The heroine of hair loss
How wig specialist Therese Hughes has changed lives of dozens of ulster women
A chance to help out a customer who had cancer led Newry hairdresser Therese Hughes to discover her true vocation in life. The perfectionist in this remarkable business woman meant that only the best would do when her client, who was dealing with the trauma of losing her hair during chemotherapy, asked Therese if she could find her a wig.
“It was 12 years ago and when I looked at the wigs available I couldn’t believe how awful they were and how false,” said Therese.
“I thought there had to be better out there. I had a trip to London planned at the time and decided to look for something more realistic when I was there.”
It was a defining moment in Therese’s life, which was to change the course of her entire career.
Word of her sympathetic approach to helping cancer patients soon spread and within just a few months, Therese had turned the first floor of her Banbridge hairdressing salon into a wig boutique to meet demand.
Just a year later, she sold the successful salon she had opened when she was just 19, to devote herself to helping people with hair loss full-time.
Her first wig boutique, Tresses opened in her home town of Newry in 1998 and just last month Therese opened a second branch on Belfast’s Lisburn Road.
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The 48-year-old has scoured the globe for the very best quality hair pieces for her customers and regularly flies out to places as far flung as Thailand to see first hand how the wigs are made.
She has rolled her sleeves up and joined the specialists on the factory floor to learn the intricate craft so that she can adapt any piece to suit a client’s individual needs.
It’s a dedication that earned her an MBE from the Queen in the New Year’s Honours list last year, a gong that left this self-deprecating woman stunned.
“When you see what other people do, I honestly don’t think I have done anything special to deserve such an honour,” was her sincere reaction.
Therese’s attitude to her business gives an insight into the caring nature that she brings to her work.
She said: “I never thought of it merely as a means of making money but as a service.
“In those first few months, I found such a big difference dealing with someone who has cancer than an ordinary client who had
come in for a blow-dry.
“I realised that the fulfilment I got from doing the wigs meant so much more than running a hair salon.
“When I saw a woman who had come in to me distressed because of her hair loss, leaving with a smile on her face, I realised that’s what it is all about.”
Now a true expert in the field, Therese says there is no limit to what can be achieved for a client.
So up-to-date are the world’s best wig makers from whom she sources her stock, that within days of the latest celebrity hairstyle being splashed across the papers, wig versions are in the shop.
“We have Victoria Beckham’s sleek new short style, Jessica Simpson extensions and even Dolly Parton’s locks, which are popular,” said Therese.
“Wigs really have come on so much. The best ones are made from a material called cyber fibre, which doesn’t frizz and has all the same properties as human hair.
“They are available in such a variety of colours and styles and are so realistic that no one would ever guess that they are wigs.”
Prices start from just £120 for a basic hair piece and can go up to £2,000 for a top-of-the-range wig.
Regardless of price, Therese’s experience as a hair stylist means she can adapt any wig to suit.
She explains: “I know as soon as I see someone what colour and style will suit them best. I can cut and style any of the wigs to suit a person and if they want the same style they had before losing their hair, that can be done as well.”
Therese has even developed her own spe
cialist range of care products with a Tresses branded shampoo and oil spray to keep the wigs in tip top condition.
Men and women with naturally thinning hair also come to the shop for help and there are many others who simply want a daring new style as a one-off for a special occasion.
Cancer patients and people with alopecia make up the majority of her clientele.
Said Therese: “Most of the people who come to us after losing their hair through chemotherapy or alopecia, are devastated. It really is the worst thing that has happened to them, even more so than losing a breast or part of their bowel to cancer, as they look on that as something they can get over in the long term.
“Some people are in shock, others are nervous and some are even angry. Through experience I know from their body language when they walk through the door, how they are feeling and coping.
“They also come in with the idea that the wig is going to look awful and are amazed when they find one they like.
“We are used to clients coming in crying and going out happy. That’s what makes the job very rewarding for me and my team.”