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It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that pretty much every single person in the US (and beyond) has been negatively affected by the pandemic in some way.  While we’ve been checking in with people across all kinds of industries to see how they’re faring during these unprecedented times, we hadn’t spoken with any hairstylists about the unique challenges they’ve faced (and will continue to face) as the world comes to grips with Covid-19. I figured there’d be no better person to talk to about this than my good friend Alex Kantor, a hairstylist based here in NYC. Alex cuts all hair types, but specializes in short hair and men’s grooming in particular; she’s been cutting hair since she was in high school, but she made things official when she got her license back in 2015 (the year we met!). Now, she’s finding herself having to make some tough choices about getting back to in-person work, but she’s also made some ingenious virtual pivots in the meantime:

When the pandemic got serious (not that it ever wasn’t serious, but I think a lot of people didn’t picture us here back when it seemed an “isolated” problem at first) what was going through your mind?

My transition from thinking that buying up masks and stocking up on groceries was ridiculous shifted really quickly early on. Watching Italy’s outbreak unfold was a major wake up call. I’ve never consumed the news in my life as much as I have in this period – I started refreshing the NYT daily coverage multiple times a day in the beginning. My mind was hyper focused on both the state of things in New York and how I could keep my family and myself safe. I definitely overdid it on the hand sanitizer  and disinfectant in the first few weeks.

And what about when things started shutting down and lockdowns were put into place?

I was relieved. I had hoped it would happen sooner. Sure, the shift in our lives would be major, but I was buckled up and ready to stay home.

Are there any haircare services that you decided to offer virtually? (Consultations, tutorials, etc.?) Or have there been any other viable pivots you’ve pursued during shutdown?

Yes! Even before things started looking really grim, but we knew there’d be an impending shutdown to our industry, I told a few colleagues I was thinking of offering virtual tutorials. Many of them looked at me like I was crazy.

But we have to adapt, and the near future was looking like a ton of overgrown hair. My drive lies in making my clients feel their best, and people aren’t necessarily feeling great lately… the hair situation isn’t helping either. So, I launched virtual hair tutorials. 

I have given a bunch of tutorials since April, and it has been more transformative than I could have imagined. Every time I do a session, my client’s day is made and so is mine. The relief clients feel afterward, and the look on their faces after conquering something hard and foreign, is proof that I’m helping. Plus, it’s super gratifying to me, to be productive and put my skills to use that I used to get behind the chair. I’ve also harnessed a better ability to educate – something I’m eager to do more of in my career.

Were there any options available to you besides the bullshit one-time stimulus check? Any loans you could apply for?

I did hear of some loans that I could apply for, but I was too leery of incurring any fees or debt or hurting my credit. I did apply for three different cosmetology industry relief grants, but haven’t heard from them.

Is there any proposed legislation that you know of that would positively (and specifically) affect your profession moving forward? Or any organizations that are working towards more security for hairstylists?

I’m really crossing my fingers for an extended PUA. That weekly $600 has been a major help and I’m nervous about how I’ll stay afloat without dipping into my savings. I feel so fortunate to say that I haven’t had to do that yet.

The hair industry does have a lot of accessible COVID resources, from safety guidelines to ideas for income while shut downs are in place and beyond. There have also been some free online classes, which is awesome. 

How do you feel about reopening?

Very skeptical. We have seen what premature reopening has done to most of the US. While New York is now one of the safer places to be, I’m just anticipating this wave continuing on… and then the next one slamming us.

While I could legally cut hair again, I am holding off. I have a pregnant wife and I‘m immunocompromised, so I’m extra careful about my every act. While I know I could take extreme precautions at work, it’s still not worth it to me. A close hairstylist friend of mine just tested positive – she did everything right for months, went back to work for two weeks, and got the virus at work. I’m going to see how things go in my industry and city for at least another few weeks and take it from there. 

What are the changes you’ll be implementing when it comes to safety for in-person appointments?

I’ll start by doing outdoor-only services. Clients with outdoor space will get house calls and everyone else can book with me at various parks where I’ll station myself throughout the week. I’ll also require masks (of course) and maybe even do temperature checks. There’s a safety and barbicide (disinfectant) training I plan to complete before returning to work. I still don’t know exactly how all this will look, but these are my thoughts for now.

Is there anything people can do to help you aside from adhering to the new protocols?

Mask wearing should be the minimum.

I think we all need support right now. It doesn’t matter where we’re at: we’re all having to adapt and sometimes throw our regular lives out the window and make new plans. So I think some more compassion would go a long way. 

I would love to feel of more use. The tutorials are awesome but they aren’t filling my time. Even little things are meaningful – my day is made when someone reaches out to me for hair advice. I know I’m limited in what I can do in my community at large because of my hyper vigilance in risk aversion. But the lack of purpose beyond caring for my wife and my dog is beginning to get to me. I miss contributing.

What do you envision for the future of the haircare industry, and your position within that?

I pray that salons and barbershops don’t become a breeding ground for the virus. Every COVID safety guide I’ve read lists getting a haircut as a risky activity. I am, however, encouraged by seeing many brick and mortars going hard with safety measures. It’s an operational nightmare that I’m proud to see business owners conquer.

I see on-demand hair becoming even more prominent in the game than it was before. People loved getting their hair cut at home before, and now they feel more safe getting the service without having to sit in a public place. I know the Shortcut app has seen a 600% increase in at-home haircut orders since the pandemic began. 

How can we find you? (Online, IRL // ALL OF THE THINGS!)

Find me on IG! @hurbyher 

(You can basically only find me IRL walking my puppy because that’s pretty much all I do outside.)


Featured photo by Sandy Honig