EYE OPENER Munaza Gilmore cannot wait until she is back dealing with her clients face-to-face.
The pent-up demand for women’s personal-care services is likely to exceed that of any other business when the economy reopens. Indeed, the fact that a Balbriggan salon was fully booked after engaging in civil disobedience by reopening last month only confirmed this notion.
Although dos and functions, weddings and wakes were few and far between in 2020, the simple pleasure of getting the nails, hair or eyebrows done proved too strong to resist for many women.
For Brow Lounge owner Munaza Gilmore, the Covid-19 pandemic could not have arrived at a worse time.
For obvious reasons, her plans to officially open her own salon at her home outside Swinford last March were well and truly scuppered.
After effective lobbying from half the population, salons and hairdressers reopened three weeks ahead of schedule June 29 and were instantly swamped. Munaza’s enterprise was no different.
“When we opened at the end of June it was manic, it was crazy,” the London native tells The Mayo News.
“Then it settled down a bit and then it went manic again. With the pandemic, everyone is waiting. Every client is texting me saying: ‘Make sure you keep me first on the list.”
Having initially trained as social care worker, Munaza learned to thread from her grandmother. After a bout of post-natal depression, her therapist encouraged her to do something she really enjoyed.
“Everyone always admired my own eyebrows and said ‘How do you do them? What do you do?’” she explains.
“I used to do my friends’ eyebrows, as well and friends’ friends, and friends’ friends’ friends, while I was working. It was for free… I didn’t think anything of it to be honest.”
Opportunity came knocking around ten years ago when she was approached by Lloyd’s Pharmacy in Ballina to do a monthly clinic. Slowly but surely, her client base grew to the point where she was doing clinics in Castlebar and Ballinrobe.
While the pandemic laid waste to her opening plans, business was hectic following the late-June reopening.
Last August, she took the decision to move to part-time hours in her job with Western Care in order to cater for the booming demand for eyebrow treatment.
Likewise, she couldn’t keep the work done after the second lockdown was lifted in the lead-up to Christmas, with many clients eager to get treated before Lockdown 3.
While she is keeping herself occupied by developing an online store, the rolling lockdowns have taken their toll on Munaza both mentally and financially.
With her part-time job, Munaza does not qualify for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and must instead draw Jobseeker’s Allowance. As a result, covering her ongoing running costs has been difficult.
“It’s really disheartening for me. I don’t mean to sound awful, but I never thought of myself as claiming Jobseeker’s because I always had a job, I was always working, always putting myself out there saying ‘I need to do something’,” she says.
“My business came from passion and has brought me where I am today. I think this whole pandemic has really messed with people’s minds too and they’ve gone: ‘Who am I?’
“You have ideas in your life that you are somebody and then this pandemic has hit and you’re not that person anymore.”
Munaza insists that salons should be given greater priority for reopening given the meticulous hygiene and social distancing measures they have implemented.
“I don’t think the Government actually thought about hairdressers and beauticians and how we work. We are trained in hygiene and bloodborne pathogens. We have to make sure we’ve our Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A vaccines done before you start working.
“We are cleaner than a supermarket for sure,” she adds.
“When all this was happening, we had clients coming in one-to-one. If we had a 15-minute slot we would end up doing a half-hour slot, so we are losing money.
“We have everything cleaned to a tee. We should have some sort of health standards where somebody checks on our business to make sure we have everything that the require, and if not, do what they require and be ready for [opening].”
A former President of the Junior Chamber International Ireland, Munaza has being coping by keeping in touch with her clients via text message and postcards. Every so often, her phone will light up with the message ‘Any chance?’, which she must politely decline.
Nonetheless, she is positive that once she is allowed open that she will remain open.
“My clients tell me: ‘I love that you love my eyebrows as much as I do’,” she says.
“It’s all about the service when they come into me. It’s all about the craic, having the chats and getting the low-down on what’s going on. I think it’s the whole service, not just the eyebrows.
“It’s about the whole spending time on yourself, feeling good. When somebody feels good you can take over the world. Right?” she chuckles.