After her own personal journey, the new ‘Hair Lady’ finds her calling
A childhood dream of becoming a hairdresser, some professional and extremely personal experiences with cancer, and one key component – compassion – have led Katherine Fagan to find a new calling. As the new owner of The Hair Lady wig boutique, Fagan specializes in helping women who are dealing with hair loss because of cancer treatments or other medical conditions.
Fagan says that since she took over the business in July, she has seen how important this endeavor is, as finding a the right wig can totally change a client’s demeanor and confidence level.
“People have such an emotional relationship with their hair. It is really something that is so personal. You don’t want to look not like you,” she says.
Determined to do right by her clients as she embarks on this new venture, she is learning from the best: Janise Crow, founder and owner of The Hair Lady for 17 years.
When Crow started the business in 2001, it was mainly about selling fun fashion hairpieces, including the ponytails and extensions worn by local dance, twirl, and cheerleading teams. But it wasn’t long before she had people asking her for wigs for their loved ones who were going through chemotherapy, and she soon discovered there was a lack of businesses providing high-quality wigs, let alone doing so with skill and sensitivity.
Crow taught herself all about the wig industry, gradually building the business into a thriving and successful shop inside her home. She grew a loyal base of clientele based largely on referrals from oncologists and salons.
When she began to contemplate retirement in order to spend more time on familial obligations and other creative pursuits, she put her clients’ needs first. She began an exhaustive search to find a replacement, but assured her clients that she would not leave them unless and until she found the perfect new “Hair Lady.”
“I wasn’t looking for the person with the most money, or the person who had the most experience,” she says. “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.”
Her professional background includes working in marketing for a cancer treatment center in Toronto and teaching special education in Huntingdon. She had taken a leave of absence in order to care for her ex-husband during his own cancer battle. When he passed away, the mother of two 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 Fagan contemplated 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 says. “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. … I just knew she was the right fit,” Crow says. “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.”
Some of that compassion may have come from her recent experience with her ex-husband’s death.
“This community was just unbelievable. … They just wrapped their arms around my family and me,” Fagan says. “I wanted some way to give back, especially to people who were freshly diagnosed, because I know what a scary time that is. … When women are diagnosed with cancer and they’re losing their hair through chemo, it’s wonderful if you can say, ‘We’re going to get you through this; this part is not going to be nearly as bad as you think. In fact, you’re going to walk out of here feeling great.’”
The boutique is now located in Fagan’s Foxpointe home, where clients are seen in the privacy of her converted dining room by appointment only. Crow will continue to mentor Fagan and consult with clients as long as necessary.
“I have really big shoes to fill,” Fagan says. “I’m going to take a year and really learn the business and master the basics.”
Meanwhile, it seems she has truly found her calling:
"I literally don’t want to go to bed at night because I’m in there playing with the wigs, and I wake up first thing in the morning and I am so excited about my life – which, it’s been so stressful for such a long time, that this has just been a godsend.”
For more information on The Hair Lady, visit mmhairfashions.com.
Karen Walker is a freelance writer in State College.