By Stacey Handel, Owner, Garde Bien Spa Salon, Knoxville, Tennessee
It was serendipitous. Yes, it was meant to be. I was introduced to Siobian Jones through a client. Don’t we love our clients? The client had no idea what a “ventilator” was but knew Jones’ skills with wigs were something my salon could use. Siobian had just returned to the area and was looking to expand her wig design business.
Most of our clients wear human hair wigs and toppers. These are expensive, and periodically the hair is pulled out from brushing and styling or the cap becomes damaged and unwearable. During the past year, along with everyone else, we have experienced great delays in some orders and repair services in both wigs and toppers.
Now we are able to do these minor repairs and replacement hair in-house, which has been a godsend to our guests. Siobian can retip extensions, offer wig maintenance and color refreshers, customize wigs with gray additions and design wefts along with other original creations. And because Siobian is a licensed cosmetologist, she sees overflow guests for a variety of services a few days a week along with other projects from her own studio, The Mighty Wig.
Siobian sat down with me and answered some probing questions.
QUESTION: What is your educational background?
ANSWER: Tennessee School of Beauty class of 2003. In addition, I took many continuing education classes through the Douglas J Aveda Institute in Lancing, Michigan, and Aveda Fredric’s Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Q: What inspired you to work with wigs and how did you enter the theater hair business?
A: My first experience in the theater was when I was 21. I had a client who was on the board for Play House in the Park in Murray, Kentucky. Turns out they were in rehearsals for “Footloose,” the musical. She asked me to be a dancer. I thought, “Sure why not?” Turns out I was not meant to be on stage. Backstage was where I found my place, I did hair and makeup. I loved going through the clothes and shopping for costumes. And from that point on, I helped out with the shows.
From there I started volunteering for anything that would feed my creative soul. I did hair and makeup for a couple of haunted theme parks, a couple of dance companies and sorority events. I always dreamed of working in entertainment and at that point, my dream was being fulfilled. The costume designer, Heidi Ortega at Johnson Theater at Murray State University, recommended I become the official cosmetologist for the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. That was my first professional job in theater. When I showed up I had never seen a handmade wig. I was immediately intrigued. I started learning how to ventilate in between my cosmetology duties. I eventually talked the department head into letting me take a wig home to ventilate on my own time. I wanted to get proficient enough to be hired on as a ventilator for the fall season. I knew I had found my next career as soon as I started.
Q: What were the advantages of having a cosmetology license and experience as a stylist?
A: I was a successful hairstylist for nine years before I transitioned to the theater. This experience gave me excellent customer service skills and the ability to multitask proficiently. These were two extremely helpful skills for my transition. In theater, you are trying to please costume designers, directors, department heads and actors. And anyone who has worked in a salon knows we are constantly trying to decode what language our clients are using to describe the way they see hair. It’s the same with all of the many people involved in a theatrical performance. But it’s many people for one look rather than just the one client.
As far as multitasking, in theater, we are literally putting wigs on people backstage while listening for cues, costume changes, props, voice warm-ups, stage management, stretches, crying, therapy, arguments, running from one side of the stage to the other. And we have to make sure the wig is straight, secure and we don’t accidentally stab them with a hairpin. There were many times all of this happened in a 30-90 second quick change. The energy is euphoric.
Q: What additional training have you done to learn skills that weren’t taught in beauty school?
A: After the Utah Shakespeare Festival I did an unpaid internship at The Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I give a lot of credit to the award-winning wig designer Melissa ‘Maloo’ Veal and her assistant Whitney Mueller for the wig maker I am today. I looked for every paid or unpaid job I could get to become proficient. I did not have the theater degree that most jobs required. I made many contacts in the industry, built up trust and became qualified for any job I applied for.
Q: How has all this experience helped you when working with hair loss clients?
A: I have been able to use ventilating skills and wig-building skills I learned in the theater. Now I work with wigs that are meant as a hair loss solution. My artistic skills help me create a natural look for our clients at Garde Bien.
Q: What do you love about working with alternative hair and wigs?
A: You know the feeling when you have fresh hair, nails, and your makeup is on point? You look in the mirror and you’re like “Damn! You are lookin’ good today!” You move through your day with more confidence and you are more open to the world around you. You want to be noticed. And you know if something goes wrong, at least you looked good doing it. But then, a couple of weeks go by, your roots are growing in, your nails are chipping, your makeup is not going on right because you are due for a wax. You start to want less attention. Then you go to the salon and BAM you feel good again!
Now take this same experience and imagine your guest is experiencing hair loss, whether it be from chemo, alopecia, postpartum, age, whatever it is. We are not just hairstylists. We are friends, coaches, therapists and confidants. The impact I get to have on those individuals is huge. I am able to take a situation that might feel like a life sentence and turn it around and offer them a sense of control and self-confidence. I can show them they can have good hair again, maybe even better hair. I love being able to provide that to people. I love seeing my guests’ faces light up and watching a sense of hope glow from their smiles. Not just because I helped them with their hair but also because they were shown care, compassion, and connection and in return, my soul gets fed.
A big part of our success is providing services needed and hiring staff to perform these services. We offer wig repairs and refurbishing range from sewing finger clips, repairing lace, resizing, replacing hair or building a complete custom wig. Hiring specialists or training someone on staff to perform these services is a great asset to any hair replacement center. Not only has it generated additional revenue and helped many of our clients, but we’ve also gained new loyal clients that we would have never been able to help prior to Siobian coming on board.