Inspire rochester women
Sherry Schaefer Owner, Alternative Hair
By ashley cooper | Photos by zoe gemelli
Facing the prospect of losing one’s own hair is sobering for most women, but for Sherry Schaefer, an established Rochester stylist, the loss proved to be a staggering blow…
Upon entering her 40’s, Schaefer’s co-workers at a top Monroe Avenue salon began to notice she was losing gaps of hair in the nape of her neck. While applying make-up one morning, Schaefer herself was startled to see that almost overnight, her hairline had receded by nearly an inch. She was eventually diagnosed with the autoimmune disease known as, “alopecia areata” in which the body recognizes hair as foreign invader and rejects it. The skin condition affects roughly 2% of the population, and at varying levels of severity. “It was a devastating diagnosis,” Schaefer recalled. “For me, as a hairdresser, surrounded by hair all day every day, I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Schaefer tapped into the local wig suppliers without much success. Resorting to ordering a wig from a catalog, Schaefer selected a design from what would eventually become her favorite product line: Rene of Paris. Because of her profession, she was able to purchase several wigs at a wholesale cost. In the plethora of the manufactures’ selection, Schaefer was determined to find a wig that resembled her own hair as closely as possible. “As I became more accepting of my condition, I started to have fun with it,” said Schaefer, fondly recalling the shock of her clientele when she approached them one day in a short, blonde wig—quite a step apart from the familiarity of her long auburn locks. “Every now and then, when I feel a little daring, I will play around with it. But when I look in the mirror, I just want to see me, not another version of me.” On New Year’s Eve 1999, Schaefer quietly went into the bathroom with a glass of wine and shaved what remained of her own hair. After nine months, Schaefer’s hair started growing back—not uncommon for patients with alopecia areata. However, after giving birth to her daughter Olivia, Schaefer relapsed into a postpartum version of her previous condition. This time, the disease proved to be severe, and Schaefer returned to her wig collection. It was at this time when others began to approach her about purchasing a wig of their own. In 2004, Schaefer officially filed the “DBA” for “Alternative Hair”-the title of her home-based supply in Penfield. As Schaefer’s inventory grew, she began getting referrals from local cancer support centers. Among her range of clients are women (near and far!) who are imminently losing their hair as a result of chemotherapy, pre-menopausal women who have thinning hair and are in search of an appropriate hair piece, or “topper,” and women diagnosed, like Schaefer, with alopecia areata. Schafer quickly realized that her in-home shop was destined for a greater purpose; she was not merely running a wig supply, she was invested in a lifelong ministry. (continued on page 60)
rochesterWomanMag.com :: april 2013
Our April issue celebrates women entrepreners in Rochester and features Joan Lincoln of Panache Vintage and Finer Consignment.