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Sharmadean Reid

Why it matters that the beauty industry is finally back in business

The importance of the government lifting the beauty ban

During lockdown, beauty businesses were hit hard. From lashes to nails, beauty professionals help look after us in a very hands-on way and with salons closed and physical contact unsafe those in the industry found themselves out of work and struggling.

When restrictions began to ease earlier this month it seemed that the wait was finally over but for those in beauty, things weren’t as straightforward as they appeared. While hairdressers were given the green light to re-open alongside pubs and restaurants, all other beauty services remained on lockdown. Then, came the laughter from MPs. When footage from within the House of Commons showed MPs including the prime minister joking and laughing as they flippantly discussed the reopening of beauty salons, the video was circulated with outrage.

Beauty, as the British Beauty Council pointed out, is a £27.2 billion industry – more than motor vehicle manufacturing – and one that employees hundreds of thousands of people, around 90 per cent of which are women. Many were quick to point out the apparent sexism involved in the decision, criticism that was sharpened when, a week later, it was announced that while beauty and nail salons were being allowed to reopen, treatments involving the face were still banned. Except for beard trimming that was.

“Many dismiss us as trivial but the industry employs 600,000 mostly women who need to put food on the table and pay their bills,” says beauty journalist Dr Ateh Jewel. “The advice from the government in my opinion has been confused and misogynistic. Safety comes first but it makes no sense you can get your beard trimmed and have a pint but not beauty services?”

Amid these goings on, Sharmadean Reid, founder of WAH nails and BeautyStack, launched the #BringBeautyBack campaign to put pressure on the government to reopen the industry in its entirety. The campaign highlighted voices from the community, giving a platform to those who were out of work and struggling, who felt ignored, left behind and insulted by the government’s attitude towards the industry. The campaign organised a march in London to protest the continued closure of many beauty services and make their voices heard. Then, just one day before the march was scheduled to take place, the government finally announced that, from August 1, all beauty services would be allowed to return. The news was met with joy by the community.

“It felt like a long time coming but we’re incredibly pleased about it,” says Reid about the announcement. “It feels like a real weight has been lifted off a lot of people’s shoulders and we are just so relieved to be given an exact date. I know I speak on behalf of a lot of people here, but we are just so excited to go back to what we know best and to be doing the things we are good at doing again.”

Reid says she launched the campaign to give a voice to an entire economy of women who had been unable to work but weren’t being heard. “As we are constantly being told by the government, it is so important that we kick start and reinvigorate the economy and the beauty industry needed to be a part of these conversations,” she says. “You cannot have a conversation about reinvigorating the beauty economy without involving the beauty pros who operate within it. The decisions were being made when the users and beneficiaries were not in the room, so didn’t have a voice or even a chance to step in.”

Looking to next month, when the industry in its entirety will be open once more, Reid says she trusts in the advice and guidelines given by the national Hair and Beauty Federation and the British Beauty Council to keep beauty professionals safe. Questions still remain, however, around what the future looks like for the industry. “I’m slightly nervous about how we will be able to operate long term through social distancing,” she says. “But of course, this is a factor everyone is facing.”

As we face the prospect of returning to a different world than we once knew, it still remains unclear what life post-pandemic will look like for beauty professionals. We spoke to five make-up artists about how they plan to remain safe in the workplace and how they think the industry will be changed. Meanwhile, we investigated the measures salons are taking to keep their clients and staff safe and find out what a post-lockdown haircut really looks like.