Coronavirus Leaves Salon Workers, Beauty Freelancers Jobless

Beauty salon workers and freelancers are feeling the effects of the coronavirus on their cashflow.
Jobs had already been scarce for hair and makeup artists since March 11, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. Last week, nail technicians and aestheticians were still working from salons and making house calls, but that came to a halt this past weekend, when the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania — as well as many authorities in California — ordered barbershops, hair salons, nail salons, hair removal services and tattoo or piercing parlors to temporarily close up shop.
The personal-care mandate, intended to slow the coronavirus' spread, has left some salon owners with the tough decision of laying off their staff members. In other cases, self-employed beauty professionals are now gig-less, with no time frame for when they might resume taking clients.
"As a freelancer, you always prepare for slow times ‘cause you can never predict it, but this is indefinite," said Amanda Wilson, a hair and makeup artist.
Depending on the week, Wilson sees as many as three clients a day and often works on the set of photo shoots involving multiple clients. Her last job was two weeks ago.
Narina Chan, a manicurist who works at Kanako Salon in Manhattan, collected cancellation fees from a few clients who voluntarily paid them. Last week, she was seeing one to two clients a day. Now, she's seeing none.
Kill fees or cancellation fees are a common practice in the industry, requiring companies or clients who cancel within 24 hours of a scheduled job to pay the freelance artist all or half of their full rate. Some professionals had at least been collecting kill fees over the past couple of weeks, but won't be able to do so moving forward as all jobs have been canceled for the foreseeable future.
Ami Vega, a nail technician who works out of a private studio in Washington Heights, said she typically sees around 40 to 45 clients a week, charging an average of $50 for a basic gel manicure.
"I initially told my clients I was going to cancel all of March and see where we were April 1," Vega said. "The way things are going, I don’t know. It’s unclear." She is now brainstorming other modes of income, such as virtual, one-on-one sessions with fellow nail techs looking to home in on their nail art skills.
For Loretta Wiltshire, a hairstylist who typically books clients through Glamsquad, business had already been slow throughout January and February. She anticipated things picking up in March and April, projecting 35 to 40 clients a week.
"I have nothing on my books," Wiltshire said. ", I barely had six. This week, nada."
Jasmine Therese, a makeup artist who also books through Glamsquad, was scheduled to work three to four weddings throughout March and April, expecting to bank as much as $1,000 a wedding. Her schedule has since been wiped clean.
Following New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's order to close salons, Glamsquad sent out an e-mail to customers saying that all confirmed appointments would be canceled until non-essential business are allowed to reopen.
In a statement, Glamsquad ceo Amy Shecter said that the company is working with the government to "identify opportunities" to support its beauty professionals.
"We are thinking creatively about how to reimagine Glamsquad during this pause, and we are exploring everything from special virtual services to curated content that would allow both our clients and pros to remain involved in the Glamsquad community," said Shecter.
Tenoverten originally closed its nail salons — four in Manhattan and one in Los Angeles — for two weeks on March 13. Over the weekend, the company said that it had laid off its 160 full- and part-time employees in light of the evolving pandemic.
"As the days went on and it became clear we had no idea when we were going to be open, even though it seems counterintuitive, we felt it was more selfish to keep our employees in an unpaid situation just because we truly don’t know what the future holds," said Adair Ilyinsky, Tenoverten cofounder.
The company has set up a support fund for its employees, raising $25,000 thus far, Ilyinsky said.
Nail studio Paintbox closed both of its Manhattan locations a few days ahead of the personal-care mandate. The company's 65 employees have been taking advantage of its paid time off and sick leave policies, said Jane Hong, chief executive officer.
"The last thing I want to do is terminate," Hong said.
Paintbox has also set up an employee fund. Last week, the company said that 20 percent of gift card and product sales would go toward the fund. It has since upped that number to 100 percent and is discounting products online to encourage purchases. It has also donated its extra gloves to Northwell Health, a healthcare network in New York City.
Elisabeth Leary, founder and creative director of Brooklyn-based hair salon and beauty shop Whiteroom, said she has "no way" of paying her 12 employees, who earn money based off of commission.
"I have no revenue coming in, so paying people isn’t really an option," said Leary. Like other small beauty business owners, she intended to use money from gift card and online purchases to pay her employees, but may now have to put that money towards Whiteroom's rent.
The Internal Revenue Service has moved the deadline to file taxes to July 15, and this week, the Senate passed a financial rescue package that would theoretically help millions of Americans, including freelancers and small businesses.
Still, personal care workers and beauty freelancers need relief now.
Beauty search engine Mira has launched a COVID-19 relief fund for beauty freelancers. Last week, it raised $10,000 and is offering individual stipends of $100.
One beauty entrepreneur doing her part to help out is Huda Kattan. The influencer and Huda Beauty ceo revealed on social media that she will give $100,000 to freelance makeup artists, making her one of the few major beauty influencers to publicly offer financial assistance during this time.
“At Huda Beauty, we want our community to know that we’re all in this together and we’re here to support, inspire and ease burdens wherever we can," Kattan said in a statement. "COVID-19 is not only impacting our physical health, but it’s negatively affecting us economically, socially and emotionally. This makeup artist initiative is just the beginning of our journey to help the world and our industry during this unexpectedly challenging time. We hope this gesture offers freelance artists, within the makeup community that we love, a bit of much-needed relief."
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