When you’re living through a pandemic–riddled with anxiety–it’s almost always the little things that bring solace as we watch the crop on our upper lip grow. And the lush endeavour of beauty, my friends, is one such little big joy. So when salons and parlours were given permission to resume business after 57 long days, it’s safe to say that a greater sigh of relief was heard from unmanicured women and shaggy-haired men across cities than from salon owners themselves––according to a survey by RedQuanta 56 per cent people rated salon visits among the top three activities they missed during this lockdown. It’s also safe to assume the first wave of returning customers is either truly desperate or have a story to write. For me, it was both. But mostly, it was the split ends.
Placing my trust in my go-to Bengaluru nail and hair bar, Get Gorgeous, and the new government-imposed safety guidelines, I stepped in mask-clad (early, can you imagine) for my appointment, seemingly excited to be back in a familiar place – any place – immediately double-taking the small and big changes around me.
Same, same but different
For starters, a thermal temperature check device was pointed at my forehead by the security guard while entering. Then he politely offered to operate the elevator for me, which he proceeded to do with a sanitized tool. The elevator doors opened to another guard at the reception who squirted hand sanitizer in my palms like he’d been doing it for years, and gave me a change of disposable slippers that I gladly put on.
Walking into a mirrored room full of face shields with bodies in a fresh uniform of masks, gloves, hairnets, aprons, and shoe covers, I wondered what they thought of this episode of Black Mirror. A row of acrylic sneeze guards ensured the technician and me were always at distance, while she buffed my nails through a gap in the glass just big enough to slide my hands in. Once that was done, I switched to the hairdresser’s seat, covered in a disposable gown, in front of a mirror and a reassuring tool sterilizer, finding as much comfort in watching the team wipe down every surface, as I did in a very long-overdue chop.
Everything looked different, but somehow, felt the same.
But surely, these new changes come with a price tag? Maude Abraham, owner of the salon says, “I do think that after two months of a break, it’ll take us some time to stabilize, but as an industry we’re lucky to never see too much of a decrease in demand, irrespective of the economy. The issue we’re all facing at the moment though, is getting over the backlog of payments over the next few months– whether it’s rent, salaries or other expenses.”
“Money has definitely been tight,” says Naina Gunjikar, owner and colourist at High Gloss in Bengaluru. “Our rent got pushed for a couple months so that’s a blessing, but we also had to spend a ton on new disposables, sanitizers, tools and brushes to maintain hygiene, which is why we’ve added a minimal surcharge to cover the PPE costs at least.”
Like Naina’s, many landlords have pitched in to do their bit. “Some are reducing rent to 50 per cent and some won’t budge. Plus with the government’s GST law, things are getting tougher. I think a subsidy on GST could help a lot of businesses,” Maude opines.
The way ahead
And it isn’t just stand-alone businesses like these; established salon brands are reopening with revamped protocols as well. Lakmé Salons have implemented 55 enhanced measures they developed in collaboration with medical professionals. L’Oréal India distributed a ‘Back to Business’ hygiene and safety guide to its 45,000-strong salon network (including over 170,000 hairdressers) with good practices including hand cleansing, tool disinfecting, salon routing, pre-booking, spacing out appointments and contactless payments. Right down to the little things, like removing magazines from waiting rooms. Obviously, no precaution can be spared when we’re talking pandemic hotspots.
I looked around the salon that women have often considered more than just a place to get their nails done – a safe space, now made safer. A whole new time in the life of a salon, a new normal for everyone involved, and a small price to pay for the little big endeavour of beauty. And just like that, the disposables and the disinfectants didn’t seem all that bad.