WEARING HER TRADE-MARK black hat and large glasses, Beverly May’s creative energy flows through her women-only salon. At first sight, her Japanese print leggings give the impression her legs are adorned with tattoo art.
Beverly makes hair pieces and wigs for women who have lost their hair to chemotherapy or other conditions where hair loss is irreversible. In a culture where image is powerful, the effect of such an experience can be devastating for women.
Her commitment to supporting women is not only professional but very personal: a few years back she shaved her signature bob to raise funds to assist women with cancer.
For Beverly, each wig is a work of art. Coming from a long line of artists – her grandmother and mother were both painters – it is the creative process which most entices her. “Cutting and styling is a creative endeavor, much like perfecting the shadows on a painting,” she says, holding a blonde wig she is finishing for one of her clients.
Made from human hair, the wig has been designed for a woman suffering from trichotillomania, a condition which causes sufferers to compulsively pull out their hair.
OVER THE YEARS, Beverly has helped hundreds of women including transgender women. She also works with children who have lost their hair. “Right now, we are working with a 12-year-old child with alopecia, who has lost all their hair,” Beverly says. She stops speaking as sadness creeps across her delicate features.
Alopecia, an autoimmune skin disease that causes hair loss, can affect people of all ages including children, “We work with many children with alopecia. The idea of them being teased at school is unbearable.”
What lifts her spirits is the fact that she can change people’s lives quickly. Beverly can make a wig in 14 weeks. It’s an intricate process that calls for patience and attention to detail. Each customized wig is made to reflect the desires of the client right down to the cut and color. For those wanting a more urgent solution, ready-made hair pieces/toppers and wigs are available for immediate use.
Working with every hospital in Adelaide, Beverly and her staff visit cancer wards regularly. Many women are referred to her by other patients whom she has worked with,
“One of the first things women who are undergoing cancer treatment tell me is that they are worried about losing their hair.” A smile appears on her face again as she talks about women’s confidence being restored after what could be months or years of struggle. “When we put their piece on, the looks on their faces says it all,” she says.
THE IDEA OF THIS BUSINESS was born more than a decade ago in the aftermath of a divorce that left her penniless and heartbroken. Beverly moved away from the Barossa where she and her ex-husband owned a winery, to rebuild the pieces of her life. It was a difficult time. Barely able to eat, she lost a lot of weight. Then one day, after spending time with her daughter in Melbourne, she said to herself: “Pull yourself together.”
Spontaneously, she decided to contact the owner of a hair extension company in the US, renowned for its cutting-edge work. From this impulsive phone call, a personal and professional relationship that would last decades was established. The owner, BJ, and his wife offered to host Beverly during her visit to the US. Having nothing to lose, she boarded a plane, not knowing what the future held.
The knowledge she discovered on this trip led her to develop two new hair extension systems, assisting people with thinning hair. This then led to creating wigs and hair pieces for women experiencing hair loss. At first, she worked alone as she did not have the resources to hire staff. “When I started this business, I did not have a single penny to my name, only an idea,” she says looking around the busy salon.
WE WALK THROUGH ROOMS lined from floor to ceiling with wigs, each with its own story. The details of each client assisted over the years is stored in a complex filing system in the far corner of the room. Beverly is quick to point out that she no longer works alone. As the business grew, she recruited staff to help her. “Nothing works without a beautiful team behind you,” she says.
The best part of her day is getting out of bed and starting work. The long days which end hours after the sun has set are filled with appointments, most of which are held in private rooms to make women feel at ease.
Having practiced hairdressing for five decades, she continues to keep up-to-date with advancements in hair piece technology, to improve upon her craft. Her hands are always busy, perhaps a habit from years past, when she made wedding dresses and suits. As she combs the tangles from a wig she is preparing for her next client, Beverly explains the effort poured into each piece; “It’s an artistic process. I try to make each piece better than the last.”