By Joanie Kumiega, Owner, A Natural Image Hair Studio, Inc., Williamsville, New York

Throughout my 35-plus years as a hair replacement specialist, working with custom bonded hair restoration, I’ve been blessed to help so many people regain confidence in their appearance. I often say “It’s such a blessing to be a blessing.”

My journey with wigs began when I opened my own studio about 15 years ago. I realized that there were so many people who needed a temporary hair option mostly the result of a medical condition. Many, but not all, had come from our local cancer hospital with a “free wig” for patients in treatment. They called us when they decided to purchase a higher-quality option.

Recently, I had wigs donated by a friend from church whose aunt had passed away. Deb’s aunt took such great care of her wigs that they were in the original boxes, with pictures from the wig catalog taped to the top of the box indicating the style inside. The attentiveness to detail that this woman had taken to care for her wigs was amazing. We were given a tote of about 25 new and gently worn wigs.

It became clear to my team and me that we had to “pay it forward.” We cleaned, sanitized and styled all the wigs and staged some pictures so the recipients would have an idea of what we had available. We were determined to provide a special experience.

I made a list and a few phone calls to some local charities to see what the next steps would look like. I called the Salvation Army, City Mission and United Way and they all said, “Sure, drop off the wigs”.

I was getting frustrated. We did not want to just drop off the wigs. Had no one ever done a wig giveaway that was like going to a professional salon and choosing a wig? I hoped to create a special experience for the recipients of these wigs.

We wanted them to receive a wig at no cost from a professional studio that genuinely cares for each individual. But how? I made a post in the American Hair Loss Council members forum in October 2022 asking other industry professionals if they had any experience in gifting wigs through community service and outreach, or if anyone had success in managing a giveaway for wigs they couldn’t sell — wigs that were still in a box or only gently worn. The responses I received were full of support and created a sense of excitement. But no one had any experience or ideas on how to offer free wigs to a person unable to afford one.

One forum comment was that “they (the company) do not plan to try a mass giveaway due to the fear of a frenzy of … responses.”

Another suggested giving them to a beauty school where I suppose they could be used for practice cutting. Yet another said, “The ability to serve those in need is a blessing. Good job.” That message felt like a sign that our work of paying it forward was just the beginning.

After sifting through the forum responses, we decided we would venture out and create our own experience. I thought about the responses from the local places I had called that casually told me to “drop them off.” All we could picture were these wigs ending up in a heap in a store and becoming Halloween costumes or trash.

I had a different idea of what regifting wigs could look like.

We decided to collaborate with our local women’s City Mission. I asked to speak with their community outreach contact and we had a wonderful conversation. I explained to her that my desire was not to just hand over a tote of wigs, but to schedule hair appointments and have women who were struggling with hair loss come sit in a salon chair and be pampered, respected and cared for in an intentional way.

The City Mission staff was surprised and excited about the idea. “We have never done anything like this before but let’s give it a go!!”

My colleague Meghan and I brought a wig tree from our studio to the City Mission with a tote containing about 50 wigs, all refreshed and fluffy. We hung the wigs on the wig tree, and on a first-come, first-serve sign-up basis, people filed in to receive a wig and be pampered.

Meghan and I were prepared with scissors, combs, capes, and spray, and proceeded to bless the recipients with a similar salon experience they would have in our studio. The response to our giveaway was certainly not a frenzy, though an excited group of women signed up for an appointment. Our sign-up sheet was posted at the mission for a week or so before the giveaway. We allowed for 10- to 30-minute appointments. We had about 25 women who signed up and filled the whole page. In all 20 wigs found a new home that day and we all had a rewarding experience. It was a joy to see those smiles and a few tears on those beauties as they left our makeshift salon!

Want to give it a try?

Be prepared. Visit the space you will be working in. We had to work within the parameters of the City Missions community room. They had a long skinny mirror mounted to a tiny wall beside a door and an old but functional salon-styling chair. Not the best of conditions but we all made it work.

When you do an event like this:

  • Remember to bring all the supplies needed for the best experience for recipients (we forgot a hand mirror).
  • We also put together a take-home care package for the recipients to have the proper supplies to care for their new wig, including shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, wig tape and a wide-tooth comb.
  • We provided a take-home sheet explaining in detail how to properly care for their new wig so it will look its best longer.
  • Be cognizant that there are privacy issues to consider.
  • Be sure to have a contact person on hand to answer any questions and assist with additional needs or requests.
  • Understand the procedures and policies you will need to follow. For example, take lots of pictures but remember, no face photos of recipients without permission. Know if you have to enter the venue through security and always ask where is the nearest restroom.
  • Bring snacks and drinks for your staff. It’s a long wonderfully busy and rewarding day.

To “pay it forward” was one of the most rewarding and life-giving experiences we have ever had. We are excited to organize more events in the near future and encourage you to embrace the opportunity to “Be a Blessing!”