The retail client walked into Chi Wah Organica already agitated. She found the salon’s “Racism and Hate have no place here” sign to be annoying. And now she was also required to wear a mask just to buy a product? She expressed her displeasure.
“She said she’d rather shop down the street where they don’t clean anything,” recalls Salena Klass, manager of the Rochester, NY, salon. She wasn’t the only client Chi Wah lost, but slowly the salon began gaining clients for the same reason it was losing them. A few stylists left, too, replaced by new hires who aligned with the culture.
“This can be taboo in our industry, but we are openly supportive of our LGBTQ+, Black, and Asian communities,” says owner Chi Wah Soo Brown, who’s also Klass’s mother. “We have definitely grown our clientele because of where we stand. When people disagree and tell us they won’t support our salon anymore, we thank them for their honesty and welcome anyone with open arms. We are proud of our diversity and are not afraid to voice our views for peace and equality.”
Before Covid, this wasn’t as much of an issue.
“People come to us because of our skill set,” Klass says. “They like the haircut they get even if they disagree with our political ideas.” Those clients just kept the conversation off anything controversial.
But with the country so divided over wearing masks, the controversy was literally “in your face” all the time. For a while, the city of Rochester moved away from mask mandates for vaccinated salon clients, but Chi Wah Organica staff continued to wear masks and asked clients to do the same. Some clients simply refused, says Klass, “even though we asked nicely, and even though we handed them masks.”
True to the Culture
Management felt that wearing masks and adhering strictly to sanitation procedures aligned with the longstanding culture of Chi Wah, an Aveda salon. And it’s been working—not one of the six people who work at Chi Wah has gotten Covid.
“'Organic beauty for organic living'—that’s one of our slogans,” Klass notes. “Guests are conscious of what they’re putting in and on their body.” Those guests appreciated all of the Covid-related care, and through social media the word began to spread, turning the salon’s restrictions into an asset. Even now, Klass says she’s tagged on a Facebook post just about every week for people looking for a salon that’s openly anti-racism and/or following Covid guidelines.
Klass reports, “The conversation I see on social media is someone asking, ‘My stylist won’t wear a mask and won’t get vaccinated, so where can I go that my kids will be safe and everyone is vaccinated and wearing a mask?’ That’s when someone will tag us or forward one of the emails we’ve sent about our policies.”
Although the salon probably will switch out the anti-hate signage at some point, Klass says there are no plans to curb the openness of their position on current topics.
“You build relationships,” Klass says of the salon’s largely white clientele. “Whether they come in just for retail once a month or sit in your chair, you know them, and they want to know you. They ask about our kids. So we’ve been really open with everyone. My mom (the owner) is Chinese, and my stepfather is Black. One stylist is half-Black, and the leader of our front desk is a drag queen. We’re all minorities in one way or another. People feel connected to us in that sense. It’s nice to give them a safe place.”
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