By Heather Buchanan, Contributing Editor
“I’m in my backyard right now.”
Not the first guess for where to find a master wigmaker during the afternoon. After hearing the warm contentment in his voice over the phone, however, one would not be surprised after all.
Thus was my time spent interviewing Leo Brown, Hairdresser and CEO of Do Hair Biz Manufacturers in Flatbush. Leo and his partner, Jeffrey, have been in the midst of celebrating their one-year anniversary on Nostrand Avenue. Leo has had a celebrated career, working with the top retailers, Broadway shows and fashion houses in the world. His first big break was the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Shortly after that, there was New York Fashion Week, then European Fashion Week…Leo has worked for the Great Houses: Gaultier, Chanel, Christian Dior, Lalique. But when we talked, Leo was in his garden, his comfy retreat on Nostrand Avenue.
He was feeling very good about how the day had started.
“I actually replaced a wig this morning,” he said excitedly. “She’s been my client for over 25 years.” The first thought that most people would have is: Well, yes, of course it feels great to provide quality service to a long-time client, but what’s so special about this morning? It turns out that with Leo, every time is the first time.
Leo, a master wigmaker, does more than provide a service—he changes lives. Specializing in hair loss issues, Leo supplies wigs for clients suffering from all types of medical and hereditary conditions, as well as cancer patients going through chemotherapy. He has studied the psychological effects of hair loss and understands the stigma and trauma it causes his clients. I asked about his long-term client from this morning, the experiences working with her, replacing her “system” time and again.
“As with all my clients, I’m actually a little nervous,” Leo admitted. “The client is my boss. When I show her the mirror, it’s so important for me to hear ‘Well done.’” His approach is very systematic, but more importantly, very compassionate:
“Every time I replace a system, I never allow her [the client] to look at herself without her hair. I understand humans and their psychological well-being. In the chair, I bring that person to a level of comfort. No judgment. I do a consultation. I remove a hat, a scarf. They look into my eyes first. When they look at me, I want them to feel like, ‘I’m good.’ When a woman sits in my chair, I get her vulnerability. I see a woman stripped of everything she portrays to the world. For the woman who does not have a choice, we work even harder. As long as I have breath in my body, I don’t want her to think about her not having her own hair. That’s what I work off of. It feeds me, creating an illusion for a woman.”
At one point, Leo had to pause. “When I talk about it, I have to contain myself,” he said. “To work with hair-loss folks is more gratifying than the shows—don’t get me wrong, the shows are great, too—but this is my niche, my passion… I spin her and she looks at herself, and she gets emotional…Two thumbs up, I did my job. It’s very important to me that when you look in the mirror, I made you happy. Then the weight comes off my shoulders. That’s when I exhale.”
Leo’s passion has led to his becoming a famed stylist and wigmaker. He stakes his reputation upon making wigs made of 100-percent human hair, selected from the best vendors around the world. When asked why he chose to locate his business in Brooklyn after traveling to so many exciting countries, and even having lived in Manhattan, he replied,
“Why shouldn’t it be in Brooklyn? It’s been surreal. When traveling the world, I had the opportunity to see things on a whole new level. What I’ve learned worldwide, I’m imparting it here. The Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in helping me hold forums for discussing hair loss problems with the community. We’ve made it our business to submerge ourselves in the community. In order to be a part of it, we have to understand. We introduced ourselves to our neighbors, the businesses and the people. We have a storefront, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about embracing the community, being present.”
In his backyard, where he and Jeffrey have built a garden where they invite virtually everyone—especially clients—Leo explained how he goes the extra mile for clients—he is willing and able to customize items to meet their particular needs. He works with clients at all hours—11 p.m., 4 and 5 a.m., for instance.
“Today, I’m building a topper for a woman with a condition similar to male-pattern baldness,” he explained. “She doesn’t want a full wig or weave. The topper is removable, and shampoo-able. My ladies have been with me forever. As the years go by, I have to simplify things for my clients. I have to come up with solutions for them to maintain their elegance.”
Leo is not only grateful for his clients, he is grateful for his business partner, Jeffrey Richardson.
“Jeff is a Georgetown alum,” Leo said proudly. “His expertise and business savvy, plus my creative abilities, has been a win-win. This first year, we did it, it’s a triumph, but it’s a struggle each week too. But we survive, keep pressing on, pray for another day. Faith. I have a wonderful team. We are fair and God-fearing men. We try to do things the right way. Karma is real. In anything, we must pay our dues.”
Leo is also concerned about the future, particularly how we as a society treat one another going forward.
“When I was working on sets with 200 people, and I was the only ‘one,’ believe me, I represented. I put this to my young black people everywhere I go: ‘What will your legacy be? I’m leaning my shoulders for the next person to stand on. There’s a bigger picture. What’s yours?’
After the topper is ready, Leo was ready for his next client. He is a man on a continuing, compassionate mission—instilling hope and restoring dignity.
“I love every second of what I do for a living,” Leo said simply. “I never look at it as work.”
Do Hair Biz Manufacturers is located at 1667 Nostrand Avenue.
Cover + Bottom photo by Albert Trotman for Look At Flatbush