Which industry sectors were the last to reopen during the recent nationwide lockdowns? Hint: It wasn’t the multinational retail corporations, the grocers and alcohol outlets, the automobile sales/repair facilities, the home improvement stores or the dental offices. It was the personal service sectors — hair/skin/nail shops, gyms, tattoo and massage parlors, etc. Why?
To understand that is to better appreciate the very real threat our industry faces from think tanks, special interest groups and a growing number of policymakers. That’s because many of these intellectuals, influencers and politicos are turning against state occupational licensing of trades they perceive to be simple, dirty or mindless. Why should a hairdresser have to go to school for 1,600 hours to cut hair, they openly challenge?
And that condescending attitude is no more clearly on display than in our home state of California, which remains the only state in the union that has kept our skin and nails service professionals in lockdown, only opening up our hair salons/barbershops on August 31. That represents over 5 months of lockdowns of our industry in the Golden State!
Our state elected representatives don’t much care for all-cash sectors, or for industries dominated by independent contractors. To be blunt, they believe we are tax cheats and labor law scofflaws.
Almost all of our State officials went to 4-year colleges, and many of them have additional, post-graduate degrees. They look down upon those of us who may have barely finished high school, “settling” on beauty college as an “alternative” career pathway. They sit in judgement of our labor of love and passionate career choice in their smug ignorance.
In reality, our’s is an industry based on the professionalism, safety and expertise of behind-the-chair (or above/across the table) artists and technicians. In our own state, our 53,000 licensed establishments are the quintessential small businesses that are the backbone of our state’s economy, built on the sweat, tears and unflinching optimism of entrepreneurial risk-takers and independent-minded creators.
We may not have gone to university, but we have formal, postsecondary education and training that led to a state license. And as licensed professionals, we know how to build a business from scratch, market our services, and generate a reliable book of clientele. And unlike so many so-called “essential businesses”, we know how to keep our clients safe in this new era of pandemics. How many college graduates can say they can do all that?
Our elected representatives don’t understand what makes this industry tick. They don’t appreciate our licensed professionalism, they disregard our business savvy, and they don’t regularly hear our united voice. Our state officials, including and most especially our California Governor, have marginalized and ignored us throughout the COVID crisis, feeling he could do so with little political cost.
And we have been treated like the sacrificial lamb by health officers intent on showing the public and media that they have been doing something to combat this pandemic. While they are too intimated by better organized and influential industries to shut them down, they have instead targeted the motley crew of small business, personal service sectors, believing we wouldn’t unite and fight back.
They ignored the fact that most of our industry’s businesses are female owned and operated, and that many are first-generation immigrants or people of color. Or perhaps they understood this and figured women and immigrants wouldn’t fight back. We’d simply accept the disrespect.
The barbering and beauty industry has served as an economic stepping stone for millions of Californians, currently representing 621,000 individuals licensed by our State Board. And hundreds of thousands of them have rallied, protested, signed petitions, posted on social media, and sent millions of letters/emails to their elected representatives. We have generated countless TV, radio and print media stories that explain the safety of our licensed and well regulated services and the patent unfairness by which our so-called “non-essential” sector has been treated throughout these lockdowns.
The result? On August 28, our Governor capitulated to our lobbying and protests, calling out only one industry for statewide reopening. We at the PBFC can assure Stylist readers that our collective political pressure has been the ONLY reason he made any concessions to our industry at this time.
We know this because the science and data have been our side throughout this pandemic, including the express endorsement of our salon safety protocols by the CDC. And yet the prolonged lockdowns stretched as far as the eye could see. We are so much safer than dental offices and most of the “essential businesses” that have never been shuttered a single day. But it was our growing political muscle that eventually swayed our Governor, at least when it came to hair services.
Unfortunately, his health experts continue to maintain the position that skin and nail services present a higher risk of transmission, and so we will continue to battle for these professional service providers until all of our salons, barbershops, and spas are back on their feet and safely beautifying their clientele.
The moral of our somewhat unique California story is that united our industry can wield considerable political influence, but fragmented we will be targeted by politicians and bureaucrats.
If we don’t stand together with one, strong voice in each of our respective state capitols, it is only a matter of time before policymakers strip us of our license and continue to erode the professionalism upon which this industry has been built. Let California’s experience be a cautionary tale for all stylists and shop owners nationwide.
(and edited version of this column ran in the August edition of the “Stylist” magazine)