By Julia Taliesin from The Somerville Journal
It all started when she used her mom’s mustache bleach to highlight her hair in fourth grade. After that, Somerville’s Christine McSheehy of Hair by Christine & Co. said a career in cosmetology was inevitable. In the decades since that inventive day, McSheehy has persevered through many setbacks to build a salon and stylist team that reflect her passion, activism, and community-centered values. A local Start
At 23, she had the opportunity to get her own little space — only about 320 square feet — on Somerville Avenue.“I invested my life savings into renovating the space just to hear six months later they were selling the building,” she said.
“That was step one.”But McSheehy was proactive, and found a place on the corner of Highland and Lowell, right down the street from Somerville High School, as a new home.
She tries to get up to SHS at least once a year to teach classes and speak with students about the business.“I never had to go to college — one part I believe so much in is if you want to be a hairdresser, there is no need to go to college because you’re putting yourself in debt for no reason,” she said. “It’s hard for young kids’ parents to understand that. I try to go up to SHS every year to teach some sort of class, and I always say, if any of your parents are pushing you to go to college and this is for you, I’ll sit down with them.”
She also employs students in the cosmetology program as front desk workers to give them a feel for what it’s like to work in a salon.
“I made some crazy mistakes in the beginning — I gave this guy the biggest bald spot,” she said. “So, I always make sure my girls are 100 percent confident before they’re on the floor.”
As she continued to build her team, the space at 290 Highland Ave. became available. Though she hadn’t planned on moving again, it was too good to pass up, and last summer she bought it. They have only been open there for two months, and McSheehy said it was totally worth it.
Living community values
Though McSheehy does this for the joy — and loves having a job she doesn’t dread — it’s about more than that.
“I’ve always had a passion for activism — when I was in high school it was still different to be gay, I had friends who dropped out because they were harassed, and I hate that — so, our first year when we opened I hung a pride flag outside my salon on Somerville Avenue for pride month,” she said. “I remember my husband saying, ‘Aren’t you afraid that will draw business away?’ And I said, ‘You’re so right, I’m going to put it up all year on the front door,’ because if that offends you, we are totally not the space for you.”
McSheehy wanted to use her powers for good.
“When I saw how much trans-people struggle in the world — I have the power to do hair and makeup and have somebody feel beautiful,” she said. “So, I started doing it for free for gender consultations when people come in.”
She went on Psychology Today and emailed every local counselor she could find who specialized in gender, as well as worked with Fenway Health to meet people and get the word out.
“I have one client who started with me at 13, and another client who transitioned at 70 — we just did extensions a few months ago and when I turned her around it was worth everything,” she said.
She also tries to meet her clients where they are.
“I’m coming in early on Thursday because little 11-year-old boy has issues getting haircuts — he needs to be in a non-stimulating environment — so I’m opening early for him,” she said.
Beyond working to create an inclusive salon environment, McSheehy coordinates with several causes on further outreach.
“We do hair for homeless women the Friday before Mother’s Day every year at the St. Francis House [shelter in Boston],” she said. “We do a hair-raising event for a Boston Children’s Hospital event for kids with cancer, we take donations for diapers — we are constantly looking for ways to give back.”
She also spends a great deal of time cultivating a team of personally and professionally fulfilled stylists.
“We don’t just play hair, we work our asses off to get to our goals,” she said. “It’s weird in this industry; you’re not seen as a professional. If you watch a movie with a hairdresser in it, she’s chomping on bubble gum and probably half-brained. I hate that stigma attached to hairdressers. So, I do a lot of businesses development classes to change that mindset.”
Team meetings, team building activities, and self-development are a big part of her business.
“I want to be a good leader; I want to figure out how to empower people to empower themselves,” she said. “I try to make sure we give back with our gifts we have, while we obviously we kill it in the hair game.”
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HAIR by Christine & Co
290 Highland Avenue
Somerville, MA 02145
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