Before 2021, the hairdressing, health and beauty category had been growing across GB for several years. The first half of this year saw a 44% decrease in the growth of barbers, beauty salons and nail salons compared with the same period in 2020. Lockdown restrictions led to lengthy closures for the sector, with uncertainty about when they could reopen, and how long for, further complicating trading and placing the sector under unprecedented strain.
Karis Chetty runs Bijou Beauty, a beauty salon in Walthamstow, London. She started working at Bijou in 2014 and took over following the previous owner’s departure from the business in 2020. I spoke to Karis about her experience of running a beauty salon during the pandemic.
Karis: Somebody once told me that one of the very rare industries that will never get hit by recessions and that kind of thing is the hair and beauty industry. No matter what, people will want to feel good about themselves. Even if they didn’t have money, they’d find the money to do their hair or do their nails. It’s not always just a luxury and, yes, it can be, but I think it’s also this kind of self-care angle that everyone’s doing now. There are instances of businesses having to close because they couldn’t survive the pandemic [but] the industry as a whole tends to do well in times of adversity.
Sarah: Since the pandemic, do you think there’s been a difference in what people are looking for out of a salon?
K: Before Covid, we used to do a lot of nails, manicures, pedicures, waxing. Facials we used to do a few now and again. Since reopening, the amount of facials I’ve done, it’s changed exponentially. I do more facials than I ever used to do. That’s one of those treatments that was often deemed a luxury. I’ve had all manner of people come in for facials, whether they’re suffering from ‘maskne’, or this is just part of their self-care programme. People have told me that they’ve booked facials just to feel better.
When I opened in April, I added a new deep cleansing facial to the list. I do more of those than any of my other facials now. Because of Covid and people wearing masks, that has caused a lot of breakouts around the mouth and nose. It’s now our most popular facial.
S: Do you think that once things go back to normal, these trends will continue?
K: That’s the thing, isn’t it? That use of ‘normal’. I think normal has already started kicking in. Maybe they will continue, but it might be too early to tell. People seem to really be into taking care of themselves, but also a lot of people still work from home, so it’s getting away from home, getting away from their studies, getting away from the kitchen table. This is their little quiet time. It’s their time for themselves and I think that will always be important to people.
Photo: Bijou Beauty
S: From the first lockdown, was there anything that you were concerned about?
K: Beauty were the last ones to be able to open and I think this went down to governments not realizing that beauty salons are one of the most sanitized places you can walk into. We have to take hygiene very seriously, because of all the tools, the instruments and everything we do. Last July when they reopened, you could walk into a barbershop and get your beard trimmed, but we couldn’t do your eyebrows with you and me wearing our masks.
The beauty industry got kicked while we were down. There was no real support or initiatives for us. We were just told you have to open, you have to close, you have to open, you have to close. The Christmas period, our busiest time, when we would try to recoup some of the losses from the year, they told us on the Saturday that we had to close and they didn’t know how long for.
At some point in February, we realised, we’re not going to open. And it ended up being the longest lockdown of them all. It was really hard. I’ve only just gone past the point of being open longer than I was closed from the December lockdown. And that’s not even the biggest issue facing the beauty industry. There’s no staff.
S: What’s happened?
K: The same that’s happened in all the other industries. A lot of people in this industry are self-employed. If you’re from out of London, what are you going to do? Move back to your home town or country. We didn’t quite see the effects of [Brexit] until maybe this year. There are a lot of people in this industry who were from Europe and left.
I saw an article that said this is the most vacancies available in a very long time. I know multiple salons that are struggling to find staff. And I think that is a side effect I never saw coming. My biggest fear when I reopened was, like, what if everyone got used to doing their own nails at home? But that wasn’t the case. There are no candidates. I’m not just being picky. There are no candidates.
S: Do you think that, like with the hospitality industry, there’ll be recruitment initiatives to get people to join the beauty industry?
K: No. No. I can’t see that happening for beauty. I remember when I was younger and there were those adverts for apprenticeships and they’d always show a plumber or an electrician, those kinds of trades. They’d never show this. I don’t remember seeing beauty as an option.
It’s looked down upon. It’s the kind of job that is looked down upon- it’s a service job. I don’t think people see jobs like being a plumber or whatever as a proper job. It’s a service. I think most people would struggle to remember the name of their plumber or waiter. We’re all in that category.
Photo: Bijou Beauty
S: What do you think the next year, or couple of years, might look like for beauty?
K: I think we are starting to get a little more recognition. The industry has managed to make a bit more noise. I’d like to think that we have become more supported but only time will tell. It’s going to be a fight, and I think only time will tell how many of us survive.
S: What advice would you pass on to others, based on what you’ve learnt?
K: Don’t buy a salon during the pandemic! Don’t do it. It’s the craziest idea ever...
I’m very much a ‘live and learn’ person. It’s not often that I say no, just because, what’s the worst that can happen? That’s how I view everything. Worst case scenario? If the answer isn’t ‘death’, I roll with it. Humans are resilient. The last year has shown us that.
Bijou Beauty offers a range of treatments including waxing, facials and nails for all genders at their salon in Walthamstow, a short walk from Walthamstow Central Tube station. You can find out more, and book online, at bijou-beauty.com. You can follow Bijou Beauty on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.