Flora Shepelsky, owner of on Cedar Lane, said she greets all of her clients with a warm hug when they enter her business.
It’s that sort of personal touch – coupled with her beautiful creations – that have helped Shepelsky grow her wig business from one customer back in 2006 to thousands of customers worldwide today.
The Russian native, who moved to Israel at age 5 and then to America at age 12, signed up at a New York City beauty school at the age of 16 to earn her hair-dressing license. While attending school, she got a job on the side doing wigs.
“I was learning everything from scratch. I was so young then, so I was like a sponge,” said Shepelsky, of Closter. “The woman I actually worked with was from Hungary, and she was really old-fashioned. She used to sit there and actually make the wigs right there. She did the cutting and everything else, so I learned everything.”
Now, with more than 20 years of experience as a wig designer, Shepelsky said she enjoys not only running a successful business but also feeling the satisfaction that comes with transforming women’s lives.
WOMEN FACE A DOUBLE STANDARD
Because the issue of hair loss or thinning hair can be a difficult experience for women to go through, Shepelsky said she works hard to build trust between her and her clients.
“Before you cut it, before you style it, before you do anything, it’s traumatic to just put on a whole bunch of hair on your head and try to imagine what it would look like when I’m done,” she said. “I try hard not to make that a traumatic moment. It’s hard to go from thinning hair to having hair. The whole concept of putting on someone else’s hair for some reason has been so taboo, and it’s sad; it shouldn’t be. It’s OK to have fake boobs, it’s OK to have fake teeth, but it’s not OK to have fake hair? Extensions are OK, but if somebody needs a piece to cover thinning hair, it seems to be taboo, you don’t talk about it.”
Shepelsky came to Teaneck in 2006 thinking that a majority of her clients would end up being Orthodox Jewish women, many of whom wear wigs in public. And while religious women do make up a portion of her customer base, more than 50 percent of her clients are women who are experiencing hair loss.
“And I’m not just talking about chemotherapy patients,” Shepelsky said. “I’m talking about female pattern baldness, thinning, genetics and all that stuff.”
Shepelsky advises her customers to see a doctor to determine the underlying cause of the hair loss because some of her younger clients suffer from malnutrition, which can cause hair to fall out.
She also informs her clients about the prevelance of hair loss in some form or another.
"There are many women who come in here, even young orthodox women that are already suffering from hair loss," Shepelsky said. "They cover their hair anyway, but they wonder why is this happening to them, and that’s my cue to tell them that it’s more common than they think. Not everyone is losing all their hair, but they’re experiencing some sort of hair loss, which is why I wish it wasn’t so taboo."
‘HAIR IS A COMMODITY’
Shepelsky gets 90 percent of her hair from Russia, with the rest coming from various parts of Europe.
She treasures the “virgin hair” that comes out of Russia because the women cover their hair, protecting it from sun damage.
Early in her career, Shepelsky said she encountered very low-quality hair – hair that had been permed or colored – the opposite of virgin hair. Wanting to work with a better product is what drove Shepelsky to strike it out on her own.
She said the way she receives hair now is in its “raw” firm – cut off in a pony tail and shipped straight to her. She then takes the time to sort out the best quality hair.
“I actually have a rabbi in Russia who collects the hair for me,” Shepelsky said. “He makes sure that it’s collected ethically.”
Shepelsky said she’s wary of purchasing hair from other parts of the world because she can’t be sure of how it was obtained.
After sorting, only then does the hair go to production to be made into wigs.
“Hair prices are going up because women don’t grow their hair as much and also because of inflation,” Shepelsky said. “The dollar isn’t worth much anymore. Hair is a commodity. Any chance I get, if hair comes to me, I buy it. When you buy hair, you can’t be picky. I can make requests for certain colors and textures but then I have to pay double.”
Shepelsky said finding long blond or red hair is difficult and finding blond curly hair is almost impossible. Short brunette hair is the easiest to locate.
‘YOU NEED TO FEEL PRETTY, AND YOU NEED TO FEEL GOOD’
Shepelsky said she’s well-known for her toppers and falls, which are hair pieces for the top of the head that blend into a woman’s own hair.
“I developed it; I realized there was a need for it,” she said. “I must have dissected 50 wigs and took them apart. I took wigs apart until I could find just the right cap that could be universal and that also could be shipped.”
Because wigs are costly, Shepelsky teaches all of her customers how to properly wash and care for their hair.
“The washing can be cultural,” Shepelsky said. “The religious women bring them in to be washed and set; it’s just the way the mothers have done it and the grandmothers have done it. Most of my chemo patients will bring in their wigs for wash and set. My hair-loss clients generally do not.”
Wigs start at $1,850 and can go up to $10,000 for hair that’s blond, red or curly. Toppers and falls also start at $1,850. Shepelsky said economic downturns, such as the current recession, have no effect on business because of the personal nature of the product and the need for women to want to feel good about how they look.
“People should not feel any discomfort about having to wear any supplemental hair of any kind for any reason because as life is, we’re not all that important in other people’s lives,” Shepelsky said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that other people don’t notice the change. You can go out there and wear your hair proudly. You should feel good; it doesn’t matter if somebody else thinks that you have something that’s not real on your head. You need to feel pretty, and you need to feel good; you don’t owe anyone an explanation.”