Jennifer Bishop sees her store as more than just a branch of a national studio chain established in Los Angeles. She views Merle Norman Cosmetics in Kilmarnock as a source of goodwill and awareness for women on the Northern Neck who have endured various forms of cancer.
Bishop’s studio originally carried the standard line of Merle Norman products and focused primarily on women’s beauty.
“We just started off with the cosmetics, and then I incorporated wigs and at first I thought it was only going to be for women who liked to wear wigs and nothing more,” Bishop said.
But the store owner soon recognized an essential need for her hair products.
“A majority of my clients purchase wigs because they’re going through treatment,” she said. “So many women in the area were going through breast cancer and other types of cancer as well.”
Shortly after opening, the growing needs of Bishop’s clients convinced her to expand her selection to include specialized bras and prosthetics.
“One of my clients…was going through her second bout of breast cancer and she purchased a second wig from me…but then she had to go all the way to Richmond to buy her prostheses and her bras,” Bishop said.
“When you’re sick you don’t feel like traveling,” she added, pointing out that her goal was to ensure that her clients undergoing treatment could meet their cosmetic needs within or not too far from their localities.
However, in order to sell the specialized products for women with breast cancer, Bishop had to go out of her way to obtain additional training.
“I took a course on mastectomy fittings and started carrying them as well and I felt like everything went hand-in-hand,” she said, adding that her source of joy was inspiring confidence in her clientele and helping them find joy in their own image.
“If you don’t feel good about yourself…I just feel that makes the healing process even harder,” Bishop said. “It’s my passion…I definitely like making people feel happy and feel better about themselves.”
The owner acknowledged that a family history and an awareness of her friends’ struggles helped fuel her desire to provide specialized services to her clients with cancer.
“I’ve had a lot of friends over the years with breast cancer in particular,” Bishop said. “My father was diagnosed two years ago with stomach cancer…he’s doing very well now…but my grandmother died from ovarian cancer.
“There’s definitely a family history of it and that’s affected me but I believe it affects us all,” Bishop said. “We all know someone who either has it or unfortunately will have it.”
She pointed out that several clients are just coming to realize that their insurance will cover the cost of their wigs, bras, and prostheses.
“But with the economy the way that it is, there are so many people without insurance,” she added.
“I had one of my clients come in and she didn’t have any insurance,” Bishop said. “I paid for her wig and I’ve been taking donations through my close friends…we purchased her the prostheses and a bra and then got other businesses involved.”
Not only did one store donate Pandora breast cancer awareness bracelets on the woman’s behalf, but Kathy Lukasewicz, the owner of Foxy in Kilmarnock, let her pick out an outfit for free during Christmastime two years ago.
Bishop also raised approximately $500 to help the customer purchase Christmas presents for her two sons.
“We had a great time just dressing her up,” Bishop said with a laugh.
Bishop’s store has not only made her client’s dreams come true, but its impact on the Northern Neck has expanded beyond the four walls of the studio.
“I’ve gone to nursing homes and fit women with wigs and prostheses,” said Bishop. “I’ve gone to their homes and am willing to work with them.”
In a move separate from her business, Bishop has organized the class “Look Good, Feel Better” via her certification through the American Cancer Society and will hold the class quarterly at Rappahannock General Hospital in Kilmarnock, starting Tuesday, Jan. 22.
Bishop said the class will be for any woman going through any type of cancer.
“I’ll just help them choose a wig and if they do have hair loss with the chemotherapy I’ll show them how to [select] eyelashes, eye brows and colors,” she added. “I’m really excited to get [the classes] kicked off.”
Merle Norman Cosmetics is located at 78 South Main Str. in Kilmarnock. For more information, call Jennifer Bishop at 435-7177 or visit her store’s Facebook page.