When Atlanta-based hairstylist Harry Wood first met 14-yr-old Faith, her hair had started falling out as a side effect from her treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Faith had been inconsolable for days, locked in her bedroom crying. Faith’s mother was desperate to help her child regain her confidence and reached out to Wood’s newly founded organization Back To You, which provides alternative hair solutions, like wigs and toppers, in a salon environment for those suffering from medically related hair loss.
“I’ll never forget the look on Faith’s face when she finally got the courage to look at herself in the mirror with her new wig,” Wood says. “She didn’t look sick anymore, she just looked like herself again. Her eyes opened wide, she smiled and completely lit up. She was ready to go back out into the world and be with her friends.”
Faith’s reaction to her professionally fit, natural-looking wig, firmly cemented that Wood was on the right path with Back To You, which offers salons comprehensive education to arm stylists with confidence, knowledge and resources to help existing clients experiencing hair loss, and also to match them with clients seeking help from a certified stylist.
“The Back To You name comes from our mission to give each client an opportunity to feel like the person they were before a medical condition defined them as a patient,” Wood says. “How perfect that one of our first clients was named Faith—her mother says I changed her life, but she equally changed mine.”
How It Started
As a stylist with decades of salon experience, Wood witnessed many clients and friends experience the trauma and emotion of medically related hair loss. And, like many stylists, he felt unsure of how to support them, where to send them to buy a wig, or how to care for and style their alternative hair.
“When my dear client Susan was diagnosed with cancer 15 years ago, it was the first time I felt helpless,” Wood says. “She had spent $4,000 on a wig from a store inside of the hospital. It looked nothing like her natural hair and she had no idea how to care for it—and neither did I.”
Tired of turning away his guests when they needed him most, Wood committed to learning everything he could about wigs, from cap construction and fiber, color and cut, to fit and care.
“When we have clients who patron our business for years and years, we become so close to them,” Wood says. “So if she tells me her hair is going to fall out, my goal was to be able to say, ‘I can take care of you right here in my chair, don’t worry about a thing.’”
The emotional overwhelm a woman feels while going through treatment, on top of losing her hair, is one that hits close to home for Back To You co-founder Josie Berry.
“As a woman, when you walk into a room without hair, people know you’re not well,” says Berry, who lost her mother to cancer. “My mother didn’t want everyone to know she was sick, especially at work. As soon as her hair began to fall out, her desire for a wig became urgent.”
When Berry took her mother to a local wig store, the walls were lined with fashion colors, and there were rows upon rows of toppers, wigs, clip-ins, synthetic hair, human hair and everything in between. Unfortunately, the employees at the store were not licensed beauty professionals who could provide direction, so they walked out empty handed—but she never forgot that overwhelming experience.
Berry and her husband David Green were both longtime clients and friends of Wood. For years, Wood would share various stories that tugged at their heartstrings about his clients dealing with hair loss.
“One day when Harry was over, he was talking about a client who’d bought a topper from a wig shop to help her daughter with the hair-pulling disorder trichotillomania,” Berry says. “But the clips to secure it to her head were in all the places she didn’t have hair, so Harry borrowed my sewing kit to adjust the clip placement for this little girl. We just knew there had to be a better way—for both the client and the stylist at the salon.”
For four months, Berry and Wood white-boarded a concept that placed beauty professionals be at the heart of the hair loss solution and empowers clients to be able to find certified professionals in their area to fit them with a wig.
“I just kept thinking back to what my mom needed the most,” Berry says. “She would say, ‘I just wish someone could pick out a wig for me, and cut it and style it so I could put it on every day and just look like me again.’”
Back To You was born.
The Salon Experience
“Back To You training is a lot of fun, it’s very hands-on, and stylists leave knowing exactly how to care for any guest who sits in their chair,” Wood says. “A woman whose had a double mastectomy can sometimes have a difficult time styling her hair and raising her arms above her head, so the stylist may opt for a lower-maintenance synthetic option, as one example. By learning the different types of hair fibers, the stylist can determine what’s best for the client and her lifestyle.”
Once a salon enrolls in a certification class, they begin the process of what Wood calls bridging the gap between beauty and medicine.
“There is evidence that shows providing wig services in a supportive and social environment that treats a patient as a ‘whole’ person—outside of a hospital or medical office setting—has a significant positive impact on a woman’s physical and emotional recovery,” Wood says. “We train and certify salons to listen, understand, and use their expertise to meet our clients’ needs, wants and lifestyle. Our clients are people, not patients—we’re all about doing good work for good people.”
