She Speaks: The Pandemic Through the Eyes of a Renowned Hairstylist

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coronavirus pandemic hairdresser
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As we despair over our roots starting to show and debate trimming our own bangs (one word: don’t), it’s safe to say we’ve never missed our hairdressers more. But have you stopped to think about the impact of social distancing and salon closures on them? Here, Savoir Flair speaks with renowned hairstylist Maria Dowling, Founder and Creative Director of mariadowling Salon, about what these unprecedented circumstances have meant for her line of work.

As the founder of one of Dubai’s leading salons, how have you been personally affected by the pandemic?
When COVID-19 first made its mark on the UAE, the question of sterilization, taking precautions, taking temperatures, making sure there was hand sanitizer everywhere, not knowing when the salon would be closed, and how my life would change was very stressful. I was so anxious for my staff in case they got sick as I knew everything would change from that moment. I decided to take control of the situation as best I could because I knew I was risking the staff and clients by staying open. I walked out of the salon that night not knowing when we would be allowed to open again and continue to do what we love most – hair.

maria dowling hairdresser dubai
Photo: Courtesy of @mariadowlingdubai

From a professional perspective, what aspect of all of this concerns you most?
My main concern is the same as most business owners who have had to temporarily stop ‘trading’. We are not generating revenue, but still responsible for members of staff. I have 25 people on the payroll who can’t just move back in with their parents as they would’ve if they were in their home country.

I am part of a group of 40 salons, and we discuss our concerns regularly. Everyone is concerned about what will happen next as things are changing by the minute rather than by the day. Home hairdressing is also a big concern of mine. Salon owners are putting their staff out into the market, going into people’s homes, which is so dangerous for everyone.

What is the one question you’re asked most frequently these days?
Root color seems to be the topic of conversation for most people! We are all concerned about our root regrowth, but my view is that you should give your hair a break and wait until salons reopen. We aren’t going out anywhere anyway! By applying home color, you run the risk of having to do a color correction once you get back in the salon, which will cost you more and take much longer to recover.

The conversation between salon owners on whether to pay salaries or let staff go is also a topic of conversation. My personal opinion is that we stay strong together and get through this period as a team, but there are a lot of companies that simply cannot afford to keep staff on, which is also understandable.

What advice would you give to individuals/companies worldwide who run salons and are therefore struggling?
I think in other countries, where taxes are paid, they have a stronger social system that is now coming into effect with government support for small businesses. In Dubai, we have a completely different set-up. My advice would be to try and keep what money you have in your bank account for now. Speak to your landlord about deferring your rent. Keep your staff informed as soon as you hear anything. Keep the lines of communication open, speak to other salons, and share information. We are stronger in numbers.

self haircut
Photo: Courtesy of Good Housekeeping

What advice would you give to women cutting their own locks or reaching for at-home hair dye?
As a hairdresser, I understand the frustrations, but having an awful color or a fringe that is too short could be a lot worse! Check out my quarantine hair tips on my social media pages, which gives so many tips on alternatives to at-home cutting or coloring.

Habits are being broken, and life is never going to be the same.

What can you tell us about the beauty industry in the Middle East – both presently and in the foreseeable future?
Beauty has always been a big industry here. However, I think that a lot of people will question whether they need that weekly manicure or those monthly eyelash extensions in the wake of this pandemic. Habits are being broken, and life is never going to be the same. No one can predict what will happen three, six, or 12 months from now. We are living in unprecedented times.

Do you predict a sudden surge in bookings once this phase has passed?
Yes! Root touch-ups will be coming in thick and fast. However, I think the mindset of clients will be one of caution – in a sense of not wanting to go somewhere with many other people present and not spending money when they and/or their spouses have taken a pay cut. Or, worse, lost their jobs. When we do reopen the salon, it may be a case of opening for shorter hours with less staff and easing the clients back in gradually. 

Are you, like many during this time, turning to DIY beauty treatments?
I’m not using any DIY treatments, but I am clearing out my cupboards and using all the products that are lying around. I’m now researching the products in my cupboard, finding out how to use them correctly, and using them up.

damaging hair mistakes tips
Photo: Courtesy of Jeremy Zassinger for Savoir Flair

What can our readers do at a time like this to support the local beauty scene?
Some salons are selling prepaid cards to inject a little money. You can buy your hair products from your salon if they’re selling them online. Also, don’t do your hair at home and support them when they reopen. Write a lovely review on the salon if you have a bit of spare time – these reviews really do help a lot.

Has self-isolation inspired you to switch up your hair or go for a drastic change?
No, I don’t feel like making a big change, but I will need my color and cut done the minute I’m back! I’m still getting up early every morning, doing my hair, and putting on a little makeup as I feel so much better when I look good.

Do you think this situation has taught us that we style our hair too much in our day-to-day lives?
My hair is curly, so I feel much better in myself when my hair is styled – quite often, even the most ‘undone’ hair takes time to look good! So for hair, I think maybe not, but perhaps it will make us think twice about those regular manicures. Personally, I am giving my nails a break, keeping them short and polish-free.

While you can’t transform tresses, what have you been focusing your creative energy on instead?
I’ve been busy doing all the things I always wanted to do, but never had enough time. I’m making social media videos with tips and tricks for your hair in isolation as well as doing live broadcasts and Q&As. Behind the scenes, I’ve been working on updating the company manuals and documenting all our processes, while supporting the community of salons with help on questions and queries.

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