Houston Cosmetologist Founds Nonprofit to “Make Hair Dreams Come True”
By Diane Tezeno
After having the chance to fulfill a promise to her dying sister, Christal Mercier, a Missouri City-area cosmetologist, is on a passionate quest to provide a solution for individuals experiencing traumatic hair loss.
A stylist for the past 30 years, Mercier tried several careers before applying to beauty school, where her talent in restoring damaged hair and providing total hair care management carved out a place for her in the industry.
“I always loved trying to make people’s hair complement them instead of taking away from their appearance,” says Mercier.
Signs of her gift were evident as early as the age of six when she began combing her own hair.
“I didn’t like the way my mother combed it and also combed my baby sister’s hair sometimes and remember helping some of my classmates pin their pigtails down when they would just stick straight out,” says Mercier.
She never imagined that her inborn gift for styling and maintaining hair would later have a major impact on the life of one of her sisters and lead to the formation of her own nonprofit, Hair Dreams by Christal, Inc.
One of 12 siblings, Mercier’s sister, Timothy McDade, had much to be proud of. Her beauty opened the door for her selection as a model with Ebony Fashion Fair, the world’s largest traveling fashion show featuring women of color and earned her the distinction as the first African American model to be featured on a New York billboard for Jordache Jeans.
After touring several years with the elite modeling troupe, her sister began to experience a more than normal rate of hair loss and attributed it to heat and chemical damage from her fast-paced, on-the-road lifestyle, but thought, in time, her hair would bounce back.
“I watched my sister go from being an Ebony Fashion Fair model and the first black to model Jordache jeans to an inward, depressed and very self-conscious person. She never wanted anyone to see her without hair. She was so embarrassed, even with our family,” says Mercier.
Sustaining a livelihood in an industry founded on image, her sister’s continued hair loss was both a personal and professional blow to her self-image.
The impact of hair on women’s self-image has been the topic of numerous books, including a recent book written by Rose Weiz.
Entitled Rapunzel’s Daughters: What Women’s Hair Tells Us About Women’s Lives, the book examines the significance of hair down through the ages, and also shares the results of a recent survey of hundreds of girls and women on the significance of hair, culturally, personally and in the workplace.
The book conveys the overall message that hair matters, for most women, and has an impact on a women’s identity and self esteem.
It is a message that Mercier’s sister didn’t have to read in a book to understand.
“My heart got sick because, she just got so depressed and down. You would think that it was something more than just hair that would make you hurt that badly, like health issues or something more traumatic than that.
But actually I found out through my sister that hair is just as traumatic as everything else. Like losing an arm or leg or any other type of ailment,” says Mercier.
In response to her sister’s traumatic hair loss, Mercier launched Hair Dreams by Christal, Inc., a 501(c)3 Missouri City-based nonprofit, to provide free non-surgical hair replacement systems to underprivileged women and children who suffer from extreme hair loss—long or short term—and unnatural hair loss beyond their control, including cancer, alopecia, lupus, burns, trichotillomania, female and male pattern baldness, and medication side effects triggering permanent hair loss.
A couple of years after her sister initially began losing her hair, the professional fashion model sustained another blow when diagnosed with breast cancer.
“We were all devastated to hear the news,” says Mercier.
Dealing with a life-threatening disease, coupled with continuing hair loss, her sister battled her cancer, and in the process of treatment, purchased a hair replacement system from a renown company in the industry.
“When I saw it, I said ‘that doesn’t even look natural, that doesn’t look right,'” says Mercier, who was motivated to develop a more natural-looking alternative for women dealing with hair loss.
“I said, ‘Lord you’ve got to let me learn how to do hair replacement systems, and make it look more natural.’ My personal motto is ‘you can be sick, but not look sick,’ ” says Mercier.
When that door of opportunity opened, Mercier walked through it and began training to learn how to apply hair replacement systems.
“My sister was always so much happier because no one could tell that it was not her hair any longer. It was important to me to make sure that my sister did not look sick, although she was very sick,” says Mercier.
Her sister referred two women she met at M.D Anderson who had lost their hair after chemotherapy treatment.
Mercier describes cringing when she saw the wig that one of the women was wearing before she replaced it with one of her custom-designed hair replacement systems.
“She would look with her eyes down, because she felt so bad. You don’t feel whole. It was like turning on a light switch,” shared Mercier of the woman’s transformation.
She is driven to turn that same “light switch” on for other women, as well as men and children suffering traumatic hair loss.
At one point the Houston hair stylist provided complimentary services and dipped into her own funds to provide the hair replacement systems for individuals in need.
One benefactor of her giving nature, an area fifth grade student, had begun to experience discipline problems in school in response to teasing from other kids.
“”You know kids are so cruel and I don’t like for kids to tease other kids. This little girl did everything she was supposed to and she had hair breakage to the point that it was something that the kids teased her about. She had no prior conduct problems and these kids gave her such a hard time, so I told them to bring her in the shop, we’ll fix her hair at no cost,” says Mercier.
Her goal is to make each of her hair replacement system clients feel secure.
“That’s why I make sure that all consultations and services are done in private setting. I remember how my sister felt, and I’m not here to embarrass anyone. I recognized the importance of self-esteem in a person’s everyday life. I just want to help, ” says Mercier.
Mercier is committed to sharing her gift with individuals from all backgrounds through her non-profit, Hair Dreams by Christal.
“Hair loss reaches across all social, racial and economical boundaries, it doesn’t pick and choose who it will affect,” Mercier says.
All monetary donations received through the organization are used to provide free hair replacement systems to qualifying clients and include attachments, monthly maintenance and quarterly removal, cleaning and reattachment for a full year. The cost to provide each system is $4,000.
One of the most troubling things for Mercier is having to turn away individuals who need her services, many of whom limit their social activities as a result of their hair loss, something her sister also had begun to do prior to her death.
“I don’t want them to stay inside because there is a life out here to live,” says Mercier.
The impact she was able to have on her sister’s life and outlook before she died remain the driving force behind her quest to secure funding to help others suffering traumatic hair loss, says Mercier.
“She had lost so much weight, her hair replacement system wasn’t fitting, and I’d always bring her to the shop with me, and just let her sit around so she wouldn’t be at home alone,” says Mercier said of her sister.
A few days before Mercier’s birthday, she remembers bringing her sister in for what would unknowingly be her last visit to the salon.
“It was Wednesday, I’ll never forget. It was not long before my birthday and I brought her to the shop and we just sat around and I said ‘I am going to do your hair replacement today because I’m not busy at all.’ So I took it off, cleaned it and cut it and we were just sitting there,” says Mercier.
“She said, sister you know that I’m going to die and I said, I know it,” shares Mercier.
After putting the final touches on her hair, Mercier describes her sister’s transformed outlook.
“She thought she was a diva again, and told me, ‘I’m ready to go now and you can call the ambulance,’ ” shares Mercier.
Four days later her sister lost her battle with cancer.
“She died on Sept 27, my birthday was Sept 25. I’m not saying that, she gets to say when she passes, but I believe that she held on until the 27th. That is something that I’m sure she didn’t’ want me to remember,” says Mercier.
Her sister’s death provides the impetus that pushes her forward.
“I made myself and my sister a promise that I would perfect the hair replacement systems to make them have a more natural appearance,” says Mercier.
“And it is a promise that I was able to keep.”
Hair Dreams by Christal, Inc.
Accepting monetary donatons, 100 percent tax-deductible and items for silent auction.
Call 877-499-9433 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.