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Earlier in the year, we caught up with one of our partners in the beauty industry, LeSalon.
The space was heavily affected by the economic standstill caused by the pandemic, both because of the heavily self-employed workforce, and because the industry itself was shut down. We learned about how they coped as a business, how they were able to support their Salonettes and about the education gap when it comes to tax.
We connect freelance beauty therapists with customers who need beauty treatments in their home or office. We’ve been going for about 4 years now and in that time, we’ve helped hundreds of therapists become freelance and work for themselves through the app. We’ve also helped thousands of Londoners get beauty treatments that fit their schedule!
We started because when Jean-Michel, our founder, was working as a consultant, he had no time for anything. One day, he decided that he wanted to get a haircut at his house at a time that suited him, but he couldn’t find anything when he searched for it online. So then he went down this route of looking on the other side of the marketplace to see what the beauty industry had to offer. But again, there was nothing out there. That’s where the idea came from. LeSalon could be a product to provide a good route for beauty therapists, and to empower customers as well.
It’s a real mix. There are a lot who make the move from working in a salon to freelancing through us – and the reason that they do that is that working in a salon is a very intense job. It can be kind of like working in a factory line: back-to-back clients, working very fast and in an intense environment. That’s OK for a while, but therapists can earn more with a lot more control over their time by going freelance.
And when they do make that change, they can use LeSalon. We already have a big database of clients to whom we provide the tools that they need to go freelance. It enables them to do, say, two or three jobs per day and earn what they might have earned working a whole day at a salon.
In the UK, over half of the beauty industry is self-employed. 54% of hairdressers and 57% of beauticians are registered as self-employed according to 2019 Hair and Beauty Industry Statistics. But I would say that the majority of the industry is still physical in a salon, although it varies from service to service
There are all sorts of bad practices that go on, with human trafficking and underpaying wages being among the worst. I’ve interviewed tens and tens of our therapists now, and you hear that when they’ve just moved to the UK from, say, Italy, Greece etc., they were being paid something like £3 an hour. Now they’re earning anything up to £1000 a week so we can make a real difference in the industry in terms of empowerment.
There have actually been quite a few studies done on trafficking in the beauty industry, especially from Asia. We worked with the charity Unseen a couple of years ago on this, offering a special nail art design to our customers and donating the margin we made to Unseen.
Our founder Jean-Michel also contributed to a BBC article about the prevalence of trafficking in the beauty industry, which is worth a read.
When I speak to the therapists, it probably really comes down to:
I guess we are a gig economy platform, but the Salonettes wouldn’t describe themselves as gig workers. In their mind, they’re self-employed and they’re creating their own businesses. A lot of them work on multiple platforms and have their own private clients as well, so they’re quite empowered in terms of how and where they earn their money.
It was definitely very tough. A lot of people who work in the industry live month-to-month, and it ground to a halt overnight. To support them, we enabled our customers to buy credit to use on services after the lockdown, which we forwarded to the Salonettes to give them some up front support.
It was particularly hard for those who had just gone self-employed. They were the ones who really fell through the cracks. Anyone who had freelanced for a couple of years got support from the government, but for those who had just switched had no proof of earnings or anything else the government required. They found it particularly difficult.
In terms of long-term changes to the industry as a whole, it’s interesting because I think hygiene in the beauty industry was already very high. You’re constantly doing things like wearing disposable gloves while you’re working and consciously preventing cross-contamination. Any beauty qualification that you take will have those hygiene standards included. The only extra measures prompted by COVID-19 were that we did a lot more around people having to track their symptoms, both on the customer and Salonette side. We also added further PPE like masks and visors.
We have no idea how long this will be around for, but I think that for a while, this will be the setup.
For LeSalon itself, I think we’ll come out of it as a better company. We had to totally pause operations, but it did mean that we got around to all of these long term projects that we’d had on the backburner. The period has helped us to really crystalise our direction, developing software-based tools, for instance, to empower the Salonettes further to become self-employed beauticians. We’re also launching our blow dry service really soon so that’s pretty good.
I would say that there’s a very low level of tax awareness in the beauty industry. Our Salonettes come from a place of being experts in what they do, and they want to do things on their own terms. But really, they’re not coming at it from a business perspective. Often they’ve had zero business training, so they’re trying to figure out everything for themselves. Tax is confusing even if you’ve been on a business course, let alone if you haven’t, which I guess is why TaxScouts exists!
We realised that tax was a sticking point when we heard about one of our Salonettes getting fined by HMRC for not submitting their tax return. That led us down a rabbit hole and after speaking to quite a few of them, we realised that there was a wide-scale lack of knowledge around the topic. That’s eventually why we ended up working with you guys.
We have a big WhatsApp group with all of our Salonettes and I’ve seen a lot of chats where they’re talking about mileage or things that they can or can’t expense etc. Ultimately, it’s down to the individual but I think that as a platform, we do have a responsibility to educate our Salonettes when it comes to tax.
After all, we’re the ones bringing them on to become self-employed.
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