After 15 years in the industry, senior stylist and sole trader Pranel has seen it all — and he’s refusing to let the COVID-19 pandemic dampen his spirits. We caught up with Pranel, who has remained open throughout the crisis, to talk about how he’s working under the current guidelines, and the impact it’s had on him and his clients.

Pranel is the owner of Pranel Patel Creative, and co-shares a salon space in downtown Newcastle with two other stylists. The three are doing everything they can to keep their salon safe for themselves and their customers, and follow strict hygiene and distancing protocols. “We make sure there are only two of us working at any given time,” he says, “and have taken some chairs away so clients are separated.”

The stylists coordinate their appointments so only one client is at the double-basin at a time, and have taken away magazines, and ask clients to bring their own reading material – or their phone. They even keep the salon door open, to help with airflow.

Hand sanitiser offered to all clients, and there are masks on hand. Pranel is going one step further, and plans to order a clear face-shield visor, usually seen in hospitals. Every station is cleaned down between clients, including the EFTPOS terminal and basins, and the team don’t reuse their towels and capes. Clients with flu-like symptoms are urged to stay away, and Pranel vows to stop trading immediately if he feels unwell.

As the country went into lockdown in mid-March, Pranel knew he was going to stay open as long as he could. “If we follow the rules and the government is letting us work,” he says, “we should find it quite flattering that the govt classifies us as an essential service and we should do our bit to help the economy.”

While he works less hours, and some regulars with health concerns have stayed away, Pranel still has a steady stream of clients. “There are people still in the workforce, and getting people’s hair done is quite important in isolation. They want to feel good about themselves.”

Essential workers still on the roster, corporate staff taking Zoom calls from home, or mums and dads home-schooling their kids – they’re all clients who have booked in with Pranel over the last several weeks. For many people, having their hair done is a brief moment of normality, and a rare chance for socialisation outside their lonely household.

“I’ve spoken to my people, they’re just relieved they could drive to the salon,” Pranel says. “They said it’s so good to get out of the house. And they feel good, especially talking to me. When you come and see me, I’m an open book and we talk about anything.”

Maintaining those relationships with his clients has also been beneficial to Pranel. “Even me going to work for the little amount I can, it does me a favour too. I need to get out of the house!”

At HSA, we don’t want to advocate for salons to be open or closed across the industry. We understand every salon is different, every stylist is in a unique situation, and that is why we support all hair and beauty workers, whether you chose to close or remain open — provided that you follow guidelines and keep yourself, your colleagues, and your clients safe. That’s why we’ve put together key health and safety info for our members so you have access to the latest professional advice.

If you’re working in a salon that isn’t following key health and safety guidelines like Pranel’s, we urge you to reach out to us. And if you have been stood down and aren’t sure of your entitlements, speak to too, and we can help.

 Pranel has seen negative feedback online towards salons that chose to stay open, and has a clear message for any critics. “If I’m still allowed to work, I’m gonna work. They’re not the ones paying my bills.”

Although restrictions are still in place, for Pranel, the atmosphere has changed. “I think things are on their way to becoming better,” he says. “Restrictions will be lifted and we’ll slowly get back to normal. Hair stylists are starting to re-open.”

Whatever the new normal looks like in the coming weeks, He’s up for the challenge. “I’m not going to go down without a fight. I’m going to work as much as I can.”