though men are catching on to color analysis, too, this traditionally has been a female-centered activity- offering a chance for women to bond and do something for themselves amid the chaos of running homes, demanding jobs and for many, like Ashley, new motherhood. 



“They're looking for a fun time. It's definitely one of those things that you don't forget, you go through with girlfriends, or you go through by yourself, and you're like, Gosh, that was just a really fun afternoon,” Hedden said. “And if you know someone who's had their colors, it's like a snowball effect. Even at the hospital, everyone in the rehab departments had their colors done, and it's so fun to talk about it… it becomes a relatable thing.” 


Curating community as much as confidence… through color. 


“I think ultimately people come in looking for a way to boost their own self-image, and they’re able to do it in a way that’s really simple.” 


The career shift has boosted more than Ashley’s self-image; it’s helped her family in ways tough to quantify. 


“The biggest thing that this shift has done for for me and my family is giving us flexibility- flexibility to block my schedule…  to be able to pick them up from school and do those things that I wasn’t able to do with a traditional schedule or even modifying my schedule,” Hedden said. “In healthcare, there are just a lot of things that you can’t modify. You have to be in a hospital working with patients when they’re eating, if I’m working on feeding and swallowing, that’s around eating time… there are just things you can’t be flexible around and that’s just the job. So, this change has definitely given me that.” 


Flexibility and financial freedom, now surpassing her hospital salary and projections for 2024 to be even better. 


“I feel like there are so many other opportunities within that company. First you learn how to do color consults, and then you learn your style consults, and then you learn your makeup and your advanced makeup… there are a lot of like continuing education opportunities within the company,” Hedden said. “I think what you make of it is really up to you. I know there are consultants around the country that specialize in men’s style and that’s what they do, that’s their passion. They’ll still see anyone for color, but their passion is doing men’s style.” 


As she hits her stride, Ashley is looking for her own niche, too. 


“As I’ve been doing this longer and longer, you kind of figure out what it is that you love most about it. Some people love doing closet clean ups, coming in and helping someone overhaul their closet,” Hedden said. “I don’t know if that’s going to be my thing, but I feel like as I’m digging a little deeper within the company, I'm kind of starting to figure that out.”

 

Now THAT is a hobby I can get behind, as someone who likes to cycle her closet once every month or two, due in part to my thrifting addiction. My fellow-thrifting friends who have gone through color analysis say it makes them more discerning shoppers, opting only to buy in their ‘season’ and simplifying their relationship with clothes. 

“If you are an autumn when you're six, you're going to be in autumn when you're 60,” Hedden said. “The colors that you love within that season, those can change. My mom and I are both winters, but different versions of winter… she looks her very best and feels her best in those really dark burgundies and pine greens, and I feel my best in more of the jewel tones.” 


But what if you’re like me, delulu and believe that you can wear any color? Ashley says people often come in with preconceived notions or confusion about what makes them look the best, as it’s hard to have an unbiased opinion of yourself.  


“One client came in and she definitely had an idea in her head of what season she wanted to be, and she told me straight upfront, I have in my mind what it is I’m going to be,” Hedden said. “So I go through the process, and my first job as a consultant is to get it right, but my second job is to help you see it along the way. And she and I got to the final reveal, and I asked her, are you seeing this with me? And she said- oh yes, I see it. I totally see it… but this is not the season she was hoping for.” 


“So we celebrated, we were all excited, we’re going to talk hair and makeup and denim and jewelry and how she’s going to put it all together… and she said, I have to circle back to my Instagram because I have a live feed going and people are voting on what season they think I’m going to be!” 


That’s when Ashley realized her client was an influencer… leading to even more referrals flooding her DMs. Turns out the two of them shared more in common than just being a Winter; they both initially thought they were an Autumn (and wanted to be!). 


“I remember thinking, oh my gosh, my closet is full of olive green because I love olive green and because olive green looks good on me, and in the consult, I realized I looked sick when I was wearing it,” Hedden said. “It was really easy to get rid of after my consult, but I needed somebody else to show me. Sometimes you’re so blind to what you WANT to see.”

 

She says that’s part of the reason online consultations or apps don’t always provide the best results. 


“The actual training in person is where it’s at, that is the deal breaker, that’s what sets our company aside from other companies, too, is having a hands-on experience,” Hedden said. “You want to learn from experts, and you want to learn from people who have done it and done it well, and I think our training team does that.” 


Ashley is living a more colorful life in more ways than one, and it’s something she wants everyone to experience, whether they become a client or not. 


I’m not talking about clothes here. 


“I think first and foremost, you need to trust yourself, because if there’s something you’re not loving about life or what’s happening, or you’re feeling like you’re stuck, you need to honor that and trust that you can do more, that you can do better for yourself, because you owe that to yourself,” Hedden said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there to do things that are nontraditional, and your friends and family are going to support you no matter what. They love you for who you are, not what you do.” 



Ashley admits she thought her husband would think she was a little nuts when she first thought of pursuing color analysis as a career, but the opposite happened. Not only was he fully on board, but he became a client (with the family discount, of course)- making getting the family out of the house so.much.easier… a perk that could not ever be quantified but all wives can understand! 


“I was convinced he was a winter, I’ve known him my whole life, we went to preschool together, and I’ve always seen him in bright colors and thought he looked really handsome,” Hedden said. “But he is an autumn. For him, it just totally transitioned his shopping and his closet… he can go into his closet now and put something together super quick, he travels all the time for work and he can get packed in five minutes because he knows everything in his closet is going to go together.” 


The support she’s received from her family, and the support she’s able to give back with her newfound freedom, has her beaming as bright as her favorite palette, and urging others to take a similar leap. 


“If you’re out there and questioning whether you should make a shift in life… I think you need to honor those feelings. For me, it was like I was missing something, and I didn’t even know what I was missing,” Hedden said. “Looking back in hindsight, I was missing that achievement… but I was also missing, who is Ashley? I am this creative person. I do love style and clothes and color and all of those things, but I was not my best version of myself. So I think to find something that is going to honor you, and make you who you really, truly are… for me, it balances out.” 


A more colorful outlook… all thanks to taking that leap. 


“I didn't realize what I needed, until I had it again.” 



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