How These Latinas Kept the Beauty Industry Afloat in 2020

In early spring, hairstylist Ona Díaz-Santin found herself pondering how 5 Salon & Spa– the salon she fought so hard to build– could withstand a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Non-essential businesses in New Jersey were forced to close their doors as the coronavirus spread like wildfire in the eastern coast of the United States. Díaz-Santin had prepared for a busy year, as her platform grew with her appointment as Curl Expert and Educator for Bumble and Bumble. Instead, she and her employees packed their bags to remain at home indefinitely. 

“It was definitely not something we were prepared for,” she says. 

Díaz-Santin had a choice: adapt or close. She called a team meeting, where her 10+ employee workforce laid out the plan to survive the pandemic, pivoting to online consulting and training as their main source of income for months. They were in luck– Díaz-Santin is an experienced educator that has earned the nickname “The Hair Saint” for her detailed, fool-proof guidance, helping women navigate their journey into curly hair. 

This case is not an isolated one. The beauty services industry, as well as the beauty brands and retail stores, was hit hard in 2020, as lockdowns went into effect and people didn’t need the luxury of a good manicure anymore. Cosmetic sales were down by 25 percent in August 2020, although a study by McKinsey & Company shows the industry has been consistently resilient through several financial and social crises. But a pandemic? That’s still up for debate. 

Urban Decay General Manager Malena Higuera thinks the industry will be okay. As a cosmetics veteran, Higuera has a wide range of experience in markets like Asia and Europe, and has seen her fair share of ups and downs in cosmetic sales throughout the years. Some of the trends she foresees include a focus on online training and consultations, as well as diversified ways consumers can interact with the products with the help of technology. For example, brands like MAC let you try on lipsticks through an image-based tool. 

Higuera is also optimistic that people’s relationship with beauty is not bound to change as we transition into working from home and masks become a staple of our wardrobes. The emphasis on eye makeup versus lipstick is already a trend, flooding YouTube beauty tutorials with “mask-proof” makeup and a focus on ways to play-up eyeshadow looks. 

Her role as General Manager of Urban Decay also allows Higuera to pursue one of her passions: mentoring. As the pandemic and economic recession continue, she thinks it’s important for someone like her– a Cuban inside the beauty industry– to help out others who want to pursue a career in this field. In the before times, Higuera used to meet mentees at a coffee shop near her Manhattan office. But now, she’s gone digital, hosting a series of mentorship workshops called “Mentor Mondays.” “I want people to understand the value of mentorship in starting a career like this one,” she says. As unemployment soars, Higuera bets on the power of networking, creating a ladder-like flow to get more Latinas at the beauty table. “Right now, resilience is more critical than ever before,” she adds. 

Reinvention is also a word we can use to describe the pivots beauty experts have had to undergo in order to survive the pandemic doing what they love. New York-based manicurist Ami Vega, for example, started to make custom press-on nails in late spring 2020, using Instagram and Etsy to sell her products, which range from Bad Bunny nails to quirky french tips. Nail expert Maritza Paz, owner of D’Vine Nails in Barcelona, Spain, also had to pivot. As her celebrity clientele, which includes Rosalía, Karol G, and Nathy Peluso, lacked red carpets and events, Paz started to sell her own manicure and nail art products, as well as online workshops with her staff. 

By mid-2020, hair stylist Ona Díaz-Santin’s salon was back on, running with strict regulations and safety protocols. In the end, she adapted. “No one expected a 3 month closure, sickness, even death”, she wrote on her Instagram “It was hard on all of us but we are coming out stronger than ever before.

Frances Solá-Santiago

Born in Puerto Rico, based in New York City. She is the editor-in-chief on Emperifollá. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Glamour Magazine, Numéro, Refinery29, Remezcla, and Bustle.

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