Hair Stylists Fresh Out of School See Opportunities Vanish Amid Pandemic

The rows of mirrors and swivel chairs are dark at the International College of Cosmetology in Oakland and the mannequin heads with their shags and bobs sit untouched.

"Right now students aren’t allowed to come in so it makes it really quiet here," said Hal DuBiel, supervisor at ICOC.

All the students are now taking virtual classes. "I do a facial on myself and the girls will do it along with me. So it’s taken things in a different direction," he explained.

"This is a hands on profession, so I was hoping to practice and be visually learning," said Nhan Ly, a senior about 400 practice hours away from graduating. He is now getting those hours through virtual classes and the rare client at home. "Just mainly on family members, my dad and younger brothers. But normally I would get a good amount of returning clients. But I miss my passion a lot because of my inability to take customer."

It is that passion that is keeping him going. Since he is missing out the practical side of school, he is getting his learning another way by focusing on preparing for the written portion of the state license test. "My nose has been in the books more often than working with clients."

That ability to adapt has proven crucial to working stylists and will be valuable to the students, said ICOC instructor Adriana Vasquez.

"I think they’re learning how to pivot...I know that it’s hard times and it’s not easy to say, but I feel that you need to be proactive about the situation."

Even the state licensing tests were canceled for a time, although those have since resumed.

For Ly, there was no choice but to find a way forward in this industry. "I’ve done a lot of other jobs, where I feel like you gotta do what you don’t like, or find out what you don’t like in order to find out what you do like. So this is for me, and I’m super optimistic about the future."

He said hair is his art and his passion, and he’s ready to work outside if that is what it takes.

"I feel like if you’re able to get through this, nothing can stop you."

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