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For a lot of Black communities, hair salons and barbershops are important neighborhood hubs and cherished areas for gathering. Sadly, the pandemic and shutdowns have disproportionately affected Black-owned small companies as they navigated a struggling financial system, public well being tips, and shutdowns to maintain their companies afloat as states slowly reopened. Which means some salons completely closed up store, whereas others have needed to pivot and face steep challenges to maintain their doorways open.
Superstar hairstylist Yene Damtew, who has labored with Michelle Obama and Tracee Ellis Ross and owns Aesthetics Salon in Arlington, VA, advised POPSUGAR that final 12 months, she closed her salon two weeks earlier than the federal government mandated a shutdown. “On reflection, I do not remorse it, as a result of the protection of my salon workforce and our purchasers is essential to me,” Damtew mentioned.
For many individuals, visiting a hair salon throughout a pandemic is actually completely different from what we’re used to, however enterprise house owners are making it work. Starring by Ted Gibson, a salon primarily based in LA and co-owned by movie star hairstylist Ted Gibson and Jason Backe, was solely open for 11 months when the state-mandated shutdown in March 2020 closed its doorways. Partnered with Amazon, it was constructed to be the primary good salon that is totally voice-activated by Alexa. The salon solely has 5 chairs in “clouds,” that are semiprivate pods impressed by the first-class cabin expertise on an airplane, 8-and-a-half ft from one another, to supply a luxurious expertise to purchasers. They do not promote merchandise within the salon, minimizing contact. Prospects can scan a QR code and get their merchandise shipped to their houses.
Whereas they could not have predicted the challenges of the final 12 months, the setup meant they had been geared up to face the challenges social distancing poses. “The nice factor is that we weren’t in a state of affairs the place we needed to put money into some huge cash into making the salon a COVID-safe setting as a result of we constructed that from the start,” Gibson advised POPSUGAR. “By the grace of God, it occurred that manner.”
Nonetheless, as a brand new small enterprise, they struggled financially in the course of the first 4 months of the shutdown. They needed to minimize down on the quantity of individuals within the salon as a result of they do not have a entrance desk or assistants. “We nonetheless should pay lease even once we did not have any purchasers coming via the door. There was no manner round that,” Gibson mentioned.
Tallulah “Lulu” Marcelin, proprietor of I Love Lulu in LA, additionally struggled to pay the lease in the course of the shutdown. On the time she was compelled to shut her doorways, I Love Lulu had been open for 10 years and counting. If something, she wanted to rent extra folks to assist with the growing demand for appointments at her salon, which makes a speciality of Black girls’s pure hair care, upkeep, and styling. When the pandemic struck, although, Marcelin needed to lay off all her staff.
To fight the monetary challenges she confronted, together with hiring a wholly new workers after the primary California shutdown was lifted solely to be shut down once more, Marcelin spent weeks making use of for grants for minority-owned small companies. She did not obtain any. As a restricted useful resource, everybody was scrambling for the grants. “The grant cash would’ve been nice as a result of earlier than we opened, we had minimal debt that was very a lot below management, however now I really feel like I’ve to borrow cash to earn money,” Marcelin advised POPSUGAR. “I’ve to borrow cash to outlive this.”
She’s additionally been determining tips on how to promote the merchandise she manufactures herself on-line. “I’ve to determine tips on how to market myself in another way, tips on how to shift and create extra on-line alternatives. We do not have the luxurious of working from residence,” she mentioned.
Damtew mentioned it has been a hurdle getting her purchasers to grasp the rise in pricing to compensate for the worth of preserving the doorways open. “The livelihood of our stylist is solely primarily based on their appointments,” she mentioned. “Many hairstylists additionally needed to change pricing buildings to recoup the misplaced wages in the course of the shutdown.”
Regardless of the challenges the pandemic posed to their companies, these salon house owners have discovered new methods to adapt to the occasions. Gibson, Backe, and Marcelin had already been skilled in sanitation, so not many security adjustments needed to be applied apart from temperature checks on the door, masks sporting, working at 50 p.c capability, and plenty of hand sanitizer.
Backe identified that individuals have began to really feel extra snug doing their hair themselves at residence, in order that they’ve begun to concentrate on providers that may be achieved completely within the salon. “It may be much more essential for us as salon house owners to concentrate on these providers which are sophisticated and time-consuming to do at residence, like extensions or weaves or chemical straightening, chemical texturizing providers, and sophisticated hair-color providers.” Gibson mentioned the purpose is to create a luxurious expertise that makes prospects wish to go away their houses to get their hair achieved.
Marcelin hopes that sooner or later, she will be able to have extra entry to extra assist from skilled enterprise house owners. Although she’s been styling hair for 25 years, she hasn’t been a enterprise proprietor for that lengthy. “As a minority-owned enterprise, it feels a bit lonely. It might be nice to have some mentorship from a bigger, extra skilled firm,” she mentioned.
Marcelin is hopeful that the providers she gives at her salon are wanted sufficient for the naturalistas and folks transitioning to pure hair to make it via the hardships. “Once we concentrate on wholesome scalps and we concentrate on the longevity and the integrity of the hair, it retains us in enterprise,” she mentioned.
On the opposite aspect of the nation in Virginia, enterprise is nice for Damtew and Aesthetics Salon. Since reopening, they’re now working out of two salon areas on the identical block. They’ve additionally lowered their service choices and eradicated longer providers to make sure they will see as many purchasers as doable. Since her stylists are now not seeing as many purchasers a day, it permits for higher work-life steadiness, which has at all times been a battle. “I do know as a Black girl, I’m resilient, and I additionally carry the burden of others on my shoulder,” Damtew mentioned. “Coming to the salon permits for purchasers to work together with different people and permits us to be ok with ourselves as soon as our providers are full.”
Hair salons might not be “important” companies, however the providers they supply for Black girls matter. The Black-owned hair salons which have fought to maintain their doorways open and survive this unprecedented and hectic 12 months in the course of the pandemic, and the hairstylists who work in them, matter, too. Now, greater than ever, it is essential to assist small companies equivalent to these. Take into account reserving an appointment along with your native Black-owned salon as a substitute of DIYing it at residence. If you present up, adjust to their new well being tips to maintain your hairstylists secure, and be ready to respect any elevated costs which are preserving the salon’s doorways open. That manner, as salons slowly and safely start to reopen, Black girls can get certainly one of their sacred areas again.
Picture Supply: Courtesy of Ted Gibson