Beauty Industry’s Race to the Bottom?

Originally printed here by Fred Jones

The barbering and beauty industry is successfully sustaining millions of careers and businesses in these 50 United States. But there’s disturbing trends that, if left unchecked, could spell disaster for anyone earning an honest living in this industry.

Some of those threatening sprouts have been organic, rising up from the grassroots of our industry, while others rain down upon us from above. Who’s watching out for all of us, the entire industry, as a whole, and for each individual member of it?

Let’s take a look at both the rain and the soil to determine some of the most pressing threats, and consider whether there’s any over-arching landscaper to defend and beautify our economic ecosystem.

First the rainmakers …

Do our elected representatives have our industry’s best interest at heart? Well, in my home state of California, they’ve been a decidedly negative influence the last couple of years. For one, our state policymakers have outlawed commission wages, and some are well on their way to undermining licensure altogether (see my last few Stylist columns on each of these legislative developments).

How about the Courts? Have they been a trusted and unbiased arbiter of justice to advance our careers and businesses? Well, if you are one of those earning a living via booth rental, then you’ll be disappointed to learn of a recent decision by California’s Supreme Court that essentially terminates the legal grounds of such a business model (see my last month’s column for details).

Well then, what about the “big boys,” the large stakeholders, the chain salons and product manufacturers? Clearly they must have the industry’s best interest in the forefront of their priorities, right? One could rationally argue for and against this proposition, but chains are less than five percent of all salons, and product manufacturers are not at the center of our industry, i.e., the client-stylist relationship. Therefore the large stakeholders’ ability to impact the trajectory of our industry is limited. So their intentions to lift this industry to greater heights is largely irrelevant, since they lack the influence by themselves to control this industry’s ultimate destiny.

Then what about the grassroots?

Clearly each individual stylist and salon owner must be the key, right? But do each of them — of us — have the industry’s best interest at heart, or do our own, selfish, short-term desires always trump the greater need?

If you’re a nail salon owner and your clients are requesting waxing services, do you give in —  even if that goes beyond your legal, licensed scope of practice? Evidently the vast majority of nail salons have already made that selfish calculation; but is that prudent for them or for the broader industry?

Such short-sighted, pecuniary desires — if initially succumbed to — will set this industry on an ever increasing and slippery downward slope.

After all, a nail salon that illegally offers waxing won’t be able to compete with an unlicensed threading shop that offers similar skin care services, but aren’t subject to the same regulatory oversight and licensing expenses. There will ever be greater incentives to slide on the rules or to take the underground plunge, altogether.

Inevitably some of those subterranean ventures will rise up to demand their state lawmakers justify their illegal activities and protect their profits by extending licensing exemptions to them. This will inevitably lead to cottage industries of establishments wholly unlicensed and unregulated, from hair threading to braiding, and from shampooing to hairstyling.

So while no one can stop the rain or direct each individual grass root, each of us can have an impact, whether to improve or denigrate the beauty landscape. And if we unite around common principles through a responsible and engaged industry association, we can strengthen our voice and magnify that positive impact. This is particularly important at the state level, where most of the laws governing our industry are set and enforced.

Everyone who makes a living in the world of beauty needs to commit themselves to high, professional standards. We need to defend the integrity of our license and the reputation of our services, not only for our long-term, sustainable gain but for the next generation of stylists, as well. Let’s turn around this race to the bottom, raise our sites and strengthen the industry that has given so much to us.