Need a Haircut? Michigan’s Stylists, Barbers Debate a Safe Return to Work

A coalition of cosmetology workers are calling on the State of Michigan to allow barber shops and hair salons to reopen, but a longtime hairstylist who served on the workforce advisory committee for MI Safe Start worries it’s too soon.

As the State of Michigan moves to re-open parts of the economy, businesses like barbershops, spas and hair salons remain closed (including the Owosso barbershop who was court ordered to close after weeks of debate and legal action).

Now, a coalition of cosmetology professionals are calling on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to lift the ban on their businesses with an eight-step proposal to keep them safe at work.

Listen: Why Michigan may not be ready for haircuts just yet. 

Some of the steps the Safe Salons for Michigan coalition are suggesting to the governor’s office include daily screenings for workers to ensure they’re healthy before starting each shift, accepting customers by appointment only and social distancing on the job site — a difficult ask for an industry dependent on direct contact with a client.

“I just want people to be really thoughtful in the reopening process to keep people as healthy as possible.” — Jen Ashcraft, hairstylist

“I want to make sure that I’m protected so [personal protection equipment] is going to be huge,” says Jen Ashcraft, a hair stylist and educator in metro Detroit with more than 20 years of experience in her industry. “I know face masks are required everywhere we go especially when social distancing is impossible, but do we need N95 masks like they’re using in doctor’s offices and hospitals?”

Ashcraft served on the workforce advisory board for the MI Safe Start — a six-phase plan issued by the governor’s office to re-open the state’s economy.

Courtesy of Jen Ashcraft
Courtesy of Jen Ashcraft

The Safe Salons for Michigan coalition includes members of the advisory board, but Ashcraft says she isn’t affiliated with the group.

While she agrees with the eight-step plan they’re proposing, Ashcraft worries it may be too soon to safely re-open salons and barbershops.

“Let’s say someone is asymptomatic and they don’t have a fever,” Ashcraft says. “We’re checking their temperature at the door and they’re sitting in our chair. What’s going to be the best protection for that?”

Ashcraft, who is currently collecting unemployment, says she understands the importance of getting back to work but is urging caution moving forward.

“I totally get it. When you look good, you feel good,” says Ashcraft. “I just want people to be really thoughtful in the reopening process to keep people as healthy as possible.”

Reopening barber shops and hair salons in other states have shown the risk of getting back to work too soon, says Ashcraft.

In Missouri, 140 clients were potentially exposed to COVID-19 after a hairstylist returned to work while showing symptoms.

“Salons are no stranger to being a sanitized environment, but the risk of disease transmission between stylists and clients is pretty high,” says Ashcraft.

“We are based off of commission and sometimes chair rental, so the busier we are the more money we make.”

On a busy day, Ashcraft says that she can see up to 14 clients. She estimates that she needs to see at least five clients per day to remain profitable as a self-employed hairstylist working inside of a salon.

With new sanitation guidelines in place and the need for social distancing, Ashcraft predicts that she will see less clients in a day and have to offer higher prices for services.

“We are based off of commission and sometimes chair rental, so the busier we are the more money we make,” says Ashcraft. So I “do think that there may be delays in reopening some services and clients are going to see a price increase not only to cover [personal protection equipment] but also to make it sustainable to be doing hair.”

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