There are really no words for what you feel when you find out chemotherapy will make you lose your hair. As if being told you have "cancer" isn't traumatic enough.
This is me before chemo. I had a 6 week old baby girl, and a boy who was almost 4 years old, when I found out the news: endometrial cancer, grade 3, stage 1B. My daughter was extraordinarily lucky to be here - one of 10 babies on record to make it to full term in such a context. I count my blessings every day. In the scheme of things, all I cared about (and continue to care about) is the "c-word" as we called it, NOT COMING BACK. Still, losing my hair and my son seeing me "sick" was an additional layer of trauma I didn't need.
With very two young children a wig that was high maintenance wasn't going to work. Nor was a wig that looked fake, or felt itchy.
I wanted a headwear option that was easy to pop on, and minimum maintenance, and importantly - something that didn't have a "cancer-look" about it.
I also didn't want people to know I'd lost my hair, or to know I had "had cancer" or was going through chemotherapy. It was no-one else's business. I didn't want to be reminded of it myself!
Some people rock the bald look, and all the power to them!! I admire their courage and beauty that shines from the inside out. This wasn't me.
Even though I'd had a shaved head in my twenties, having no hair on my head or face was something different altogether. I needed a solution.
I visited wig shops online, and there seemed to be so many great options to choose from – lots were on celebrities and models, and looked amazing. But were they real? I didn’t trust them.
So I visited a wig shop and tried on loads of wigs. On the mannequins they looked like my style, but on they looked terrible – all so fake!
The best wig, by a long way, was on loan from the wig library at Living Room, Chris O’Brien. What made it work was darker roots. I wasn’t going to spend $10,000 for a custom made human hair wig. So even though this best wig option looked fake, it was going to have to do. In the end I only wore it two times in the whole six months. For me, it wasn't as convincing as the fringe with wig option.
I knew I’d be spending the weekends following chemo at my mum’s house near the beach – leaving my 4 year old with my husband, and having my mum and sister help care for my 4 month old.
I imagined all the windy beach walks hoping my wig wouldn’t fall off. Wearing only a beanie or hat, with the lack of hair poking out would be a clear give-away of what I was going through. It wasn’t that I cared what people thought of me. But I didn’t want them to feel pity for me, or feel awkward around me.
I supposedly had some cancerous cells in my body that could have (and still could) kill me, but I didn’t feel any different. It’s a very strange thing, the “c thing” as we came to call it, to give it less power. I am going to survive the c-thing, so sure feel sympathy for e but please no need to pity me. I was just going through a wretched treatment that made me lose my hair. Anyway, I digress… the point is I didn't feel sick so why should I look sick and why should other people think I was sick? My solution needed to be easy.
I wanted a hat with hair that I could pop on to go walking on the beach, and I set out on the internet to find one.
At first I thought I found it - a “human hair fringe” - but when I turned up at a wig store to try it on, it turned out that I would need hair to wear it! It was a fringe for people who already have hair — a fringe to clip into their existing hair. That wasn’t going to work.
After a lot more searching I found a few options that might work from an online store in the United States. They had a cap with long hair at the back, a ponytail wig with side bits to stick on, also for under caps. Then there were a few types of "bangs wigs" - fringy fringes - including an extra wide fringe and a human hair fringe, in a range of different blonde variants.
It was impossible to know what would look good, as I knew particularly after my experiences at the wig shop. Their prices were good but a whopping $70 FedEx delivery fee, so I took a risk and spent a few hundred dollars on a selection of them to try out.
The photos below show the synthetic ponytail and synthetic medical fringe - neither looked right. The synthetic hair was shiny, fake and flicked out - and because it's synthetic you can't straighten it or change its shape.
There was a clear winner: the human hair fringe.
What a trick! I could wear it under my softies, my fashion hats, sunhats and my beanies, and no one looked twice. I looked normal. And it made me feel normal too.
I even wore it during yoga classes. I washed the headband about once a month, and the hair every second month – it didn’t seem to get dirty. So easy!
Well before I imagined starting Hair for Hats I was a huge advocate for the product. I even took this video as part of my video diaries through chemo:
After a couple of months, I sought to get another one as a back up - in case my fringe got ratty from so much wear. There was only one problem: no stock! I kept trying, month by month, but no blonde colours were available. A few months later there was – I quickly ordered it in two blonde variants, noting my original colour was still not in stock. I also bought two as gifts for strangers - wanting to spread the love.
This time when the package arrived I was beyond disappointment – the new fringes were narrower than the first and the colours were too light and the other too brassy. I took them to a hairdresser to dye them, but they weren’t able to get it to the nice colour of my original fringe. By this time I’d finished chemo and I gave up. My original fringe had lasted the journey, so I didn't need a second one anyway.
Looking back every photo I was in for a year long period, I am wearing that fringe. In a couple of photos that I am wearing a beanie or "softie" without the fringe, I cringe.
It reinforces how wearing a fringe under my headwear made such a difference to my entire experience of chemo, and even my memory of it. My family only saw my bald head once. And I remember seeing the shock in their eyes at that quick glance. Of course I saw myself that way whenever I showered. But then I could put my fringe and softie back on, and forget about it again.
My oncologists and the wig library staff were surprised when I walked in with my fringe and hat, and then removed it to demonstrate this marvellous creation.
“Someone has to make these!” I told them. They agreed. I then caught wind there was a company in Melbourne Confident Locks making custom made pieces using a person’s own hair bound to a headband - with the hair worn at the back under beanies. Pretty amazing option to have a wig piece with your own hair - particularly if you have long beautiful hair! But that was different to what I liked about my fringe - with a small amount of hair framing the front of the face. It was also a much more expensive option ($500) and I heard the headband was thicker and hotter, and hair couldn’t be removed for washing the headband. The wig library staff had asked them to come up with a cheaper, lighter option but they hadn’t managed to come through with an option. “Maybe I can look into it” I told them.
As I developed the idea – seeking out ethical sources of human hair, researching importing special hair wefting sewing machines and classes to learn the skill, talking to manufacturers of machine wefted hair in Vietnam and India – I touched base with the wig library for more feedback and tips.
I came to realise that making the fringe even wider would hide the sides of the face, which are the biggest give-aways for hair loss. Making the fringe a little bit longer too would mean that people could frame their face with it, and cut it to their style. They could cut it into a blunt fringes/ “bangs”, if that was their style. Or wear it at the side as longer fringe.
I then realised my design could be adapted for wearing at the front or back (or with two pieces, both front and back). This is a truly unique and innovative product.
I've more recently found "beanies with hair" on Etsy - hurrah for more options! But then you're stuck with always the same beanie, and once again it's only for hair at the back.
I don't believe anyone else in the world is making a long side fringe for hair loss out of human hair.
It took a full year to get the business going. Conversations and meetings with Sustainable Salons (who collects, distributes and repurposes human hair from a network of salons in Australia and from the Ponytail Project), and the longest ever texting conversation on WhatsApp and experiments with my wonderful manufacture in Vietnam. Eventually we did it!
It’s what I see to be the perfect option, in seven beautiful colours – black, dark brown, light brown (undyed), honey blonde, platinum blonde, grey highlights, and strawberry/copper. Not too much choice – just the nicest colours in the nicest style, and with all the flexibility in the hands of the user.
I believe everything is a process in life, and that includes this design. I'm keen to keep improving it with feedback from users - so if you have any thoughts please do share them with me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you so much for reading my story, and sharing the word about this wonderful option for hair loss.