When Robyn Krebs first opened her own esthetics and nail business, Rebel Rebel Studio, it was a leap of faith.
Countless nights were spent staying up painting bright white walls and golden yellow floors. Countless hours were spent sitting over a computer trying to figure out an online booking system. And countless days were spent simply waiting. All of this led to the salon’s opening day — in the middle of an October snowstorm.
“It was that crazy snow storm we had in Calgary in October, it was insane,” Krebs said. “I was so upset, I had clients later in the day. So it was this weird day where I was worried that no one was even going to make it because it was so crazy to get here.”
The entire city had gone on standstill.
In the end, it was a success. Krebs recalls all her dedicated clients showing up, eager to see the new digs. The day was a blur.
“Then, at the end of the day, I was just kind of sitting down and said to myself, ‘Holy crap, you own a business,’” said Krebs.
That business was born out of an enthusiasm for esthetics and a desire to pave the way for a different kind of beauty. But, after being forced to shut down her business due to the novel coronavirus, she is finding it a struggle to run an independent esthetics business during the pandemic.
In retrospect, Krebs believes her interest in esthetics began when she was in high school back in her hometown. She would stay up all hours of the night once a week just to apply a fresh coat of nail polish, with all the funkiest designs her mind could muster.
“It probably started with things like Seventeen Magazine and having a subscription to that. Then when I went to high school, I did cosmetology. And so you start off doing a little bit of esthetics and then moving more into hair. But, mostly, I just got into painting my own nails. And I think it probably did just start with that and then slowly moved into the Internet at its beginning,” noted Krebs.
After starting a general studies degree at Mount Royal University, Krebs soon realized this was not the path for her and returned home to Millet, Alberta. That’s when she met someone who reinvigorated her passion for esthetics: a coworker at a cleaning job she had.
This coworker had worked in esthetics in Quebec but had issues with transferring her license. She shared her story with Krebs, who said this was the experience that first inspired her to go to school for esthetics.
“She said, ‘I think you’d be really good at it. You’re super caring… you obviously enjoy those kinds of things.’ And I had never really thought about it as an actual option, as a career.”
From there, she began researching top esthetics schools and going on tours to make sure she would be receiving top tier education. After finishing her training at the European Institute of Esthetics, Krebs began working at nail bars and boutique salons.
“Really what I found working in a lot of salons was that it is not a very diverse space, that sometimes it’s not a space in which everybody feels comfortable and welcome. And that was something I wanted to change,” said Krebs.
There were a number of issues Krebs experienced as an employee of major salons. This included sexism, racism, belittlement, and the list goes on.
“I did experience inappropriate comments being made. One of my coworkers, she was from Nepal, and the way this particular manager spoke to her was so inappropriate and very upsetting to see the way that she ended up being treated. That was one of the breaking points for me. I remember feeling so ashamed that I stood by and watched it happen the first time. A lot of it, I think, sometimes comes down to who ends up sometimes owning the places.”
This is why Krebs felt it was essential to open up her own business where she was in complete control – where her clients would have a one-on-one experience rather than the factory-models she saw throughout the city.
However, it had not even been a full year since opening her studio before Krebs was forced to shut down due to COVID-19.
“I remember feeling very nervous and scared because I could not live with myself if I put anyone’s health at risk. So I decided to close a little bit early,” Krebs recalled.
When Krebs shut down Rebel Rebel Studios before the city forced other salons to close, she questioned her decision. Those salons were still open and making money. After news of the City of Calgary shut down came, Krebs said she became more confident with her initial shut down date.
But that assurance did not last long. It was early on in lockdown that Krebs realized she had lost almost any opportunity to make a living in the coming months.
“It was really rough, like it was very rough for me. I kind of got to a point where I was just like, I’m going to have to just accept that, like I’m going to lose my business,” Krebs said.
Although the many struggles of lock down were a lot for Krebs and her business to handle, she also felt it was over just as fast as it started. By the time Krebs had found strategies to keep Rebel Rebel Studios alive throughout the pandemic, reopening was just around the corner.
“It was trying to think about how I could do it as safely as possible without making it this jail sentence,” said Krebs, “I still wanted it to be personal and fun, but safe … I got less and less anxious as time went on because I realized that everything that they want you to do, I already did because of the nature of the business.”
Being in the esthetics business, Krebs was already regularly sanitizing high-touch areas and disinfecting tools. She said the only thing that really changed was wearing a mask and sanitizing even more regularly. For example, rather than cleaning her payment machine at the end of the day, she was doing it in between every appointment.
None of this is to say that Krebs has made it through this whole ordeal unscathed. There are many changes for Rebel Rebel Studios on the horizon. These include a move to a new location as well as a reduction in services.
“I’m definitely hopeful. I’ve been really encouraged seeing how many of my clients are good at following rules and guidelines and trying to be as safe as possible. And I know we’ll all get through it.”