Innovative L-A Stopa replaces hair and restores confidence Laura-Aurora Stopa is passionate about hair, but not in the way you might expect. The Northern Kentucky resident is a fearless ally for women who struggle with medical hair loss and offers personalized support through her mobile wig shop, L-A’s Wig Out. In addition to tangible services like providing education and selling wigs, her business fosters confidence and encouragement among women in the hair-loss community from someone who knows exactly what they’re going through. Living with Alopecia pre bonded hairLaura-Aurora Stopa — who prefers the nickname “L-A” — suffers from the condition Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks hair proteins and, although not a deadly condition, leads to baldness. Although she was born with a bald spot, Stopa eventually grew a full head of hair. So she wasn’t sure there was a problem until she started losing patches of hair in her twenties. Most women take their full head of hair for granted, and hair is often seen as a status symbol and necessary attribute of femininity. So for women suffering from hair loss, the struggle can be a serious blow to their confidence and self-esteem. For girls and young women who are already at a vulnerable age, it can be particularly difficult to imagine their future without hair. Stopa’s early years with Alopecia were hard, as they would be for any young woman. But the diagnosis didn’t crush her, and she grew into a confident woman, hair or no hair. “Once I got through my teens and my twenties,” Stopa says, “I got married to someone fabulous who loved me, so I had somebody who loved me whether I had hair or not.” But even as confident as she was, navigating the world of hair loss left Stopa feeling powerless and alone. She remembers shopping for her first wig and how strange it seemed to be buying it from a woman who, though kind and helpful, had a whole head of natural hair. And when she tried it, buying wigs online and learning to take care of them on her own was overwhelming.
It was such a personal purchase being made with so little personal care. It look a long time for Stopa to get into the wig business, but she’s loved wigs since the beginning. Like a pair of eyeglasses or shoes, she enjoyed matching her wig to her outfit. “I actually kinda turned wigs into a fashion statement and so my signature thing was that I’d always wear a different wig and sometimes they were really crazy,” she says. remy hair extensionsAfter college, in the ’90s, Stopa and her husband lived in Ann Arbor, Mich., and then Kansas City. During that time, she worked as a Sports Massage Therapist and grew more confident and comfortable in an environment where she was accepted with or without her wigs. But when she moved to Northern Kentucky in 2006, the climate was different. She entered a culture and work environment that demanded a more consistent, professional appearance. “All of the sudden I felt a little insecure,” she remembers, “because it wasn’t OK for me to go without my wig and I didn’t feel comfortable being who I was — the Alopecian who switches her wigs every day.” In every other place she’d lived, Stopa had participated in Alopecia support groups. But when she searched locally, she found only a single local representative with the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) who didn’t return her repeat calls. So Stopa signed on to become a local support rep with NAAF, leading support groups and becoming a telephone contact for people looking for support. She participated in training and even attended a national conference, where she sat in on focus groups about Alopecia in the workplace and how it affects professional women. “There’s never a specific policy about wigs, about whether you can wear hair at work, but there is a stigma if a woman is bald by choice, especially in a position where she is public-facing,” Stopa says. “They estimate that 2-5 percent of the population has Alopecia, so that’s a lot of people. … “So what do all these women do as they’re getting comfortable with the idea that they are no longer the woman that they remember and they don’t have hair? It’s very hard. That’s why I think it’s important to have support.”
Finding support in an unlikely place Being a bald woman in the workplace was sometimes difficult, but it didn’t stop Stopa from building a fulfilling professional career. She spent her first few years in Northern Kentucky working in publishing. In 2013, she took a position as the Director of Membership for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which was a perfect fit for someone with such a dynamic, outgoing personality. She was responsible for managing relationships with and connecting services to Northern Kentucky business owners, and for much of her tenure there many of the members and some coworkers never even knew she was wearing a wig. perruques cheveux naturelsShe remembers a time, early on at the Chamber of Commerce, when she had a little bit of hair that she wore in a short, bleached fauxhawk. That alone was a stretch in a work environment that valued a professional appearance. But her Alopecia flared up and, with so little hair to spare, she was preparing to shave her head over the weekend. It was be going to be obvious, she warned her boss, when she showed up wearing a wig the next Monday morning. She didn’t want it to cause any problems. In the end, the support she found with co-workers and employers was a pleasant surprise. When she left her position in December 2015 to pursue launching L-A’s Wig-Out, they threw her a surprise party complete with a room full of co-workers in flamboyant wigs. “It was really nice because the business community and my co-workers in this really conservative environment were working with me and were willing to laugh with me and acknowledge what I was doing and why it was important,” she remembers. “For someone who’s starting a wig business, that was a great send-off.” Wig out with L-A Stopa started her business in March 2015, but it’s not an average wig shop. Wig-Out is a “mobile hair loss support and wig service,” which means that, for a nominal consultation fee, Stopa pays a personal visit to her customers. She educates them about wigs, about how they’re made and how to navigate the available options. She sells wigs to those interested. And she gives pro tips about how to care for and wear them. The goal is for the women to feel “fabulous” with or without hair. Stopa’s Wig-Out customers are all different. Some are comfortable with their hair loss, but many are self-conscious. Some want their consultation done in private; some invite friends and family to join the fun. Regardless, she caters her treatment to their needs and their desires. And she always shows up to their house without her wig. During the consultation, she is always the first to show her bald head and the first to try on a wig.
