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This month in my Creative Spirit Spotlight feature I have introduced you to some amazing women who are leaving their mark on the world. Today I bring you another. Meet LaTrina Blair-Shepherd, a Chicago woman whose personal story of hair loss motivated her to push corporate America aside and take a chance on becoming an entrepreneur.
Blair-Shepherd’s world began to change 15 years ago shortly after giving birth to her daughter. Due to complications during childbirth she was thrown into early menopause at the age of 29, causing her hair to thin at the top and quickly grow into complete bald spots. Like most women might be, Blair-Shepherd was traumatized. She tried creams, tonics, vitamins and every natural remedy she could find before going to several doctors who treated her with biopsies and even cortisone shots to the scalp. There was nothing the doctors could do. Blair-Shepherd would eventually be diagnosed with scarring alopecia. In the middle of toying with the idea of hair replacement surgery she began wearing wigs out of what she felt was a necessity, but admits that she immediately fell in love with their versatility and convenience.
It is that same love that has brought Blair-Shepherd to where she is today – the proud owner of the wig and accessory boutique Random Glam, located in the city’s South Shore neighborhood. In this Marti Ink Q&A the entrepreneur opens up about the challenges of being a business woman and shares how her “from pain to gain” story has served other women well.
In your opinion what does wearing the right wig do for your self-esteem?
My self-esteem grew leaps and bounds once I embraced wigs. When my hair first became really thin, I was in the public relations field. My career put me in the public eye, representing my company at high-profile events and occasionally mingling with celebrities. It was very difficult to muster the confidence I needed on a daily basis to do my job. It got so bad that I was self-conscious standing in the elevator with a tall person standing behind me. I also was divorced and single at the time, so dating with bald spots was a whole other concern. Wigs gave me back my confidence. I was very upfront and never tried to hide the fact that I was wearing them. I was pleased when my journey encouraged other women around me to embrace wigs.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur, especially in such a tough economy?
One of my favorite quotes is “Life without risk is death.” I lost two jobs in this economy and realized that no job is promised. I decided that if I was going to bet on anyone, I’d bet on myself and follow my heart into entrepreneurship. Becoming an entrepreneur was not an easy decision, after spending many years in the communications industry working for others. However, I really wanted to know what it was like to hold my destiny in my own hands and not leave it to the whims and fortunes of others. However, I couldn’t have made such a courageous move without the continued support and encouragement from my husband, Alphonso – not to mention his health benefits.
Why did you decide to open a wig and accessory shop?
I had the idea a few years ago but quickly talked myself out of it. This may sound hokey but, a month after leaving my job in October 2011 I literally had a dream that I owned a wig boutique that was posh, comfortable and inviting for wig lovers like me. I envisioned the name, the purple wall and everything. It was one of those dreams that are so vivid that you wake up believing that it is real. I awakened with an excitement that I hadn’t felt in a long time working in corporate America. My biggest concern was striking out in an industry where there are few African-Americans. After much research, soul-searching and prayer, I decided to make that dream a reality. My husband and I scratched together our savings and took a leap of faith. Less than a year later, I opened Random Glam Inc.
How has your personal wig purchasing experience over the years influenced the way you operate your business?
Over the years, I have shopped at several wig stores. They are usually stuck in the back of a beauty supply store with no privacy or personal attention. Many wig stores even limit the number of wigs their customers can try on to two. Imagine being a new wig wearer with hundreds of wigs to choose from and being told that you can only try two? It’s very impersonal and rushed.
At Random Glam, I try to create the kind of shopping experience that I was always wanted. We make customers feel welcomed and well taken care of when they walk through the door. I don’t try to pressure them into buying wigs that don’t make them feel absolutely comfortable and beautiful. I am amazed that new customers often apologize for trying on multiple styles. That’s because they have been conditioned from enduring bad customer service to believe that it is a bother for them to want to explore the products in the store. My goal is to give customers the time and care to find the perfect wigs for them. For me, customer satisfaction comes first. I think that’s why we’ve been able to build loyal customers in a short period of time.
From what you’ve learned about your customers and other faithful or experimenting wig wearers, what are some reasons that women wear wigs?
Due to my hair horror story, I was surprised with how many of my customers choose to wear wigs even though they have a head full of hair. Though some customers have hair loss issues associated with medication, heredity or illness, the majority wear wigs for the convenience, lack of commitment and fun. I have customers with super thick, hard-to-manage hair who want a break from styling. Others are transitioning out of chemicals or giving their hair a chance to recover from damage caused by excessive styling. Busy moms and professionals enjoy the convenience wigs bring to a hectic schedule.
Wigs also allow you to experiment with styles, colors and lengths without commitment. I have customers with fine, straight hair who want to wear curly styles, with naturally curly hair who want a straight look and those who have long hair and want to try out a short ‘do. Some women use wigs to simply extend time between costly salon visits. It runs the gamut.
What has been the most challenging thing about being a store proprietor thus far?
The biggest challenge has been getting the word out that we’re here and that Random Glam is not like other wig shops. Since we don’t have advertising dollars, my husband and I have been a two-person, guerilla marketing machine. I also have relied heavily on social media, event marketing and word-of-mouth. The buzz is building as new “Glam-azons” (as I lovingly call my customers) are discovering the boutique and what we have to offer. They are so excited that they bring their friends and family to the boutique.
What do you look for when making wig selections for your store?
I don’t carry hundreds of styles, so I try to carry a diverse assortment. That includes tried-and-true styles, like the classic bob and pixie cuts, as well as some trendy pieces like in-demand lace front wigs. The curly afro is really hot right now. Bangs are in thanks to Michelle Obama and fun colors too. I listen to my Glam-azons as well. They are my best resource for information on what to stock. I always try to incorporate their suggestions into my line up when possible. I also let customers browse style books and order anything they like. My plan is to continuously evolve and grow my wig selections, including adding more human hair offerings and high-end lace wigs that are popular with the stars.
How would you describe the type of accessories you sell at Random Glam?
My accessory offerings are forever changing and expanding. Random Glam carries affordable costume jewelry, as well as handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces by area jewelry designers. We have necklaces, earrings, bracelets, handbags, hats, belts, scarves and more. I try to find pieces that customers won’t see on everyone else. My loyal Glam-azons have come to realize that I don’t usually offer the same item twice. So if they like something, they’d better grab it fast because they may never have the chance again. I get a thrill out of delighting my customers with a fresh crop of fabulous new items each time they visit the boutique. I have many non-wig wearers who come to Random Glam just for the accessories.
What makes Random Glam different from other wig stores?
The shopping experience is second to none and atmosphere is unique. The boutique looks good, smells good and there is always mellow music playing to create a relaxing shopping experience customers won’t find at most wig shops. Add that to the outstanding customer service and you have a combination that really sets Random Glam apart.
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Photos: Headshot of LaTrina by Jordyn Birden / Store Photos by Thomas Blue Photography