Stephanie Barber, 30, from Devon, developed alopecia following the death of her father when she was 15. She’s now a successful entrepreneur, designing her own wigs and helping other women with hair loss.
Growing up, I was very driven. I had so many goals and aspirations and I did both dance and sport at a competitive level. Then, as a teenager, several much loved family members passed away. My dad had eight siblings and it got to the point where we'd only visit family for a funeral.
When I was 15, my dad became terminally ill with a lung condition and, a few months later, he passed away. Dad was the foundation of our family, the one who supported me with all my ambitions and, when he died, it hit me very hard. I’d stay in bed because I couldn't deal with the reality. I was incredibly sad and became so depressed that I felt suicidal.
My mum was concerned and noticed that my hair was gradually thinning. I didn’t realise because my mind was so cloudy, and she didn’t want to add any more worry for me, so she didn't even mention it at the time.
By the time I was 18, I noticed the changes myself. I used to have lovely thick hair and it was such a shock. I spoke to my mum who told me she’d been noticing it for a while, and she took me to see the GP.
He said, "Think of it as like a man who starts losing their hair as they grow older – that's what you have, it's called non-scarring alopecia."
Being a young girl, it was devastating, and the way he talked about it was so insensitive. My mind went to all kinds of places, worrying, "What’s going to happen to me? Am I going to lose my hair on the top like men do when they go bald?"
By the age of 18, I really noticed the changes. I used to have lovely thick hair and it was such a shock.
At 19, I got pregnant and my hair grew back – it was the best it had ever looked, so I decided, 'Okay, everything's fine, it must have been stress-related after my dad’s passing.'
Hair falling out in clumps
Shockingly, a year after giving birth to my daughter and adjusting to life as a single mother, my hair suddenly started to come out in clumps. I wanted the world to swallow me up, it was like a horror movie. I could actually pull it out in chunks.
I wanted the world to swallow me up, it was like a horror movie. I could actually pull it out in chunks.
All I had was the doctor's voice in my head saying I was going to have hair like an ageing man, and I was really scared. I worried if I had a more serious health condition too. I’ve had so much illness and death in my family, I felt immediately anxious, but I put my head in the sand. I couldn't face seeing a doctor and I found myself in a dark place again. In fact, it took me until two years ago, at the age of 28, to finally see a doctor again and a dermatologist who diagnosed me with alopecia areata.
When my hair was falling out, I talked to my mum and my now fiancé, who I met when my daughter was a baby – he was immensely supportive and could see how devastating it was for me. He reassured me that regardless of whether I had hair or not, I was beautiful, and told me there was more to me than just hair.
I tried every product on the market to get my hair to grow back, but nothing worked, so I hid away at home and only close family members knew, no one else. I was so embarrassed, I avoided seeing anyone.
Shaving my hair
Day by day, more hair was coming out and I felt I was losing my identity. It got to the point where I broke down because I had no control over it. I was trying to stay strong for my baby daughter but my emotions were everywhere, and I decided to get a razor and shave whatever hair was left. We were at the beginning of our relationship, but my fiancé was there with me when I did it, and it never bothered him.
I was trying to stay strong for my baby daughter but my emotions were everywhere. I decided to get a razor and shave the rest of my hair off.
I’d spend hours researching wigs online when my daughter was in bed and was introduced to human hair wigs that look very natural. I cried happy tears when I got my first one. I felt hope for the first time and was able to leave the house again.
My fiancé said, "Have you thought about setting up an Instagram page where you reach out to others who might be in your shoes?" I wasn’t sure. I thought, 'Who would care and what if someone says something nasty?' but I made the bold move and posted my first bald photo.
It was scary as not even my friends knew about my hair loss because I’d hidden away from everyone – but they were kind and supportive, saying, "How did I not know about this?"
I was surprised how many people engaged with that post, and it gave me a big confidence boost.
Supporting others with alopecia
The more Instagram posts I did, the more people engaged and I’d get women all over the world saying I’d helped them. There were heavy messages saying, 'I was considering killing myself with how this has affected me but, because of you, I feel empowered, thank you.'
I live in a small town, Totnes in Devon, and it had all felt so lonely, but this opened up a new world. I can honestly say that connecting with these women has saved me. I felt like I found myself again.
I got messages from other women with alopecia saying, 'I was considering killing myself... but, because of you, I feel empowered, thank you.'
Brands started asking me to review their wigs on Instagram and I learned so much about different constructions and hair qualities that my fiancé suggested I start my own wig brand.
I had to sell a lot of my own wigs to fund the business set-up. It was hard to let them go but I knew there was something bigger and better – and it made me realise that there was a demand because they sold so quickly.
My business Baldy Lox Boutique was born and my fiancé helped with the finances while I did everything from designing the wig boxes to the website.
Going viral on TikTok
My first sale was from someone who'd followed me from the start, and it was an amazing experience, from the process of customising her wig to her sending lovely feedback.
I then made a video that went viral on Instagram and Tiktok. It was seen by around four million, showcasing the wig cap construction – people were just like, 'What is this sorcery?'
On the back of that, women from all walks of life, from those transitioning gender, to people with alopecia and cancer and burns victims, got in touch and the orders flew in.
I’ve even started designing wigs for famous people. A hair stylist asked if we could collaborate and I did singer Becky Hill’s wig for the cover of Attitude – it was 1990s Cindy Crawford-style supermodel glam, and I made wigs that looked like she’d just walked out of the salon with a full blow-out. Becky said she’d like me to design wigs for shows and music videos, and I’ve also customised wigs for AJ Odudu on the new series of Big Brother.
I'll never forget when a burns victim got in touch, and I was able to create a wig for her. We got to know each other, had a cry and I wanted to be there for her.
But it’s helping people that is the most rewarding. So many clients have become friends and even invited me to their weddings. I'll never forget when a burns victim got in touch, and I was able to create a wig for her. We got to know each other, had a cry and I wanted to be there for her and build her confidence.
I’ve also made wigs for a woman with terminal cancer and I get so emotional talking about it, but she is going to die soon and she wants to look beautiful in her coffin.
It's having that personal approach and, being a woman with a health condition myself, I know what works, what looks natural and what looks 'wiggy'. I also understand that women with alopecia will never have that salon pampering experience, so this is a way to experience luxury in your own home.
Looking back on my struggles, I’d say thank you to my younger self. If it wasn't for everything I experienced, I wouldn’t be here doing this right now. I’d tell her, "It's going to be okay. You’re feeling so low right now but, in a couple of years, you’ll be helping so many women all over the world. Just keep going."
Visit Baldyloxboutique.com to find out more.