She wants these women to know that they aren’t alone. “I want it to be completely equal ground,” she says. One of Stopa’s customers, Jan A. from Anderson Township, suffers from several autoimmune diseases that, coupled with steroid treatments, have left her hairless. She was thankful for the personal and discreet nature of Stopa’s business. “L-A has a special gift for relating to and understanding the emotional distress that hair loss presents for women,” Jan says. “She offers customers the personal service of being able to try on wigs in the privacy of their own homes or at a party with friends. Even admitting that you feel you need a wig can be embarrassing. Often women don’t know where to go to buy one, or they’re too embarrassed to go to a store. L-A makes the experience non-threatening, and in fact she makes it quite fun.” perruques cheveuxAnother customer, Gerry Lockhart, noticed Stopa listed as a consultant on a wig website and contacted her for a consultation. Her hair loss is due to dermatitis of the scalp, and L-A’s Wig-Out has helped her face life without her “crowning glory.” “L-A comes to you with a joyful, pleasant experience that you may not be expecting,” Lockhart says. “She is a fun, understanding person, always positive.” Not every woman who calls Stopa for a consultation has medical hair loss. Some women are dealing with thinning hair, unmanageable hair or otherwise frustrating situations. Donna Salyers of Villa Hills knew Stopa for a year or two through the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce before she even knew Stopa wore a wig. Salyers eventually became a loyal customer, but her situation is different than most — she bought a wig to make her life easier. “It’s not so much experiencing hair loss,” Salyers says. “Rather it’s a matter of the time and effort it takes to make my hair look good. I have a busy life with a full-time job, tons of business travel plus family and friends. I’d much rather focus on life than my hair. … “Traveling without all the hair products, rollers, etc. is just the beginning. I’m ready for work in minutes, side-stepping the 45 minutes drying time my own hair requires. I can work out, walk through a blizzard or jump out of the pool and be ready almost instantly. And it’s because of L-A! Love that gal.” Balancing business and service
In the year since Wig-Out was officially incorporated, Stopa has provided her consultation and wig services to about 75 women in the area. She continues to serve as a NAAF Regional Support Group Leader, as well, volunteering to provide support in other ways. The most fulfilling part of her NAAF role, she says, is the help she provides for girls and young women facing hair loss. lace front wigsIt doesn’t take more than a quick meeting to know that Stopa is confident with her identity and with her Alopecia. When she meets a young girl struggling to find that same confidence, the attitude is infectious. She is the kind of woman any girl would want on her side, and she’s happy to serve in that role. Stopa is cultivating a life of service other other ways, too. She sits on Board for the DCCH Center for Children and Families, while she and her husband are faithful supporters of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. And a few years back she began donating gently used wigs and providing consultation services to the nonprofit Be Concerned, which serves women in need. Stopa’s future is focused on investing in others and in her business. To supplement the income from Wig-Out and to continue to serve the community, she recently took a position working with Brighton Center’s Center for Employment Training, where she had previously volunteered.
She’s hoping the next season of her life brings balance between her commitment to service and her business saavy so that her customers walk away happy and her business succeeds. Stopa knows that being in the wig business can seem superficial. “It’s only hair, right?” she jokes. cosplay wigsShe understands that, for those who have never dealt with hair loss, it seems inconsequential or frivolous. But women experiencing hair loss fear losing much more than just their hair, and Stopa knows the feeling. Stopa knows what a difference a wig can make. For the women she serves, her friendly, understanding consultation and help purchasing a great-looking wig can mean the difference between a woman who may never feel like herself again and a woman who has the confidence to face the world — with or without hair.