COVID-19 is without question biggest struggle the Australian hair and beauty industry has had to face. Salons in metropolitan areas, quiet suburbs, and tiny remote communities have all been affected. For HSA Ambassador and Ethical Salon owner Vanessa, the danger really hit home when two cases were confirmed in her small Queensland town. Immediately, she reached out to HSA for advice on how she could trade safely, and what she needed to do to look after herself and her staff.

“Because I’m asthmatic,” she says, “I’m a high risk.” Even a mild case of COVID-19, or other respiratory illnesses have the potential to send Vanessa to the ICU.

When Australia went into lockdown, Vanessa stringently kept to health and safety guaranines. Each station has hand sanitiser, and the EFTPOS machine is sterilised after each transaction. Vanessa cleaned and sterilised workstations between clients. “I worked out that with the 1.5-metre rule, I could have six clients in the salon,” she says. “But the majority of the time, I’ve been doing one-on-one appointments with clients.”

Capes and towels are disposed after each use, and all tools, such as scissors, clippers or combs, that touch a client’s skin or hair, are sterilised. “Everything is sterilised and cleaned,” Vanessa says. “I’m cleaning every five minutes.” Masks are also on hand.

Vanessa has also followed state and federal guidelines, refusing to serve customers who were unwell, or who had been overseas in the past 14 days. “I had to turn someone away because they had flu-like symptoms,” she says. But she stuck to her guns and put her health and safety first, even if meant losing a new client.

It’s not just cleaning – as the salon owner, Vanessa is responsible for balancing the books and navigating the financial assistance provided by the State and Federal Governments. “HSA was really helpful with that,” she says, “especially when I had a question or was unsure about something. Whenever I was finding things too stressful, I could call HSA up, say this is the situation, what do I do?”

HSA primarily looks after employees, but we also have the Ethical Salons programme, to help salon owners like Vanessa who are determined to do the right thing. While there are large franchises like Just Cuts and Stefans, a huge number of Salons in Australia are owner-operated small businesses. We’ve been helping salon owners and sole traders work out if they’re eligible for JobKeeper payments, or if they can access the wage and tax subsidies available to small businesses across Australia.

“As an owner,” Vanessa says, “I didn’t have anyone to talk to, especially as all these financial things came out – like, what you’re eligible for, and how to apply. And if they didn’t have the answer, HSA would find it out.”

With Queensland slowly coming out of lockdown, Vanessa says the industry will take a long time to adjust to the new normal. “With regulars, yes, they know what cleaning standards we have. But I think the biggest struggle is getting new clients, and making sure they feel safe in our salon.”

“Even though hairdressers didn’t close, they still didn’t see us as essential. Everyone I spoke to was, like, ‘why are you open?’ But we are one of the most hygienic workplaces in Australia. We already have high standards.”

But for the clients who did see Vanessa during lockdown, her services were essential. “A lot of clients I saw were still in their jobs, and they had to look nice and professional.” She also saw a lot of housebound parents. “They just wanted to get away from their kids and get their hair done. Because it was appointment-only and one-on-one, they felt safe enough to come.”

We supported Vanessa as an Ethical Salon throughout the pandemic, and will continue to help her with industrial and legal advice when she needs it. If you’re a sole trader or salon owner passionate about the industry, apply to become an Ethical Salon and receive expert, professional assistance with your business and employees.

Vanessa’s looking forward to the future, when she’ll be able to fully open her business. “I’m getting pre-bookings next month for piercings. Now the non-essential services are starting back up again, it’s going to get busier and busier. But I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to the way it was.”