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Supporting women with hair loss: Q&A with Sue Owen’s HeadsUp Kippax

Sue Owen is the founder and coordinator of HeadsUp Kippax Inc. Together with her lovely team of volunteers, they offer a supportive and welcoming one-on-one service for clients.

HeadsUp in Kippax has a large range of wigs, hats, turbans, scarves, and accessories that cater to ladies with short term, or permanent hair-loss. Everyone is welcome in their store, even ladies with no hair loss issues. 

According to the Australian Journal of General Practice, approximately 49% of women are affected by hair loss in their lives, the most common cause of female alopecia is female pattern hair loss (FPHL).

I spoke with Sue Owen to find out a little more about the HeadsUp not-for-profit charity organisation, and how they help women with hair-loss achieve confidence and support throughout their journey.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your HeadsUp charity organisation? What is it and how did the idea come about?

A: It came about when I had breast cancer myself. It started in 2005 when I had to have chemotherapy. While having treatment at Calvary Hospital, I started wearing headwear and teaching other patients how to tie headscarves. They always complimented me on how mine looked.

It was an opportunity for me to help them, and through that I started realising, ‘gosh, this is something that’s really needed’.

HeadsUp logo. Font is pink. Underneath it reads: Supporting women with hair loss.

That’s how the idea was born, and it got me through my horrible time in chemo. It took me about four years to start the charity. I had approached Calvary hospital to see if there could be a space where I could do something great. I wanted to help these ladies going through a similar situation, and Calvary thought it was a great idea.

So in 2010 on the 3rd of February, I started in a shared space with a volunteer manager at Calvary Hospital in Bruce. My very first oncology nurse was my volunteer with me. That was a wonderful support. It wasn’t long after when I had the launch on the 22nd of March.

We’ve been going nearly 10 years here at Kippax. We have a wide range of people who need us. So, yes, it was through my own desire I guess to help other women.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to have charities such as HeadsUp for women experiencing hair loss?

A: We provide a service where we give advice to the ladies on the different types of headwear and accessories.

It can be a time-consuming process. However, this is the new norm, to own a look and be confident despite any conditions. We provide customers with an experience that extends to a friendship where we can enjoy a chat and a cup of coffee.

Q: What services do you provide for clients suffering from short-term or permanent hair loss?

A: The main service we provide is one-on-one guidance, where people come in and get to try on our items. Luckily, I have quite an eye for details so I can see what suits every person best.

White ladder shelves with hair accessories. Two mannequin heads on top of shelf displaying a long blonde and brown wig.
Selection of wigs and accessories at HeadsUp in Kippax

People can come in at any time, or even text me or FaceTime me out of hours if they’re having trouble with a wig.

We can give clients a catalogue to take home. I know they can also pull it up on the website, and it’s often easy to browse from home while sitting in a chair or lying in bed.

We do have an online service so people can also order online. Although, when it comes to wigs and headwear in general, most people do want to try it on first.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about working with a range of clients that come in with different hair loss journeys?

A: Well, it is just knowing you’ve made a difference. And it is a joy. It’s why my girls keep coming back as volunteers each day. It is such a joy to do what we do and to know that we’ve made a difference in their lives. So it’s a great reward. It is an honour to be doing what I’m doing.

We girls often say that being volunteers, our biggest payment is knowing that we’ve absolutely changed someone from feeling anxious and concerned, to relaxed and happy.

The ladies with permanent alopecia find it hard to even step foot in the door because they’ve been suffering. Also, when ladies who are going through a health journey like cancer realise that they’re going to lose their hair, it’s a very tricky time.

But when these women see the standard of our wigs, especially when they realise that I’m wearing a wig and go, “Oh my gosh, it doesn’t even look like a wig!”

You shouldn’t know that someone’s wearing a wig. When you’ve got the right style, the right cut, the right shape and the right color tone to the skin.

Sue trying on caps & turbans with her lovely volunteer, Suzanne

Q: Could you please tell us what clients can expect when walking into HeadsUp?

A: Well, I think you nailed it when you walked in and said it’s warm and welcoming. You aren’t the first person to say that. A lot of people have said it.

Sometimes you’ve got husbands, they’re the ones in the family that usually can fix the problem. This time, they can’t. There are times where the husbands have come up to me quietly and said we came in for headwear, but we got so much more and given me a big hug.

So, you know you’ve made a difference, each time with all people.

Window display from inside the store of hats and a mannequin head with a short brown wig, next to mannequin hand displaying a necklace.
Window display (Photo by Sue Owens)
Q: As you have personal experiences with hair loss due to past breast cancer diagnosis, what makes it special for you to work with women going through something similar?

A: I think it’s about understanding the client. But the biggest thing is that as soon as they’re aware that you’ve lost your hair due to chemotherapy, they intuitively know that you’re a kindred spirit.

They know you can have family who are giving you lots of sympathy and love, make allowances and wanting to help you. But when you’re with someone else who’s been through what they’re going through, they realise, oh you get it, you get me. I think that’s why the shop works so well.

You know, I’ve sometimes said to people:

“The light at the end of the tunnel really will be fresh air. It won’t be the feeling of the train lights hurtling at you.”

Q: What stands out the most to you about your clients?

A: It really blows me away when some ladies have such a poor prognosis, but they really enjoy their time with us here and come back for more. I think it’s because they make friendships here, as well as knowing that they’re going to look fabulous.

Original photos by Elma Adilovic