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Study Abroad with ZGAT: Federico Advanced in Croatia

By: Sarah Federico Beauty and Lifestyle Writer

The streets are lined with cobblestones, the building’s walls are spray-painted in vivid hues resulting in a city full of masterpieces. Coffee shops are abundant, and beer is less than two dollars a pint; the people are friendly. This is the idyllic city of Zagreb, Croatia.

In September 2019, Adam Federico, Creative Director of Federico Advanced, led six U.S. based hairdressers on a study abroad trip to Zagreb, where they would learn from Ivana Spicer and Mario Mesaric of ZGAT. Though he had education in mind, he was also hoping to provide an experience. “When you take people out of their element, it makes room for something special to happen. When we’re pushed to our edge, we grow. When you put strangers together, friendships are formed. This is the kind of event that I wanted to offer. One where we delivered a trifecta of knowledge, growth and connection.”

Adam’s belief in the power of the community is strong, and that ideal led him to spark a friendship with Mario and Ivana in 2013. Since then, the three have worked closely to offer 18 U.S. based courses and three study abroad trips. Additionally, they produced a video that won Hairbrained’s HVA Video of the Year. With each endeavor, Federico Advanced and ZGAT become closer and their community grows.

This year, students were welcomed by Ivana and Mario, taken not only into their advanced academy space but also into their lives. Days were spent learning the team’s unique approach to cutting hair, while evenings were spent laughing and forging bonds. When it comes to hairdressing Mario and Ivana offer a unique perspective and technical precision is only part of that equation.

“Mario and Ivana have the mentality that hair is about more than being technically precise,” says Sasha Ivanovsky, Minneapolis based hairstylist and study abroad participant. “It’s about a feeling. When they cut hair, they bring out an emotion – happiness – in people. They do this by really seeing them. Though these skills are tricky to learn, ZGAT teaches them, anyway. This makes them different.”

Mario, Creative Director of ZGAT, emphasizes that you shouldn’t be a slave to technique. “Always change something,” he adds. His advice is liberating, and it allows students the freedom to trust their instincts. “Let technique guide you,” says Mario. “It’s your safety. But if you don’t use emotion, your shapes will be flat and one-dimensional. Create a shape with feeling: make it your own. Make it apart of you.”

Though time spent in the classroom proved invaluable, time spent outside of the classroom was equally important. “Having a hair community is so important,” says Sasha. “Because we need support, we need to fuel our creativity. When you travel with people, you get to know them on a deeper level. We spent time, explored and found inspiration by being in a different place in a different culture.”

“The knowledge sharing didn’t stop at the classroom,” explains Adam. “Each evening we came together, walked the streets, shared meals and took in the culture. We swapped stories of success and failure, ideas for growth. We pushed boundaries and made connections.”

Though taking the travel abroad leap can feel intimidating, attendee Stephen Adams recommends pushing those fears aside. “Just do it,” he says. “You’ll expand your mind. You’ll experience discomfort and will therefor create something new. This is the ultimate catalyst for creativity.”

While Adam had a transformative trip in mind, he knows that he “never could have orchestrated the life changing experience, alone.” Instead, he credits the success of the venture to creativity and open mindedness. “Teachers and students, alike made this trip a success – and I can’t wait to do it again.”