STATE COLLEGE — Early last spring, Janise Crow, owner and founder of The Hair Lady, was looking for someone to take over her successful wig boutique. For 17 years she was the provider of a much-needed service for women and men suffering from hair loss, and she cared deeply about the clients who had come to trust and rely on her. But, as family obligations and other interests began taking up more of her time, she felt she was ready to begin a new chapter in life.
As Crow began the search for a new "Hair Lady," her clients were her No. 1 concern.
“I wasn’t looking for the person with the most money, or the person who had the most experience,” she said. “Creating The Hair Lady has been a labor of love for me, so it was about finding that specific person that had the quality of compassion, that could really listen to clients and fulfill their needs, versus focusing on the business end of it.”
Crow reached out to 580 cosmetologists from Altoona to Howard, and heard from a lot of interested parties, but, she said, “there was always something that wasn’t quite right.”
Meanwhile, just 2 miles away from Crow’s home-based business, Katherine Fagan was looking to start a new chapter of her own.
With a varied professional background that included working in marketing for the world’s largest cancer treatment center in Toronto, then working at Skills in State College, and finally as a special education teacher in Huntingdon, the mother of two had taken a one-year leave of absence to care for her ex-husband as he suffered from cancer. After he passed away, Fagan was preparing to go back to teaching, but became increasingly stressed as she thought about the commute and the long hours away from her sons.
As she was contemplating the options for her future, a friend forwarded her a Centre County Gazette article about Crow and her search for a replacement.
“I read it, and I read it again, and I read it again,” she said. “It just fit everything I was looking for in this next phase of my life, and it tied together all the pieces of my work experience and personal experiences. It just seemed like it was meant to be.”
The two women set up a meeting, and Crow quickly felt the same way.
“The minute I met Katherine, we just instantly had this connection. We bonded and chatted, and the more her back story unfolded — I just knew she was the right fit,” she said. “I knew I could teach her wigs and how to run a business. But compassion isn’t something you can teach people. You either have it or you don’t. And she did.”
After her experience caring for her ex-husband, Fagan said, “I wanted some way to give back, especially to people who were freshly diagnosed, because I know what a scary time that is. You’re so vulnerable ... it’s just overwhelming. You can’t catch your breath, and if someone doesn’t treat you with compassion and care, it’s just like a knife to your heart. So, this was a wonderful opportunity to welcome someone into my home when they’re feeling really vulnerable, and just say, ‘OK, I’ve got you. Just relax and we’ll take good care of you.’”
Fagan has been working closely with Crow since July, and has relocated the boutique to her home in the Foxpointe neighborhood. The two describe their working relationship as an apprenticeship, as Crow remains available to consult and help with clients and especially with custom work, even as she gets to work on her new custom jewelry business, Crow’s Nest Arts.
There is a lot for Fagan to learn, as clients rely on The Hair Lady’s expertise not only in choosing the right wig, but in properly fitting them, trimming them, teaching them how to style them and refreshing or maintaining them.
“I have really big shoes to fill,” Fagan said. “I’m going to take a year and really learn the business and master the basics. ... After a year, if it’s going well, I would love to get more into the custom work.”
The bulk of the business’ clients are locals referred by oncologists and hair stylists or through word-of-mouth, but the website also attracts customers from as far away as California and Canada, Fagan said. Clients are seen in the privacy of Fagan’s converted dining room by appointment only. In addition to the medical-grade wigs for cancer patients and other hair-loss conditions, The Hair Lady also provides hairpieces for majorettes, cheerleaders and dance teams.
For more information, visit www.mmhairfashions.com.