Owner of Beauty and Blowdry Studio and Navy Brand Champion Rachel Fox shines a light on her experience with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the beauty industry.
Work has always been important to me. I get this from my parents who have worked incredibly hard all their life. It’s also important to me as someone with a disability. I’ve had Muscular Dystrophy from birth which means all of my muscles are weak from top to toe.
Years before I set up my own beauty studio, straight out of school I started working for a pharmaceutical company as a Finance Assistant. They were a great company – very inclusive, supportive and made all the adaptations I needed, so I could work safely.
I walked unaided until I was 21 but the problems started when I first broke my ankle in 2002, which I was just about able to fully recover from.
I faced many challenges with my second employer including not having a disabled parking space and no necessary amendments to the office facilities leading me to fracture my ankle again, Looking back now I should have spoken up but I was just so happy to have a job and the independence that it brings.
My injuries were worse this time and I ended up being in plaster for around 5 months. Because of my Muscular Dystrophy, I couldn’t use crutches, so I didn’t move around during that time and lost the little muscle strength I had left. It was quite a loss and with it went most of my independence and social life.
I ended up being unemployed for around 2 years, it was a very tough time. I was very depressed and felt I had no purpose, so I decided to use my skills to set up as a Virtual PA which I did for 10 years. It gave me something to focus on but this wasn’t my true passion.
I’ve always admired the beauty industry and loved the idea of making people feel good. I never thought it was an industry for me because of my disability. When my sister got a job in television, I decided to train in gel manicures so she could have lovely nails for her appearances as a lot of the salons in our area weren’t wheelchair accessible. I loved it so much and at that point in time, I was well enough to do a good job.
Fast forward to January 2016. I was scrolling through instagram. I came across an incredible salon in London. It just looked so different to the norm – the interior, the brands, the concept. It totally inspired me and I just said to myself, Rachel you could create something like this. You may not be able to do the treatments yourself but you could make a wonderful, inclusive and accessible space with great therapists, great treatments and something a little different to the norm. It was definitely a Eureka moment for me and that’s how The Beauty & Blow Dry Studio came to be.
A typical day at the Beauty & Blowdry Studio…
A typical day at the Studio is busy, varied and always lots of fun. My therapists Brooke and Emma are just incredible and amazing at what they do, the incredible Zoe Newlove on social media and I have a wonderful PA/Carer with me all day and she helps me with the things that I am unable to do. We’re just like one big family.
The BEST thing we ever did was invest in Navy Pro Tools. They have completely changed our business and elevated our manicure and pedicure services. I always rave about them and my girls adore them too.
The main challenge I face is being unable to physically carry out nail treatments anymore or even train in the other treatments that we offer at the Studio, as there are no adaptations to enable me to do so.
However, i’m still fulfilled though being the proud owner of the Studio as I still am very hands on with the business side of things. Researching, designing and implementing our treatment offer. It brings me great joy when I send my wonderful therapists on training courses to further their skills and knowledge.
I’m very proud to have pushed through the challenges to create the studio, I couldn’t have done this without my incredible Mum, Dad and Sister.
Does the Beauty Industry show enough support to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion?
To be totally honest, when I was younger I never thought beauty was a career that I would have been able to pursue. For me, when I was in Education I found it difficult to navigate up the stairs each day as many small training providers were and still are inaccessible with stairs.
Because of this, there is a general feeling that being a Beauty Professional isn’t an option for those with disabilities, which I think is disheartening
The changes that must be implemented, would need to start with Beauty Colleges and Training Providers thinking outside of the box…they need to make adjustments for EVERYONE who is interested in pursuing a beauty career.
Many of the courses I have sent my therapists on have been upstairs, straight away this disadvantages those who have certain disabilities.
I also feel that as standard practice, beauty salons need to think about how they can be more accessible to people with disabilities and health issues.
Adjustments we have made to the Studio…
Even though we are a two story salon, I ensure that every treatment carried out upstairs, could also be carried out downstairs. I made the entrance wheelchair accessible and put extra thought into the height of the manicure tables so wheelchairs could fit nicely underneath and when I purchased the treatment room beds, I made sure they were height adjustable and were wider for clients that maybe needed to be moved during their treatment.
I know a lot of these things are accompanied by cost implications but some salons don’t provide something as simple as a ramp for access and I do think that is very sad - especially in 2020.
Disabled people want to get beauty treatments just like anyone else and they have money to spend, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth making a few changes, even just from a business perspective.
How we can change this…
I think if we just start to make the Beauty Industry more inclusive for those with disabilities, making sure our salons are wheelchair accessible, giving encouragement to young people who desire to pursue a career in beauty and showing them it’s achievable. We need to use our platforms to start a conversation in the industry, keep it going and raise awareness then we can really make a difference.
What I would like to see implemented by Beauty Brands…
At the moment, beauty brands are not doing enough to include those with disabilities. A concerted effort must be made when promoting and hosting courses to ensure we cater for all and shine spotlights on beauty professionals who have shown it is possible.
perhaps brands would follow suit and start launching professional products that would allow a disabled person to carry out treatments.
I understand the difficulty brands face as there are so many different needs and requirements but this should not stop us from trying to implement necessary changes and improvements.
My vision for the future…
I hate to mention Rona, but my vision for the immediate future is to navigate through this difficult and uncertain time and come through it being supportive to other businesses, which I think is so important.
It would be great to start to see some changes - more inclusion, thinking outside of the box and discussing this issue with disabled people to see how we can make this industry more accessible. Not all industries are open to everyone of course, that is just a fact of life. I feel this industry can and should be accessible and I would like to see that start to happen.
I think what Navy do is so amazing, always pushing the boundaries and starting conversations as important as this one. The fact they’re even thinking about this issue is amazing and it’s made me really look into it and think about it in a wider context.
My advice to others…
My advice to other salon owners would be to ensure you are doing everything you can to make your salon is wheelchair accessible, something as cheap and simple as a £40 ramp could see you gain a lot of business.
To people with disabilities that want to pursue a career in beauty – go for it!
The only way change is going to happen, is if we push for it.
Illustration by: @eleni.illustrator