"I went from a lot of hair to nothing. My confidence just dropped. I was single, getting out of high school, and I was bald."

That was Leanna Eastgate nearly 35 years ago.  

Today, Eastgate is helping others work through the social isolation, confusion and loss of confidence that comes with hair loss.

For many women, existing societal and cultural pressures can make baldness an uncomfortable topic to broach, said Eastgate's business partner Aileen Eakins.

"I hate to say it, but ... we have very decided ideas about what is beautiful and what is acceptable," Eakins said. 

Leanna Eastgate Eileen Atkins

Business partners Leanna Eastgate (left) andAileen Eakins. (Jean Paetkau)

"Right now, it's very acceptable for our men to not have any hair. In fact, it's been quite the fashion trend. But for women, it has always been since the beginning of time that hair is their crowning glory."

'Losing your hair, no matter what, is traumatic'

In 1981, Eastgate woke up one morning realizing she had a bald spot on her head about the size of a dime. It grew to the size of a quarter, then into a loonie.

Concerned, Eastgate consulted her doctor, who diagnosed Eastgate with alopecia areata and said the condition could cause complete hair loss. 

"That's all she said to me. I left there in tears."

"What do you mean I'm going to lose all my hair?"

In just six weeks, it was all gone. 

"It doesn't matter if you're 20. It doesn't matter if you're five. It doesn't matter if you're 80. Losing your hair, no matter what, is traumatic," Eastgate said.

Opening a cancer clinic salon

Years later, Eastgate found herself passing long nights in the company of cancer patients and their families at the Vancouver Island Cancer Agency Building. Many of those people were struggling with the same issues she wrestled with as a young woman.

"I would always take my wig off, and people would ask where I got my wigs from."  

The wheels started turning. "I thought, 'There needs to be something right here.'"

It wasn't Eastgate who was undergoing cancer treatment; it was her husband, and when he passed away, she began wrestling with what to do with the rest of her life. 

She thought back to the men and women she had met at the cancer clinic and the interest they had taken in her wigs. 

She remembered how, as a young woman who now had no hair, she would often leave wig shops more depressed than when she went in, because she could never find anything that suited her.  

That's where she came up with the idea for a wig shop right inside the cancer clinic.

Finding the right fit

Eastgate has been at Salon Revive for the last 17 years, and though she loves it there, she began wanting to broaden her reach.  

"So many women on the Island come to me for other reasons, other than just chemotherapy and radiation, and I haven't been able to help them. I just sent them out the door. It frustrated me."

So when Catherine Hanson and Aileen Eakins approached her with the idea with a new business venture, she jumped on board.

Capila, her new store, focuses on creating a private and safe space for women and men to talk through their concerns about hair loss and hair loss solutions. 

It offers personalized treatments, products and support for individuals transitioning through hair loss or undergoing chemotherapy.

"It's about finding the right fit."

"For people to be able to just come here, and sit down, and close the curtains, and be able to talk to just me — that makes a big difference."

To hear the full audio piece with Leanna Eastgate and Eileen Atkins, listen to the audio labelled: Making women's hairloss less taboo.