The Business of Vanity

The Hutch Report

The rapid pace of technical advancements these days is mind boggling. It seems that only weeks go by before yesterday’s new innovation is already leapfrogged by another taking its place. We are seeing the proliferation of self driving cars, virtual reality, smarter and smarter robots, new forms of digital currency, a public ledger called the blockchain that threatens to disrupt a number of industries, or new modes of transportation such as the Hyper-loop which promises to transport people across large distances in a fraction of the time that we are now accustomed.

The workforce is clearly getting worried, as they have a right to be. Large numbers of labourers have already been replaced by an army of robots in Amazon’s vast distribution centers. More and more, machines are replacing order takers at fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King, not to mention numerous others. Machines are getting so good that clients that call into customer support services at Airline companies, don’t even realise that many times they are speaking to a computer.

Should the self driving automobile revolution take hold, what will happen to the thousands and thousands of taxi drivers, bus drivers, or dare I say it, Uber drivers? If blockchain smart contracts become as fullproof as they are made out to be, what will happen to the legal system, or the intellectual property system workforce. After all, if what is written into a blockchain becomes full taper proof evidence of ownership then what will be the use of that copyright lawyer you always needed to call on?

Whether we like it or not change is upon us. Change has always been upon us and always will.  The history of mankind is a story board of evolution and innovation. It is wash, rinse and repeat. The car took out the hoarse and carriage. Television pushed out the radio. The Internet has been pushing them both out. Just in the past 25 years we have seen the revolutionary impact of computers, smart phones and telecommunications and the Internet. We have seen the combustible engine being slowly replaced by battery powered vehicles. So as a workforce are we forced into the constant threat of thinking our industry could be disrupted any time, no matter what industry we find ourselves in?

Not so fast!

There is one area that has stayed pretty much the same for centuries and for that reason will not likely see much of a disruption. I am talking about anything that is associated with Vanity. Since the dawn of time there has been a demand for any hygiene services or any service that will help you look good. These industries include, Haircuts / Hairstyling, Nail care, Body hair removal, Makeup and numerous others.

The occupation of hairdressing dates back thousands of years. There have been discoveries of ancient art drawings and paintings depicting people working on another person’s hair. There is evidence of ancient hairstyling as Assyrian kings and other nobles had their hair curled with heated iron bars. In Africa, it was believed in some cultures that a person’s spirit occupied his or her hair, giving hairdressers high status within these communities. The Greek writers Aristophanes and Homer both mention hairdressing in their writings.

The status of hairdressing encouraged many to develop their skills, and close relationships were built between hairdressers and their clients. Hours would be spent washing, combing, oiling, styling and ornamenting their hair. Men would work specifically on men, and women on other women. Before a master hairdresser died, they would give their combs and tools to a chosen successor during a special ceremony.

Ancient Babylonian men manicured and colored their nails using kohl, with different colors representing different classes. Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti popularized the manicure by rubbing their hands in rich oils and staining their nails using henna. Like the Chinese royals who came before them, both male and female members of the Ming Dynasty had perfectly manicured, talon-like nails. To add a tint, they mixed together egg whites, wax, vegetable dyes, and other materials to create different color varnishes ranging from dark red to black.

The two forms of body hair removal that have been around for centuries is Depilation and Epilation. Depilation is the removal of the part of the hair above the surface of the skin. The Egyptians may have been the forerunners of many beauty rituals but they invested the most time into hair removal. During the Roman Empire, the lack of body hair was considered a sign of the classes.

The need to go down to the local barber for a shave has a long history.  In ancient Egyptian culture, barbers were highly respected individuals. Priests and men of medicine are the earliest recorded examples of barbers. Men in Ancient Greece would have their beards, hair, and fingernails trimmed and styled by the κουρεύς (cureus), in an agora (market place) which also served as a social gathering for debates and gossip. Barbering was introduced to Rome by the Greek colonies in Sicily in 296 BC, and barber shops quickly became very popular centres for daily news and gossip.

Although technological advances have led to better tools and methods for improving these various services, the actual services themselves have stayed much as they were in ancient times. If you wanted to get your haircut in order to look good for your date with a Greek Godess, you would make your way down to the local qualified barber to help you out.

The constant in all of these vanity services has been that of socialising and human contact. Even today, a barber, hairstylist or manicurist will lend you their ear for a little chat while they get the job done. It is hard to imagine, although some try, a world where there is no longer socializing. A machine cuts your hair, does your nails, or an epilation. Humans are social beings and need to socialize therefore all services that are based on social interaction are likely to have a long and prosperous future ahead.