Elliot Liss
Elliot Liss

The Wndrlnd tour sends veteran stylists around the country to party, give back and educate with local salons. Sponsored by Keune, the traveling stylists spend one day facilitating a pop-up shop with stylists from the chosen local salon and give free haircuts in exchange for donations to the charitable organization of the salon's choosing. For more info and a complete list of tour dates and locations, visit thewndrlnd.com. 

Here, Wndrlnd stylist Kristo Willson recounts their most recent tour stop to Chicago from May 13-16.

This weekend, we were able to visit Chicago for the first time. Some call it home of the Cubs, home of the Chicago dog, home of Chicago-style pizza. As great as all of those things sound, what brought us to Chicago, was a small salon, Cellar Door. The salon is relatively new—just 2 years old—living on the border of Bucktown and Wicker Park. This joint was definitely worth putting the mileage on Donna the RV. One of the owners, Alicia Dixon, reached out to us last year while we were on tour. At the time, we were very underground, and she still sought us out; so we definitely had to make the trip. 

Having never been to Chicago, it was a first for many reasons. After getting there, we quickly realized it was going to be like a monster truck jam driving old Donna around on those tough streets. Getting to Cellar Door and hanging out for a couple days before the pop-up, we quickly realized that we were in a salon of grotesquely like-minded hairdressers. We’re obsessed with what we do, and so are they. Their training and skill level was very high. As ecstatic as I was to see that, I was perplexed on what to teach—but we’ll get back to that later.

The pop-up shop

We ask all host salons to choose a charity to donate all Wndrlnd pop-up shop donations to. The Cellar Door chose El Rescate (elrescatechicago.org), a project of the Puerto Rican cultural center. El Rescate exists to provide identity-affirming housing to homeless LGBTQ youth, some being HIV positive, and to provide support services to assist with their transition to independence.

To give everyone an idea of how hard El Rescate is working for these kids: El Rescate has not received any state funding in almost a year. Everything they’re raising and receiving is from community support. Because Wndrlnd is all about coming in to neighborhoods to help support and build community, we were definitely on board.

After three or four locations changes and continuous denials from city officials to grant a permit, Cellar Door finally locked in a tentative pop-up location. By “tentative,” we mean that we were totally prepared to get kicked out of the spot we chose, but after doing this enough times over eight years, we’ve learned a thing or two. We figured if we could get enough people to come out and support, there’s no way they would shut us down.

So that’s what we did, and we took to social media, existing Cellar Door clientele community, El Rescate community, pretty much anybody alive. We posted up at the corner of Milwaukee Ave. and Kedzie Blvd., in the heart of Logan Square, which was perfect because it jumped off with the first day of the spring/summer Logan Square Farmers Market of 2016. I would like to say we’re that good, so I will.

The community came out in full force, and we weren’t bothered once, except for the cold and the wind, which I hear is rare for Chicago. CHEESE AND F'N RICE it was cold!! Growing up, I always heard tales of the Windy City, but as any kid does, I scoffed and continued to stir up trouble. Well, as soon as we arrived and set everything up perfect, that damn tall tale bit us right in the cheeks, like a snaggle-toothed Justin Bieber. If we had decided to put out our awning, we probably wouldn’t have an awning right now.

It had to have been the busiest pop-up shop we’ve ever put on. We raised a total of $783 dollars, so it was a quiet night. We were all exhausted; you could see the quiet content on everyone's faces. We felt like we had been in battle and overcome. I’m not sure if anyone reading this has ever cut hair in the cold, but it sucks. Not because it’s not fun, but because your fingers just don’t work the same. 

Education at Cellar Door 

The following day, we decided to create a brand-new Wndrlnd class—naturally, we had no idea how this was going to go. We didn’t throw a party the night before, so we thought we had a chance, but that’s about all we had going for ourselves.

After watching the Cellar Door family dress hair for almost three days, we decided that we had finally met our match. They are really freaking good. So when I say “dress hair,” I do not use that term lightly. They could definitely get down on some follicles. No disrespect to any salon we’ve visited prior, but they were the best all-around salon we’ve encountered. Highly educated stylists, great designers, and even better colorists.

BUT there was one thing that was missing: their social media presence. 

It didn’t seem like what we were seeing was being portrayed properly on their social media outlets. I hate so say again that we were kind of like knights in shining armor, but I will. We decided to create a photography design class.

“Just because you don’t, doesn’t mean you can’t,” was our theme to create some inspiration and enthusiasm in the team. Not so much an editorial class where we create something useless for them to do on models, shoot, and never use again in the salon. Instead, we created a class with the fundamentals of how to shoot a simple style for social media posts, which can translate into editorial. We figured by just educating the team on things such as lighting, angles, body position, form and style, we could empower them to do so much more for themselves.

The second half of the class was spent on styling each other—real people. It’s important to not only know what it looks like from behind the camera, but also what it feels like in front of the camera. If you don’t know how to direct a model, you should try to be one. You’ll learn how and what needs to be said real quick to get the best shot.

It ended up being our most successful class. We consistently focus all of our education on useful tools. Whether it be in the salon, outside career avenues, life knowledge, or how to show up to work the next morning after a full night of “networking.” 

El Rescate

After the class, we rode our bikes over to El Rescate, next to Humboldt Park. When we pulled up, we couldn’t just walk in the front door; we had to ring the door bell, wait for a security-camera scan, a few looks from behind the blinds inside. Finally, the door opened, and there stood all of 5-foot-2-inches Zinaida Lopez. When she realized who we were, we were more than welcomed in. Zinaida even insisted we bring our bikes in so they wouldn’t be stolen, or borrowed, whatever you want to call it.

Inside, there there were the desks stacked high with papers and folders. It definitely looked like they were busting their butts on the daily to get these kids some help. The way they approach the whole thing is, “If not them, then who? Who is going to help these kids? Who is going to help the future?” That’s when I realized once again we were in the right place with the right people. 

We’ve gradually found ourselves surrounded by and raising money for, LGBTQ youth. Regardless of their names, current situations or life challenges, they did not ask to be born in to this world, and they are definitely the future. Just as all of the students in cosmetology schools across the country are our future, they did not create the current situation they are entering in to.

So maybe that's why the Wndrlnd has attracted such an cast-out community. Like-minded individuals always tend to find each other, whether it be to cope, for support or growth. Like I said, with strength in numbers, we will help to add knowledge, then nobody can stop the future from happening…

Tour dates

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