After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, Dianne Austin, the CEO, and co-founder of Coils to Locs had the idea to launch her own wig brand.
“The journey started with me trying to find a wig that looked like my tightly coiled curly kinky hair and using my health insurance to get reimbursed for that wig at different cancer center boutiques,” said Dianne. “I wasn’t able to find a wig that looked like my hair because these cancer center boutiques only carry straight hair wigs for patients to consider. And that was just really frustrating for me. I wanted to look as normal as possible.”
During her chemo, Dianne began investigating right away. Pamela Shaddock and she phoned boutiques at the best cancer hospitals in the country. They inquired as to whether they had any wigs for Black women that resembled her natural kinky coils. They would occasionally suggest her to other salons or merchants, but none of them possessed these wigs.
“These cancer center boutiques only carry straight hair wigs. And that was really frustrating. I wanted to look as normal as possible.”
Pamela flew in from Los Angeles, and the two went to beauty supply businesses in underserved regions, which Dianne described as “my only option.”
Her health insurance reimbursed her up to $350 for the wig through a reimbursement process that necessitated a documented invoice. However, she ran into complications later on because she couldn’t find a cancer facility that would sell her a wig.
“This is a part of a healthcare disparity,” Dianne said. “When you decide to go with a cancer center boutique and you get a wig, you’re brought into a private room, you’re meeting with a licensed cosmetologist. You can try on different wigs in privacy. No one has to see that you’ve lost your hair or you’re losing your hair. And they understand the process of reimbursement.”
In comparison, consider the beauty supply store. There are no private rooms where wigs can be tried on. “So when I asked ‘where can I try this wig on?’ my only choice was to try it on right there in the middle of the store floor,” Dianne said. One or two offered a bathroom or supply room. “And they all said, ‘Well, you can buy it. But if you don’t like it or it doesn’t fit, you can’t bring it back. It’s not refundable.’ The experience of women of color or, really, anyone who has this highly textured hair, who prefers these wigs, is less than optimal because you have to go a different route.”
Despite Dianne’s request for a formal invoice, Dianne purchased a wig and received only a registered receipt from the beauty supply store. She was never able to use her reimbursement benefit since her health insurance refused to recognize it.
Dianne grew her company to the point where her wigs can now be seen in hospitals throughout Massachusetts, as well as Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, and Washington. Coils to Locs is the first company to sell coiled wigs in cancer hospitals and medical salons on a large scale. Her dream is for every woman who wants a medical wig to look like her own natural hair to be able to have one. She wants her wigs to be available at every cancer facility in the country.
According to the American Cancer Society, one in every three Black women would be diagnosed with cancer throughout their lifetime, “and a large part of that population is wearing their hair now,” Dianne noted.
“The racial reckoning that we’ve been experiencing in terms of peeling back the layers of bringing light to systemic racism and other issues in this country that started, unfortunately, due to George Floyd’s death, have brought a higher level of awareness,” she added. “Now people are more receptive. We don’t get a lot of resistance when we reach out to hospitals.”