By Denise Hollinhed St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Charlotte Beard finally found a hair stylist who knows what it's like to lose your hair.
Since 2006, Beard has suffered with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own hair follicles. She's gone to dermatologists, undergone treatments and worn various wigs but was never completely happy with the results. Then she saw an ad for Sherri Thomas' north St. Louis County salon, House of Raw Elegance.
After a consultation with Thomas, a cancer survivor who works to help women who have lost their hair to alopecia or cancer treatment, Beard emerged with a hair solution that satisfied her. The custom weave, sewn into Beard's own remaining hair, covers her bald patches.
"She is very good at what she does," Beard said. "She's a professional. She knows exactly what she is doing."
The hair salon is the culmination of a dream for Thomas.
She was featured in a 2010 Post-Dispatch story about her battle with cancer and her mission to create customized wigs for other women suffering from baldness. She began making wigs in her basement after struggling to find hairpieces for herself after treatment for brain cancer.
Thomas persevered through a second bout with cancer, chemotherapy and radiation treatments and opened her hair salon in 2012. She serves women and men there and provides cuts and hair styling, but also offers wigs and hair replacement. Thomas also will help customers with health insurance companies, which sometimes cover hair replacement.
"I needed to do something to keep my mind away from the cancer," Thomas said. "I decided that I wanted to continue on and donate to cancer patients by making them feel good and look good as well."
She also provides makeovers and each month offers a wig free of charge to a woman faced with baldness.
But the hair salon isn't the end for Thomas. She has applied for a patent on a better wig-making machine she worked on with a Boeing engineer. She noted problems with her wig equipment, came up with ideas for improvement and went to the engineer to develop the ideas.
They made the machine lighter and easier to handle, including a foot pedal to allow continuous sewing without having to reposition the wig constantly.
And she has linked up with Michael Francis, a local video producer, to pitch a reality show they want to call "Wigged Out," to help women who have lost their hair. Thomas hired Francis to create a tutorial on her weave technique, but he was so impressed he wants to take her work to a wider audience as a reality show.
Francis said some networks are hesitant to do shows that touch on cancer or illness, but he believes Thomas' work could be inspiring.
"We feel that an uplifting show which makes survivors look and feel better will help countless others transform their health mentally and physically," Francis said.
They said they have some interest from established production companies but no deal yet.