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Wig Seller Gives Second Chances for Women
Flora Shepelsky of Design by Flora does more than simply sell wigs to female hair loss sufferers. Her customers can find refuge, comfort and informal therapy, all while shopping for wigs created from ponytails snipped from the heads of women in eastern Europe and shipped to New Jersey.
The store’s red-lipped mannequins display everything from waves to curls to straight strands, from chestnut to blond to glossy black.
Shepelsky opened Design by Flora in Teaneck, New Jersey in 2005 with her husband David and just last year, they opened a second location on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles.
The 46-year-old shop owner spends most of her days at the New Jersey location, answering customer calls, teaching first-time wig wearers the basics of wearing and washing their new hair and listening to women spill their hair loss stories.
Although Shepelsky does not advertise, she meets customers at the airport from as far as Australia and New Zealand. Her expensive prices range from 2,000 to more than 7,000 dollars, but that does not deter her thousands of customers who visit for both the wigs and the comforting experience. Shepelsky greets each of her customers with a hug as they walk into the shop.
“Thousands,” Shepelsky told the Los Angeles Times. “Tens of thousands.”
Considering her own hair is boyishly short, Shepelsky’s obsession with hair may seem odd, but the Moldova-born wig seller grew up in Israel, where she loved playing with long hair and twisting it into braids and buns.
Shepelsky enrolled in beauty school in New York as a teenager and struck out on her own after working as a hair stylist for others. She and her Ukrainian husband used eastern European contacts to find a supplier to buy hair from women in remote villages, where they don’t color, highlight or straight iron hair.
“You’re looking at about $50,000 worth of hair,” David Shepelsky told the Times as he stood at a table covered in ponytails from eastern Europe.
Her clients include female hair loss sufferers, orthodox Jewish women and transgender women. However, she will not work with men, since women feel more of a pressure to maintain lovely locks, a pressure Shepelsky claims is not applied equally to men.
“In this country, hair loss is a taboo subject for everyone, but it’s an especially hard place to be a woman,” Shepelsky told the Times. “You feel very alone.”
Shepelsky showed a client, Jane, how to put on a wig that matched the shoulder-length blond curls she had until her hair began falling out a few years ago due to illness.
“You look like yourself,” Shepelsky told Jane, according to the Times.
Although Jane had turned up to the store unannounced with a “before” picture, Shepelsky luckily had a blond curly wig on her shelves, nearly identical to the client’s original hair. Normally, customers contact Shepelsky ahead of time and send in pre-hair loss photos so that Shepelsky can either design a wig or find one in-house to send out.
“I don’t always have the luxury of having them in my chair, so when I do, I put them through hell,” Shepelsky told the Times as she asked Jane to remove the wig and put it back on herself again and again to practice.“Wrinkles don’t bother me, but being a bald woman?” Jane explained to the Times. She tried cheaper wigs with disappointing results. One turned orange, while another with straight heavy bangs was just not the right fit.
“The worst thing someone can say to a woman who is losing her hair is, ‘It’s only hair,’” Jane told the Times. “It’s not only hair. This is me. I’m losing myself.”
“It consumes you,” Jeanne, the customer in the next barber chair, commented. She began losing her dark locks seven years ago due to a thyroid problem. “She really saved my life,” she said of Shepelsky.
“I just want to play with it for awhile,” Jane said, while running her fingers through the strands of the wig she just bought from Flora for 3,800 dollars.
In addition to the wig, Shepelsky gave Jane a bare Styrofoam head in a bag and her phone number, in case she ran into any problems.
“Call me before you freak out,” Shepelsky told Jane before hugging her goodbye as if they were long-lost friends.
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