Hope Notes: Hairstylists Share Their 2020 Survival Stories – Stylist Spotlight

What do a bridal stylist, a salon owner and a traveling educator have in common? They’re all beauty pros who persevered in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their stories are inspiring and real examples of how the industry used its talent, community and connection to navigate survival. Ahead, members of the MODERN SALON Artist Connective share what success looks in the face of adversity, including both big wins and surprise silver linings.  

Summer Evans  


Trumbull, CT 

No one could prepare our industry for what we had to go through in 2020. If I took away anything from the experience, it’s how artists supported each other. People needed community. I was there for my clients at a time when I think they valued their stylist more than usual. And even though most people were staying inside, getting a hair refresh gave them hope and light. It made me appreciate our work and how instrumental we are. Now I’m in the process of opening a salon, and though it’s scary opening during a pandemic, I’m motivated by the feeling that we all still want to feel beautiful (even if we are just going to Target). 


Natalie Thomas  


Philadelphia, PA 

I took a leap of faith last year starting my own business in the middle of a pandemic, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 2020 was tough for the wedding industry, and we are seeing challenges into this year with postponements. But I have learned an immeasurable amount about perseverance and how to keep adjusting my sails through the restrictions and cancellations. I did not let my emotions take a role in how I operate my business. It’s necessary to have compassion for each circumstance, while also holding boundaries on policies. Business aside, I’ve had a lot of time at home with my family which has been a blessing. I wish I could say I took up a new hobby, started exercising, drank more water, or started up a cool blog. But to be honest with you, I just survived. I took each day at a time, and to me that is worth celebrating.   


Nadria Brown  


Plantation, FL 

The pandemic hit hard and being out of work so suddenly took its toll, but the events of last year reminded me what’s truly important: family, health and being present in the current moment. During eight years behind the chair, I had never been concerned with time off or breaks. I had missed a lot of special moments with family; I now look at my niece who’s five and realize that time has truly flown past me. So, I am learning to appreciate the small things and learning to celebrate every win – even finding $20 in my apron. I believe my newfound energy of gratitude transfers to my clients who visit me. They say it can’t rain forever so I’m just waiting for the sunshine with my umbrella of appreciation up!  


Emily Boulin 


Baltimore, MD 

What the industry went through with COVID reminds me that no one is “self-made.” It’s great to be proud of personal accomplishments, but none of us have achieved anything worthwhile without help from others. Our careers are viable because clients continually choose us and sit in our chairs. It’s because of others that a portion of salon businesses have survived this pandemic. If a relationship offered opportunity outside of the salon to maintain income – a donation or gift card purchase, support through online engagement – know we couldn’t build that momentum without other people helping us pave that path.  


Kyra Brown


Chicago, IL

COVID has been a reflection what it means to survive! It showed me good and bad practices in my business, and how to be creative in other ways. For example, retail was never a part of my business. Even though I knew it could be profitable, I never made the time and investment. Now I realize just how important having other streams of revenue are to grow as a beauty entrepreneur. 


Taylor Leven  


Downers Grove, IL 

Last year had me reflecting and reinventing myself, and I realized I need to have my own back. Stylists need multiple revenue streams, whether that be brand ambassadorships, selling products on the side, or investing. I learned how much of my hard-earned money I was giving away to my employer, so I opened my own barbershop in October. I became strong and unstoppable, and I know if I want something bad enough, I will make a way. 


Justin Toves-Vincilione 


Los Angeles, CA 

With events, hair shows and salons on a hard pause, I missed my creative outlet and collaboration. While staying close to my ULTA Beauty Design Team members for support, I used the industry shift to focus on key elevation strategies that helped me improve my work. The first thing I did was buy studio lighting for my home studio. I spent days figuring out the intricacies of lighting and camera settings! Once I got a handle on it, I networked with friends to create my own photo shoots during my down time. I now have six months of creative content creation under my belt, and I am not stopping! This little leap of faith I chose to take by jumping into a style of work I always dreamed of paid off in more ways than I expected. I learned that the fear I had of not being perfect was only holding me back. The relationships I made along the way taught me that our industry is full of other artists who want to see you succeed just as much as they want it for themselves. COVID -19 was not easy, and still is not easy, but I do know our industry has a huge opportunity to come together and create real positive change.” 


Amanda Fiorita 


Rockville, MD 

I had never made time to invest in myself. When COVID-19 hit I focused on virtual education and trained with industry leaders, such as the iconic Sharon Blain. I would never have been able to afford her famous boot camp training before, but it was virtual and affordable because of the pandemic.  

Though the bridal hair industry was hit hard, I managed to keep myself busy. From learning new techniques to daily self-reflection, I created a unique signature style brand from bridal updos to editorial styles. I gained the courage to start filming my work and post video tutorials on my Instagram page, which got noticed and featured by major hair industry Instagram accounts. Eventually, I made the Modern Salon Top 100. Now, I continue to give myself time to practice my skills to keep current with the latest trends. 


Michael Kelley 


El Paso, TX 

I have learned that there are always ways to grow and create. I doubled down on fitness, taking more time with the family and going back to the basics. I converted my home office into a studio and now work exclusively on my VIP clients. It has been a season of moment-to-moment attentiveness. Cautious, yet still looking for the right opportunities. The last year ultimately showed me who and what to cut out of my life. 


