We all have our beauty horror stories to share. The fringe that you just had to give yourself after watching one too many episodes of Gossip Girl. The decision to bleach your own hair, resulting in a shade of orange only Donald Trump would admire. The mullet that all of us ‘Drogheda Huns’ had at some point between the years 2008 and 2012. For me, it was all of the above, but eyebrows were always my danger zone.
The worst incident occurred when I was in secondary school and for some reason thought it was a good idea to take a razor to them, resulting in a period of about six weeks in 2009 when I was the owner of just one and a half eyebrows. Since then, I’ve learned some things are best left to the professionals, and in Louth, we are lucky to have plenty to choose from when it comes to our beauty needs. And yes, today (Monday, June 2020) is the day, they are back in business.
Many hairdressers, barbers and beauticians open their doors again today for the first time after over three months of lockdown-enforced closure. Local woman Helen Faulkner, owner of Coco Beauty in Drogheda, is one of them. The spring of 2020 has been like nothing she can remember but attentions have never strayed too far from what business could look like in the post-lockdown world.
In May, Helen should have been in her premises on Fair Street celebrating Coco Beauty turning three years old, but instead, like most of us, she was at home. Helen made the decision to close Coco Beauty on March 13 after a week of anxiety and worry. “I had a really bad feeling. I had a knot in my stomach every day going into work.” That week had actually provided what amounted to a practice run for what was to come, with clients and Helen both wearing masks and an increased focus placed on hand washing and disinfecting. “Naively, I thought maybe I would be closed for a month. I can’t believe it’s been three now and I still haven’t worked. If I had of known that, I would have had a nervous breakdown”, she says, laughing.
A story familiar to many young Irish people, Helen lived in Australia and Canada for a number of years before settling back in Drogheda and opening Coco Beauty in 2017. With over 10 years’ experience in the beauty industry, Helen, originally from Termonfeckin, is a one-woman show. “Everybody just loves seeing the same person when they are getting a treatment. So that was something that when I opened, I wanted to stick to.” While offering a full beauty therapy menu, Coco Beauty specialises mainly in lash and eyebrow treatments, with HD Brows being the most popular treatment among her clients.
“I've sort of picked myself up, dusted myself off and I've got a plan in place for the future.”
- Helen Faulkner
- Coco Beauty Boutique
Like a lot of people, Helen admits that the lockdown period wasn’t a walk in the park. Her mother-in-law works in the healthcare industry and contracted the virus, but luckily was symptomless and has recovered. “I found it really hard to be home. I’m used to being on the go, six days -a-week. I’m just one of those people, I like to be busy. So to go from that to nothing, it was a bit of a shock to the system. I’ve gotten used to it now,” she says. “I’ve sort of picked myself up, dusted myself off and I’ve got a plan in place for the future.”
Social media has always formed an important part of Helen’s business and during lockdown that was no different as Facebook and Instagram became the tools for keeping in touch with clients. “Everyone has been really supportive. I’ve had so many lovely messages during lockdown and actually that’s something that has really kept me going.” Keeping in touch with other local business owners also played a role in helping her keep her cool. “There’s a lovely community of business owners and beauty salons in Drogheda and most of those salons messaged me and we exchanged notes and chatted about the situation and helped each other out with the whole thing.”
At the time this interview was conducted, the announcement that salons could reopen on June 29 had not yet been made and the lack of clarity around this only added to an already challenging situation. It had initially been planned, as part of the government’s roadmap for reopening, that such businesses could welcome customers again on July 20. However, lobbying from bodies including the Irish Hair Federation, with the support of the Hair and Beauty Industry Confederation Ireland, as well as a marked decrease in new positive cases of Covid-19 throughout May and June, soon saw phased reopening plans brought forward.
Helen’s approach was to have everything ready to reopen on that date and then simply have time to relax if guidelines dictated it would in fact be later. As it transpired, soon after our conversation the go-ahead was given for June 29 and Helen had the task of moving all of her appointments forward.
“I had a huge waiting list, which is brilliant. I’m delighted that so many people wanted to come in. Really my whole client list has booked in, which is fantastic. The ladies of Drogheda have supported me since the moment I opened and they are just the nicest bunch of people.” As someone who always prioritised hygiene anyway, putting the new precautionary measures necessary for reopening in place seems to have left Helen unphased.
“I found making the plan difficult but now that I have one in place I feel much clearer about everything,” she explains to LouthNow.ie. “[For] the likes of appointments, everything needs to be staggered, there are no more back-to-back appointments,. That’s a thing of the past. There needs to be gaps between each person so the clients aren’t overlapping, [and] disinfecting everything between each person. Everybody needs to wear masks, myself included, there’s a lot of handwashing, a sanitising station. I’ve got all that sorted now so I feel ready to go.”
Feedback from her clients has all been positive too, with anyone Helen has been in touch with being very understanding. “I suppose they are just trustworthy and they are kind of looking to you for what your systems and processes are and they are happy to go for that. I want to keep everyone safe. I don’t want to bring the virus into my salon, I don’t want to transfer it to somebody else if it does come in. So you have to take it really seriously, it does have really serious implications so it’s really important that you follow the procedures. I think they should be followed anyway really. It’s not a bad thing, it’s made everyone have a hard look at health and safety.”
The new health and safety guidelines might be easy to get behind and support but thinking about the longer-term impacts Covid-19 will have on both her business and Drogheda’s economy generally does leave Helen concerned. “We all remember the recession. That’s when I first entered the industry when it was very difficult to get jobs. I was very fortunate that I got work straight away, but not everyone was as lucky. So I am worried about it. I hope we don’t go into a bad recession. There’s no control over it so we just have to keep trucking for now and see what happens.
“I hope the town recovers. Drogheda was becoming such a busy place before all this happened. There are so many lovely businesses in the town and they were all doing great. I’m sure some businesses will close, I’ve seen a couple of salons in Dublin that I would know close and it’s really sad to see but it is the harsh reality of it. Some landlords aren’t understanding. They don’t want to give you a break on your rent and it just doesn’t add up money-wise. How can you pay rent on a salon when you’re on the Covid payment? How do you put food on the table?”
Things are looking positive for Coco Beauty though as the economy starts to reopen. Lockdown has shown that despite the vast majority of us having nowhere to go for three months, many of us still place a large value on beauty. Why is that? Helen puts it all down to self-care.
“I think when you feel good on the outside you feel good on the inside,” Helen says. “With my clients, they might be down and they come in and we have a good chat and they have their treatment. And they leave and you can actually see them glow a bit more and smile a little bit more and I think it does actually affect you internally. So I think it’s really important to take care of yourself, it’s a bit of self-care really isn’t it? I think now more than ever it’s important to take care of your mental health and if that means getting your hair done every six weeks or getting your eyelashes lifted every eight weeks or getting your eyebrows done, and that makes you feel good; then why not?”