With a prescription for a wig in hand, Dianne Austin thought it would be easy to find one she could wear to work while she was undergoing chemotherapy.
“I didn’t want to wear a scarf, and I knew I only had two weeks from my first chemo to find a tightly coiled wig,” says Austin, who was working in human resources at a major Boston hospital at the time. It was seven years ago when she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer, and underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation.
But Austin soon found out that most hospital centers and medical hair loss clinics didn’t have wigs that catered to women of color. “I remember feeling frustrated and angry,” she says. “I didn’t think it would be a problem — I had no clue!”
For Austin, it was important that she didn’t look ill at work or draw attention to any changes in her hairstyle.
“I didn’t want to go from natural hair one day to a straight hair wig the next,” she explains.
The lack of wig variety fueled her interest in learning more. Austin and her sister, Pamela Shaddock, spent years researching the wig industry, and in 2019, they launched Coils to Locs to address this need.
The duo found a manufacturer to produce the wigs and had them tested to make sure they met quality standards. They started supplying coiled wigs to three hospitals in Boston. Before long, they realized the lack of coiled wigs was a problem beyond the Boston area.
“When my sister and I called hospitals around the country, we found that none of them carried coiled wigs,” Austin says.
While the pandemic slightly upended their expansion plans, they’ve since rebooted and begun pilot programs with 15 hospitals and medical hair loss salons in Boston and across the country.
“We wanted to get a sense of whether these locations would buy more wigs, and we learned that they’re very interested,” she says. “Now that we’re moving out of this proof-of-concept stage, we’re doing more aggressive outreach to targeted hospitals across the country to expand the wholesale side.” Wigs can also be purchased on the company’s website.
Ultimately, Austin, who is in remission and feeling great, hopes that every woman can find a wig that works for her — and access it easily.
“When I was going through my diagnosis, I was going through so much as it was,” says Austin, who is a member of the Pink and Black Education and Support Network in Boston, which holds panels and webinars to draw attention to health disparities for breast cancer outcomes. “I was afraid, especially when I learned that I was going to not only lose my hair but also about to be treated for an aggressive type of cancer,” she says.
One of the best parts of the business? The emails sent by women who have chemo-related hair loss as well as hair loss due to other health issues, such as lupus.
“We get so many that say ‘Thank you for thinking of us,’” she says. “It never occurred to me that I’d be doing this for a living because I didn’t even know there was an industry around prescription wigs, but I’m so glad I’m helping other women get the wigs they deserve.”