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Women of courage

When Therese Hughes MBE began looking for a wig to help a customer, she little knew it would lead to a change of career and an honour from the Queen ...

When Therese Hughes MBE began looking for a wig to help a customer, she little knew it would lead to a change of career and an honour from the Queen. Lorraine Wylie went to meet her ...

Therese may be known for her beautifully crafted wigs and hairpieces, but it’s her unique customer services skills that, in 2008, earned her an MBE. It’s not every day that a businesswoman receives such an honour. Then again, Therese is no ordinary woman.

Although delighted with the award, she insists she hasn’t done anything special. Nevertheless, her customers believe otherwise. Within minutes of speaking with Therese, it’s obvious that going the extra miles is simply part of her journey through life.

Originally from Newry in Northern Ireland, Therese’s hair dressing career began when she was just 17.   Within two years she had opened her first salon and business was soon thriving.  Life continued in the same happy routine until the day a customer presented her with a challenge.

“A woman came to the salon and explained that she was being treated for cancer. She asked if I could help her with a wig, but when I saw the ones on offer, I was appalled. They looked so artificial and did nothing for a woman’s confidence. I just knew I had to help and so I made a wig for her myself.

“At the time, I’d no idea where it would lead. But, when the woman wore it to hospital, other patients saw it and soon orders came pouring in.”

At that point in her life, Therese was faced with a decision. She could either continue with her hairdressing business or sell up and open a wig boutique.

“As a Christian, I have a very strong faith and know that God has a purpose and a reason for everything that happens in my life. I gradually realised that God was opening a door for me. I believed I had his blessing and so I stepped out in faith and opened the boutique. In those early days I went to London to source the best hairpieces and chose styles I felt worked best.

“I learned the principles of wig making in Scotland, but although I can make a wig from scratch, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the current demand. Now, I continue to use only the best sources and am always in control, overseeing every aspect from start to finish.  My aim is to make sure my customer gets a comfortable piece and has a style that’s cut and shaped to suit her.  The business has been an incredible learning curve and has turned out to be the best job in the world!”

Many of Therese’s customers are suffering from cancer and undergoing the rigours of chemotherapy.

“My customers, some of whom are children, have a lot to deal with. For any woman, losing her hair is a terrible blow. I want to boost their morale and give them a little happiness. Some of them don’t have a lot of time left and I feel it a privilege to be able to help in some small way.”

Listening to Therese, it’s impossible to miss the dedication and care she gives to her customers.

“I believe that God has a reason for everything, even the bad times. I like to compare life to being in a dodgem car. Sometimes, you need a little knock to push you onto a better route. Of course, it doesn’t mean the knocks aren’t painful!
But, at the end of the day, it’s all for our good. No matter how bleak life seems, we all need a little bit of hope.”

While hair loss may be the condition common to all her customers, Therese knows that as individuals, each has a myriad of troubles. Like her wigs, her service is tailor-made as she tries to offer a more holistic approach to her work.

Situated on Belfast’s Lisburn Road, the shop is a hive of industry. Along with her staff, Therese is always on hand to offer some technical advice and support. Visitors are often treated to a hot cup of tea and a slice of humour or some homespun philosophy. When needed, a comforting hug is always on the menu. Molly, Therese’s little Shih Tzu dog is a familiar sight and brings her own brand of welcome with a friendly wag of the tail. On the whole, the place is known for its warm, convivial atmosphere.

“I view my work more as a service and try to support my customers in every way possible.  For any woman, losing her hair is a traumatic experience.  Sometimes it happens through alopecia or as a result of chemotherapy. Whatever the cause, the impact can be devastating. Having a good wig or hairpiece can make such a difference. For me, it’s just wonderful to feel that, in some small way, I can lighten their load.”

Along with immense job satisfaction, the nature of Therese’s work also brings heartache.

“Forming an emotional bond is inevitable. More often than not, my customers become friends and when tragedy strikes, as it sometimes does, it makes an impact, not just on me but on all my staff. It’s particularly difficult when a child is involved. Yet despite the heartache, I feel it an honour to get to meet some amazing and courageous individuals. Their faith is often an inspiration to me.

"At the end of the day, I know God led me to this work and, whatever the future holds, I know he will continue to guide me.”

+ Find out more about Therese’s work at www.wigs-ireland.ie

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