Frances Canola 


Orange, CA  

Our industry learned the art of slowing down. In the past when client demand was high, we would pack on to the schedule wherever we could. Now time management and staying healthy are most important. This stressful time has definitely taught me balance. California experienced a third shutdown and I think salons being considered a non-essential business took an emotional toll on all of us. I have been grateful to have supportive clients that reiterate how essential our services are to them in terms of self-care, confidence and mental health.  


Amanda Ludwig 


Philadelphia, PA 

I’ve discovered a love for strong foundations. My sanitation efforts have never been better. We have sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and temp checks at the door. But the foundations of being a hairstylist extend to more than just sanitizing. Every moment I get to spend with my clients I cherish.  Going without my job for four months was the scariest time, but it has allowed me to focus on the beauty of my work. I make clients feel better about themselves, and I put the world on pause for a bit and keep them happy and safe.   


Saretta Bowerman 


Naples, FL  

Last year put things into perspective, namely how much of my life has flown by while I’ve been standing behind the chair. This is the most rewarding career to be in, but I’ve realized there is life and memories with the people you care about outside of the salon. I stopped doing weddings to free up weekends and am down to three long days a week with clients. I don’t feel guilty not working every waking moment. 2020 taught me boundaries and I am thankful for that.  


Aly Davis 


Myrtle Beach, SC 

While COVID has been challenging, it has changed the way I view my life and business, and for that I am thankful. I’m more focused on building a bigger financial cushion, and track spending and saving to prepare for the future. I’ve taken my mental health more seriously and put more time into my salon and self-care.  


Kristen Colòn 


Orlando, FL 

I’m an educator and for the past few years I was traveling every weekend to classes, hair shows and photoshoots. All of this came to a complete halt. Now we are slowly working back into events virtually, and I miss the in-person interaction with fellow stylists and seeing friends both in the country and internationally. Those relationships had me inspired, and I’m still trying to ignite that flame again. Cannot stress how thankful I am for Zoom and social media to keep in touch.  


Marina Sellecchia  


Warrington, PA 

The pandemic led me to open my own business. I worked at the same salon for 18 years – but the idea of going back to a large salon with new guidelines and protocols, low capacity and less pay, was what lead me to open my own salon suite. It’s the best decision I have ever made for my career! It has been a dream come true to be my own boss, have complete control of my schedule and clientele, focus on my true passion of lived-in color, and have my own space to hold educational color classes. 


Kelli Gasaway 


Portland, OR 

I love hair more than I can express in words. I always knew that I’d be a hairstylist and open a salon, and that dream has been my reality for the last seven years. Life behind the chair was what made me me. When quarantine began, my salon was closed for three months, and 8 of my 14 stylists had to step away from their chair. I reached out to my regular clients, but many weren’t coming back to see me anytime soon.  I was not my best me over quarantine. To watch my life’s work crumble in front of my eyes was a heartbreaking experience.  

I knew I had to make big changes quickly. Who was I if couldn’t practice my passion? How could I be the same incredible, charismatic and upbeat woman no matter my circumstances? Lately, that’s what I’ve been the most focused on…trying to be the best version of myself and not basing my identity on things outside of my control. Surround yourself with things that bring you joy as often as possible, but don’t define yourself by them. 


Luis Miller 



Even when lockdown lifted, many of my clients were uncomfortable coming into the salon despite the safety guidelines in place. Extensions are my financial life support, and I had to find a way to accommodate clients who would normally be sitting with me for 3-5 hours. House calls have now become a regular thing for me. My clients love getting their hair done in the comfort of their own home! It’s been a HUGE wakeup call, and perhaps a new direction our industry is leading – though hopefully never completely because I do very much love my salon families.  


Angelica Mirela Tanta  


Chicago, IL 

Last year, I learned to never give up. Even though weddings were cancelled, I pushed myself to use the time to study and create more, taking European hair classes and practicing with new colors and cuts. I am lucky to have many mannequins and wigs, so I practiced designing avant-garde and editorial hair pieces – everything from butterfly gardens to a Marie Antoinette wig. I am proud of myself for allowing space to try new things, and now I can’t wait to create more.  


Caralee Pridemore  


Dayton, OH 

As stylists in a service-based industry, this whole situation has taught us to prepare better for the future. Meditation and taking time to do what’s best for you and your company, if you have one, has been my go-to for care and balance. I like to take some time during each day to really process how I can make my life better and how I can help others around me. 


Karla Varley  


Pensacola, FL

Last year we expanded into a studio connected to our original salon space. It was supposed to be for our most experienced stylists to work in, with a photo studio and an event space. After COVID-19 hit, it became an extra area for us to spread out so that we could socially distance. We became extra thankful for this space when Pensacola and our salon were devastated by Hurricane Sally in September. We took on over four feet of water in our main salon, losing everything from our walls and floors, to our salon chairs and most product. The studio side, being a few feet higher, received minimal damage and soon became home to all 18 of stylists, apprentices, and front of house staff. Each member of the team stepped up to help deconstruct and then reconstruct our salon so that we could all get back to work serving our community. Seeing the strength of each employee is one of the most inspiring things that I have ever experienced in my career.  

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