It made headlines everywhere—Ted Gibson and Jason Backe reopened their LA Salon, STARRING By Ted Gibson, despite the California mandate for "personal care businesses" to keep doors closed, taking a stand and advocating for fellow California salons. As expected, they were paid a visit from police and the Department of Health, given a citation and schooled on the rules. The co-owners give us the scoop on what went down and why they still choose to remain open.
What was the push that made you say, Yes, we’re reopening?
Jason Backe: When we started hearing buzz through social media, getting DMs from people talking about how there was a plan for California salons to all open together on the 17th, Ted and I were talking about it and we decided that this would be a really important thing for us to participate in. A lot of salons were already seeing clients, with paper over their windows and having people come in the back door, or going underground and going to clients' houses or having clients come to their houses. When we decided that we were going to do this, we wanted to do to it in a way that would be really loud and make a big noise and send a message to Mayor Garcetti and Governor Newsom that they need to be schooled on what it means to have a license in the state of California for barbering and cosmetology. So, we decided that this would really be about defiance and not about clients.
What was on your pros and cons list?
Ted Gibson: Since COVID and since Black Lives Matter, as a Black gay man in the United State of America, I had visions of George Floyd. I didn’t know what that would look like, if we went against the governor. My reservation was about being a minority and the police giving me a citation—what did that really mean for me, and how far would they take it? That really was at the front of my mind from the moment we had the discussion about opening up to the morning of going to the podium and giving the speech about opening salons up. That was something I had to really think about. I had a lot of conversations with Jason, Colleen [our publicist], and when I was in Texas for my mom’s 90th birthday I talked to her about it. At the end of the day, it was something I had to do.
Are you still open?
TG: We’re still open! They told us to shut down, but we didn’t. On Monday, we had a press event, and my client Jaime King came to the salon to get a haircut, because she’s getting ready to finish season 2 of her show Black Summer on Netflix. I had created the look for her earlier in the year for the show. Over the course of the day, after everyone had left the salon, we were cleaning up getting ready for the next day, and that’s when the Department of Consumer Affairs police and the woman from the Department of Health came.
JB: The officers were from the state, and the inspector was from the LA County Department of Health.
TG: They felt really bad, though—they were just doing their job. Being as lighthearted as we are, and being in our power, we were very matter of fact with them. We asked lots of questions and wanted to find out what exactly this means for us as a business. They disclosed some of that, but yesterday we had to have a call with the Department of Health and the supervisor of the woman who came to the salon. She needed to specifically tell us that we should not be open and to follow their guidelines. But we explained to her that we have a business to run and clients to see and a small business that we have to nurture.
JB: The biggest learn from that meeting was that we don’t have to let them in unless they have a warrant. So, for people who are looking into taking this stand with us, or have salons and barbershops that have opened, we should all know that.
TG: We are being advised by Fred Jones, [legal counsel] of the Professional Beauty Federation out of Sacramento, and our attorney, Mark Geragos, a civil rights attorney who is the most recognized and controversial attorney in the nation at the moment.
JB: We’re telling [the Professional Beauty Federation], We want to be open. And they’re telling us, If you decide to be open, these are the consequences that you could face and these are the challenges you could be up against. The information that they have is specific to the state of California. [Jones] is a lobbyist, so he’s not really about being a good neighbor or making friends—he’s about hitting people with a big stick to get their attention. That’s what we need right now. We are law-abiding to a fault when it comes to our business sometimes. The labor laws in California, about who can be a 1099 independent contractor, who can rent a chair, what it means to be commission versus hourly—all of those laws changed in January. We are 100 percent compliant with all those laws. We were 100 percent compliant with the first shut down. We were 100 percent compliant with the second shutdown. We started to think, Well, how can it get worse? We’re already $200,000 in the hole and took out 30-year loans to stay afloat, we already have this mounting rent for our personal space and for our professional space, and we don’t know how we’re ever going to pay it back. What’s another $1,000 fine for each of us slapped onto $200,000? We know we have a voice in our industry and that we have influence with consumers as well. We thought this was a great opportunity to use our platform and voice to represent our industry of barbers, hairdressers, spa techs, tattoo artists—all of us that have been shut down—and to make a really big, loud noise that Mayor Garcetti and Governor Newsom will see and hear and act on rather than just write citations.
TG: There are only 42 counties in the entire country where personal care businesses are shut down. Back in April, we were really disgusted because Governor Newsom said that COVID in California started in the nail salon. And we thought, What does that mean? Where did that information come from? Nail salons are predominantly owned by minorities, and the beauty industry is predominantly made up of women. So, W-T-F? What’s the deal?
JB: It’s the first time I felt that he was classifying our industry as dumb and dirty. That we’re not smart enough to handle the responsibly of the new regulations and we’re not clean enough to provide a safe environment. To me, it was like, this guy thinks that we’re super-spreaders. And there’s no science or facts behind any of that.
TG: They even came out with that information—there’s no evidence that salons are spreading COVID to anyone. The PBF did a survey on contact tracing, and out of 500,000 services and 7,000 salons, there were only 16 COVID cases—and they weren’t even sure that they came from a salon environment. I remember back in the beginning of COVID when they talked about the two hairdressers in Missouri that worked at Great Clips, and both had COVID and infected 140 people—that wasn’t the truth. They didn’t infect anybody, because everyone was wearing masks. And the media didn’t follow up on that.
Has the authority to shut down salons changed since COVID?
JB: That authority has shifted to the Department of Consumer Affairs, and their police division. We do know that we were the only people on Monday who got a citation. They told us that a salon owner made a complaint that we were open. It’s a little discouraging that a fellow salon owner would do that. But I think it’s a combination of that and the press conference we had where Inside Edition and ABC News were there [Laughs].
What’s your plan going forward?
JB: We’re open! We had one employee say, I’m up for this fight, and we have another employee who is afraid he’d lose his license, and he didn’t want to risk his livelihood and career. Ted and I were very upfront with the guys that we work with, that this is a decision that Ted and I are making and they are under zero obligation to participate. We fully respect both of their decisions. Everyone has to do what’s right for them. Salons that are papering windows or doing home visits—no judgment. People have to do what they have to do to save their business.
What’s your advice for California salon owners?
TG: My advice would be to look inside your heart for what’s going to be right for you. We aren’t here to make a statement that everyone has to do it. Everyone has to be comfortable. We know that salons and hairdressers and nail techs are licensed for this. We understand sanitization. We’re wearing masks, we’re not overbooking, we’re not having people waiting inside.
JB: I received some DMs that there will be another wave of people opening on September 1 in California. My recommendation would be if you have the confidence to do it and the risk-reward ratio is right for you, do it! And, if you’re going to do it, you need to be very prepared to be scrutinized. They are going to be looking at us. Every day, we expect someone to come to the door to give us a citation or to do an inspection. We’re not going to let them find anything to write us up about. If you’re going to break the law and open, you need to be extra diligent and vigilant about those procedures.