Beauty industry freelancers are starting to see some economic relief more than a year after COVID-19 lockdowns left them jobless.
As vaccinations ramp up, and salons and spas that haven’t been forced to permanently close accept clients at reduced capacity, hair, makeup and nail artists are experiencing a steadier stream of income — though not as much as they had come to expect pre-pandemic.
In some cases, the unreliability of the COVID-19 gig economy has caused freelancers to diversify their revenue streams. Louanna Factora, a professional hair and makeup artist, focused on growing her social media following after watching once-regular work for Viacom, Amazon and Fox Sports dry up.
“I’ve been blessed because I have worked, but there was a really long lull,” Factora said. “I didn’t get anything until October. So from March until October, I did absolutely nothing. I did, though, bounce up my Instagram like nobody’s business.”
After completing a few live, on-air segments for brands, along with a handful of corporate hair and makeup gigs, Factora began posting on Instagram, where her follower count grew from about 1,000 in 2020 to 15,000.
“A lot of beauty professionals have focused more on their social media,” Factora said. “It has become a job. I’m getting a lot of attention from brands like Wet ‘n’ Wild. Now I’m with Trinny London, and they’re killing it. I’m with them virtually [doing online consultations], which is great.”
Pre-pandemic, Tony Tulve, a freelance makeup artist, had weekly paid gigs that required him to be on set. But from March to September of 2020, he wasn’t on set at all.
“I don’t gravitate toward this idea of wanting to become an influencer,” Tulve said. “I didn’t think of this as an opportunity to monetize myself in a different way. There’s only so much I could talk about myself.”
For him, work began picking up in March of this year. He estimates that his spending on cleaning supplies has doubled.
Makeup artists, as Tulve has noticed, are downsizing their makeup bags, opting for refillable palettes that are easier to sanitize. He is also seeing a higher demand for “combo artists,” or artists who are able to do hair and makeup, thus reducing the number of people who come in contact with a particular client.
Nail artist Leanne Woodley used the downtime during quarantine to file a trademark for her business and work on a product line consisting of a scrub, a balm and a cuticle oil. The line, which she plans to finalize by fall, was born out of a desire to “create longevity” for herself.
“We just have to figure out what else is going to be substantial,” Woodley said.
The last year hasn’t come without setbacks, though — namely the mental and emotional trauma of seeing George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many more Black men and women killed by police throughout the pandemic.
“You’re in the house dealing with that by yourself,” Woodley said. “As a Black woman, that is exhausting.”
Nail artist Miki Higuchi began making press-on nail sets in April 2020, when the salon where she typically works closed temporarily. Higuchi sold about 30 to 40 press-on sets per month, she said, and the nail salon has since reopened at a limited capacity.
“I can see [clients], but it’s still [a] pandemic,” Higuchi said, noting that the salon now takes clients’ temperatures at the door and asks them to wash their hands upon entry.
“My clients are coming in. Also, I have new clients,” she said. Already, she is booked through the month of May, but other nail artists she knows have not been so busy. Some continue to be out of work due to a lack of editorial shoots and absence of events such as New York Fashion Week.
“It depends on the nail artist,” Higuchi said.
Akina Shimizu, a hairstylist and makeup artist, said she used to work in a hair salon about four to five days per week, seeing up to eight people a day. When the pandemic hit, the salon closed for about four months, cutting her income and making it “hard to live in the city.”
“It was really tough,” Shimizu said. “We could not make money.”
Now she is back in the salon four days a week, seeing clients at limited capacity.
“It’s still very slow,” she said. “The weekend is busy, but the weekday is not so busy. Maybe four or five clients come a day.”
Kabuto Okuzawa, a hairstylist who is represented by The Wall Group, said while he is now seeing clients, “30 percent of sales are decreased,” as people aren’t making appointments as frequently as they were pre-COVID-19. His schedule is also limited to allow time to sanitize in-between appointments.
“During the lockdown, because people had no access to professional haircuts, many tried cutting their hair themselves and regretted it,” he wrote via email. “Now that more people are doing remote work and avoiding going to places with a large gathering, there are less opportunities to dress up. I think going forward, their requests will become more minimal and simpler to style.”
Okuzawa and his clients continue to wear masks during appointments, though mask-wearing does give rise to awkward encounters.
“I often try and show that I am smiling with my eyes when I talk to people,” he said. “When doing hair services, I try to imagine what they look [like] under their masks to carefully create a balanced hairstyle.”
More from WWD.com:
It’s Time for Beauty Brands to Confront Colorism in Their Advertising
How Low-fi Beauty Content Is Driving High Sales Growth
Here’s Where Beauty Stands in Its Progress Toward Racial Equity