medical wig

Cancer Survivor Starts a Medical Wig Business That Caters to Black Cancer Patients

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For Black people, our hair is intrinsic to our identity—both culturally and individually. From fros to braids to wash n’ go’s, how we style our hair is fundamental to who we are, and the loss of it can be devastating.

Dianne Austin knows this better than most. In 2011, entrepreneur and founder of Coils to Locs, Dianne abandoned the years of relaxers she put in her hair and began the journey of growing out and learning to love her natural hair as it was.

medical wig
Coils to Locs cofounder and President Dianne Austin

The natural hair journey is a long and arduous one, filled with trial, error, and a lot of research to figure out what works best to keep Black hair healthy. To Black women, it’s more than just hair. It’s about self-discovery. Your hair becomes just as much a part of you as a limb.

In 2015, Dianne was diagnosed with breast cancer and discovered that with the tough treatments she’d have to undergo, she would lose both her hair and the identity she’d found with it. On her search to find a wig she could buy under her health insurance that would match her hair type, she was distraught to find out it didn’t exist, and if it did, she—and millions of other Black women struggling with hair loss—couldn’t find it.

“When I went to the hospital, I was being treated at to get a wig, I realized they didn’t have any coily or curly wig styles,” Dianne explained. “I went to some other major hospitals in the Boston area and found that those hospitals and boutiques didn’t carry wigs that looked like my hair at all. It was all just straight wigs or wavy wigs.”

Dianne learned that women with hair like her own had only one option: buy one of the straight wigs available under her health insurance and take it to another salon to have it styled to her desirability. This option forced her to pay out of pocket to retain a sense of identity.

The ratio between Black and white people diagnosed with cancer is virtually equal—so why don’t wigs represent both groups accurately? “It’s a disparity,” Dianne says and is the key reason she decided to team up with her sister, natural hair blogger Pamela Shaddock, to co-found Coils to Locs.

Medical wig
Dianne Austin (R) and Pamela Shaddock (L), co-founders of Coils to Locs –  Image: Andrea Seward

Coils to Locs, a supplier of medical, afro-textured wigs that cover kinky coils, tight curls, locs, and more, launched during the winter of 2019. The company currently operates out of multiple cancer treatment centers and medical hair loss boutiques across the United States with the hope to expand to more locations.

When asked about what makes medical wigs so important, Dianne remarks that it’s about more than vanity. Going through hair loss, whether it’s due to cancer treatments or a disorder such as alopecia, is conducive to trauma.

You lose your dignity, a sense of self, and for some women, you lose your femininity. A wig can remedy those feelings and provide a semblance of control over something you otherwise are unable to. A good wig can renew your connection to yourself and your community.

Dianne believes Black women deserve the chance to retain control over their appearance and beauty just as much as other women, and she hopes her wigs can give them that chance.

 

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