The Wigmaker

When this Wall Street executive beat cancer, she ditched her six-figure salary and set up a wig company to help women like herself.

By Patti Greco
Photograph: iStock Photo

There’s no shortage of wig shops around the country, many selling famous brands at prices that range from $100 for basic acrylic to $7,000 for human hair. "But they’re trying to sell you what they have instead of what you need," Cohen says. So she developed what she calls the Mary Kay model: A client requests a wig and one of the seven Girl on the Go representatives visits her home to fit her with it — no fluorescent lights, no crowds, no rushed salesmen. "People turn to us because we understand what they’re going through," she says. "Plus, they connect with my story."

Before launching her company, Cohen spent almost a year researching the wig industry and looking for a manufacturer that sold quality products. "There are all kinds of cheap, horrible wigs out there," she says. "Those might be fine for making a Friday night fashion statement, but they won’t last a year." Cohen sampled hundreds of pieces from China, Korea, Belgium, Poland, New York, and Florida — spending about $6,000 along the way — and finally chose a Brooklyn-based manufacturer and wholesaler. Today she has two additional vendors that supply only what she needs. "I don’t want to buy in bulk, because I don’t want to be stuck having 20 blond wigs to unload," she says. She also has two New York freelancers who handcraft wigs for her. A wig knotted with human hair sells for about $3,600 through Girl on the Go; synthetic wigs start at $500.

With a manufacturer on board, Cohen had brochures printed by the thousands and mailed them to about 100 medical offices, hoping doctors would display them in their waiting rooms. "The response was pretty much zero," she says. "It was hugely disappointing." Some doctors didn’t want to be seen as endorsing Cohen’s products or held responsible for any defects in them; others objected to her prices. One director of a not-for-profit cancer center in Boston was especially discouraging. "She thought displaying our brochure in her lobby would be damaging to a woman’s soul because it’s not about what you look like on the outside, it’s about the strength you have on the inside," Cohen remembers. She finally got a break when her own oncologist, Linda Vahdat, MD, of Weill Cornell Medical College, agreed to place Girl on the Go brochures in her office. "We handed them out gingerly at first to see if the business got good feedback," Vahdat says. "We were amazed by the response."

Growing Her Company

Cohen stayed at her job for a year after starting her business. "I did my work at the bank, but I was no longer a star performer," she says. She’d whittled 12-hour days down to eight and spent her free time tending to her start-up. Sales didn’t quite reach $20,000 that year, not even enough to cover her more than $2,000 monthly rent. Nonetheless, Cohen quit her job, moved out of her apartment, and shuttled for two years among her sister’s house in New Jersey, her dad’s house in Albany, New York, and her now ex-boyfriend’s house in Boston. She lived on her savings.

Sales more than quadrupled in year two, and this year they’re projected to hit $250,000. Cohen plans to pay herself $18,000 and plow the rest back into the company, which now has representatives in five cities, including Albany and San Bernardino, California. For clients living in areas without reps, Cohen offers a service called Look Just Like You. Women send Cohen a hair swatch and a few pictures; Cohen sends them a wig to match their look. One woman, diagnosed with cancer for the third time, used the service before going to a friend’s wedding. "She was feeling fat and ugly from her medication and didn’t want to go wig shopping in public," Cohen says. As a thank-you, the client sent Cohen pictures of herself beaming at the reception.

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