Back To You salon education includes eight modules.
Introduction and Basics
This introduction covers general knowledge and terms about alternative hair care, including oncology basics.
This section focuses on determining individual needs based on a client’s current situation and the stylist’s skillset.
The core of Back To You is treating the client like a person, not a patient. This module covers the right language to use throughout the service.
Choosing the Right Product
The processes and procedures to ensure the service is customized and efficient.
Measuring and Construction
Understanding all the options, types and sizes of wigs.
Performing the Service
Hands-on: Stylists comfortable becoming a true expert at servicing clients and handling alternative hair.
Final style adjustments to ensure a wig or topper looks natural and is comfortable for the client.
Instruction and Care
Providing guests the proper steps to ensure a long-lasting product and service.
“I was devastated to learn my client Ann was going to lose her hair, but I felt better knowing I could help her through the process with my training from Back To You,” says Lauren Fennell-Cutter of De Novo Salon in Pensacola, Florida. “Ann and I cried together while we shaved her head and cried tears of joy again when I was able to immediately place her new wig on her head. It was an amazing feeling to help her feel like the same person and see herself as that same person in the mirror. She went straight out and met her friends for lunch and it just felt so good to be there for her.”
Simultaneously, while education is happening at the salon, Back To You works closely with local oncology clinics, dermatologists, OB-GYNs, surgery centers and hospitals in the neighboring areas explaining their partnership with local salons, and that there are now certified stylists in that area to help their patients with hair loss needs.
“This boots-on-the-ground marketing helps get doctors and nurses to refer patients to local salons—as licensed professionals, they understand it’s important to work with other licensed professionals,” Wood says. “This strategy has served salons well as, once certified, they can care not only for existing clients but also get an entirely new category of clientele from referrals.”
Wood emphasizes that, just like banks, dry cleaners and doctors’ offices, salons are a cornerstone in every community.
“There is no shortage of people battling cancer unfortunately, just a shortage of people who know how to provide a quality service for them,” Wood says. “We have to keep building salons and their expertise. The alternative hair space represents $5.4 billion. If we took even half of that and put it back into salons, could you imagine what a game-changer it would be for both the guest and the salon?”
The Client Experience
When a client visits backtoyou.org, the experience is designed to remove the stress from the client’s shoulders and, instead, connect them with a certified stylist of their choosing.
With more than 200 certified Back To You stylists across 24 states and counting, clients select their stylist from a range of criteria including location, a personal connection, or that the stylist’s bio resonated with them. Once the client hits “connect,” within 24 hours, they will be in touch directly with the stylist for a consultation—either in person or online depending on the scenario.
“Once the consultation is through, the stylist curates a customized wishlist of wigs or toppers for the client to pick from based on her needs,” Berry says. “We don’t want clients to have to scroll through the hundreds of wigs on our site to figure out which wig is best for them, what fiber they need, color-matching, and so on—it’s too overwhelming. We train our stylists to do that heavy lifting.”
The wig purchase includes a wig stand that folds flat for travel, a canvas head block and clamp for styling, as well as a bamboo cotton soft cap for nights.
“I remember my mom would say her head would get cold at night when she wasn’t wearing her wig,” Berry says. “It was important to us that we not overlook any element, including shipping—some wig providers can take from 10-14 days to order, ship and personalize a wig, but that can feel like a lifetime for someone who is losing her hair. With Back To You, we can get a wig to a salon the very next day.”
When the client makes the purchase from the wishlist, the order gets shipped directly to the salon, not the client.
“This is very strategic—we want the stylist to be in control,” Berry says.
In addition to the meticulous details for the client experience, the stylist and salon is front-and-center at the heart of Back To You.
“The client pays that one price at check-out that includes everything, including a service provider fee,” Wood says. “Many stylists have shared that they feel uncomfortable charging a guest for services tied to hair loss. This all-inclusive price takes that pressure off the stylist—the client checks out on the website, and Back To You pays a flat fee directly to the salon.”
Back To You-certified salons are also provided with front-desk scripts, scheduling FAQs and service pricing recommendations for future repeat visits, including how to charge for style changes down the road, hair cuts, coloring services, blow outs, repairs to lace fronts, deep-conditioning treatments and more.
“If a stylist is able to help a woman feel like herself through the toughest time in her life, they’re coming back to you forever,” Berry says.
To learn more about Back To You, including how to enroll in the certification program, visit www.backtoyou.org.
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