Nell’s Wigs & Boutique is what you get when you combine a self-described introvert who has a background in theater and cosmetology with a flair for hair, and add compassion for women who are undergoing some of the most traumatic experiences of their lives.
Stacey Nellen-Kolze opened Nell’s Wigs & Boutique in 2007, with help and guidance from Urban Hope’s E-Hub program and UW Green Bay’s Small Business Development Center. The small Allouez shop specializes in hair substitutes and prosthetic garments for women who have had breast cancer and hair loss related to chemotherapy for cancer treatment.
Nellen-Kolze majored in technical theater at UW Green Bay and toured with the Broadway production of the Sound of Music for several years doing hair and makeup with her then-future husband, Dean.
She serves on the planning committee for Prevea’s Runway for Life and the board of directors for The Ribbon of Hope Foundation. She was recently among four UW Green Bay alumni honored for their achievements.
What’s your background?
I have a technical theater degree and started out as a lighting designer. I wanted to travel with my (future husband), who was also in the lighting part of it and was already traveling with a band. I really enjoyed doing hair, so I went and got my cosmetology degree after graduating from UWGB and got state licensed for Wisconsin. Then I got picked up for my first tour.
I started doing hair and makeup on the road and at various salons whenever I wasn’t on the road. Then in 2005, my husband and I decided to stop touring. He got a great job offer here in Green Bay. A couple years later, I wanted to go back to the salon and thought I knew enough about hair and wigs that I could start working with the wig side of it – and ventured into what now Nell’s Wigs & Boutique. That was March 2007.
How did you start the business?
I started at Transitions Family Haircare on West Mason Street (in Green Bay) and slowly started building my business one wig at a time, one guest at a time. Within a couple years I figured out that I needed a private space, so I started renting from the salon owners. They had a lower level that they transformed into a nice little studio.
After a couple years, I realized I couldn’t do it on my own and wanted to add into my business plan the mastectomy bra fittings, prostheses and such, just because it’s such a service that goes hand in hand with what we do on the wig side of it.
How did you go from lighting to hair?
The transition came from working at the Weidner Center. In college, we as students were able to run across the street and help out with whatever show that needed it, and one day they needed someone on hair. I said ‘I know how to braid; I could probably help out with that.’ It was just a whole new world and a fun challenge.
What’s unique about Nell’s?
We give women a little bit more intimate setting and a little bit more comfortable setting than going to a durable medical equipment center that carries wheel chairs and such. We just started building that side of the business (garments and breast prostheses) in conjunction with the wig side and hired a couple of fantastic women to help me with that.
What inspired you to get into wigs?
I knew how to work with wigs, manipulate them and style them to fit women, and I just had a passion for women who needed help versus just coming in for a fashion wig for a different look that week. I want to help women out who need it and aren’t feeling well and who don’t have hair. They have a completely different journey. It brings more of a compassion side to the wig business, with cancer. That’s where I started building my business, just word of mouth. I really didn’t advertise a lot, just through the guests that had come through and who I’d worked with.
What does it do for a woman’s self image?
It’s such a transformation. What I see from our guests is they can be strong going through all of their treatments – they know they’re not going to feel well – but it’s that first day they start losing their hair that breaks them.
And it’s not like one day you wake up and you’re bald, it’s unfortunately a long journey where you have four, five, six days where your hair is just falling out and falling out rapidly. You have no way to control it. I personally would think that would be just devastating, because that’s who you are. You look in the mirror and you see your beautiful face and you also see that you don’t have hair. I think that’s just our identity as women.
Men can be bald and be totally awesome, whereas it’s harder for a woman because it’s our identity.
Can people tell it’s a wig?
We try to match up exactly what style and color they have, and gosh, we get pretty darn close. To the point where a lot of doctors and nurses and even family members and coworkers don’t even know they’ve lost their hair. I can’t even tell you how many women come in and tell me their doctor said “I’m so glad you haven’t lost your hair,” and the woman is like, “What are you talking about? This is a wig.”
There are so many women who go to work and their coworkers know what they’re going through but they just don’t want them to see what they’re going through. They want to kind of hide it and cover it up. It helps them feel more normal. That’s the rewarding part of it – our guests can come in and feel like themselves when they leave.
What challenges does your work present?
We meet women at their worst point. So many women don’t want to go through with it, and this is just like the final straw – they don’t want to lose their hair. The challenge is just trying to help them through this the best way we can. The other challenge is I try not to read the obituaries.
Eighty percent of our clientele is undergoing cancer. I don’t like to talk about that side of it. But the challenge is helping them through and helping them feel good.