Created with Compassion

Alumna Gieselle Blair uses the skills she learned in the Oregon State Theatre to craft wigs for women with cancer. Gieselle was interviewed by Jessica Kibler for Oregon State University’s Liberal Arts magazine, The Leading Edge, in September 2015

While a life working in the entertainment industry sounds exciting, after the glitter and shine wear off, the constant momentum, late nights and six-day weeks can start to exhaust a person. Such was the case for Gieselle Blair (speech communication ’07), a wig and makeup designer in Los Angeles.

After working in theater for more than five years, Blair needed a change — so she got a job at a boutique wig shop in Orange County.

“The shop sold wigs to cancer patients, and I thought, ‘That’s an interesting idea,’” Blair says.

But Blair was only there for a year before the shop folded. Soon after, she discovered that the shop’s customer service had been lacking. The discovery got her thinking: she was a wig maker, so maybe she could start a similar company and do it better. Teamed up with cosmetologist Victoria Balch, a friend and former employee of the same Orange County shop, she did just that.

Their company, Compassionate Creations, which is located in Newport Beach, California, primarily serves women with cancer and makes wigs using their clients’ own hair. Blair and Balch assist their clients individually and through video tutorials on the company’s website; their personal attention to their clients and their openness with the wig-making process sets them apart from their competition, Blair says.

The company’s friendliness helps, too. “My business partner programs her phone when people have treatments, and then she’ll text them with, ‘thinking of you today,’” Blair says. “Our clients become like our friends. We want to check in on them. I feel like we really are the compassionate part of our business.”

They have been successful — in just two years of business they have provided wigs for more than 40 clients throughout the U.S. and beyond. They were also voted “Best Wig Shop in Orange County” in “The OC Weekly” in 2014.

Blair especially likes the chance to help women in such a tangible way. Though the company has had a few male customers, nearly all the wigs they make are for women. “I really love helping women. I love working with women, I love that I have a female business partner. It feels really good and empowering.”

The actual wig-making process is similar to latch hooking or cross-stitching, Blair says, since every hair that makes up a Compassionate Creations wig is individually sewn in. This makes the wigs easy to style. “You can comb it, you can get it wet, you can hot roll it, you can use curling irons because it’s real human hair. You don’t have to worry about it melting.”

Blair’s interest in hair, wig and makeup design goes back to her days as a student. She got involved in Oregon State’s theater department early on, lending her artistic hand to hair and makeup and designing a couple of Oregon State’s productions. When she was set to graduate, she knew she loved the theater and also knew she wanted to learn a tangible skill to make her degree even more useful. Recognizing her talents, she applied for internships in hair and makeup departments.

She took an internship at Seattle Opera and later another at Central City Opera in Central City, Colorado. She then landed a job at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California, where she worked on shows like Pride and Prejudice and A Christmas Carol. Since then, she’s worked for other theaters in and around Los Angeles. At A Noise Within, a classical repertory theatre company in Pasadena, she was the wig and makeup designer for their entire spring 2015 season, working on The Threepenny Opera, Julius Caesar and Figaro.

“I still miss the theater a little bit,” she says. “I think I’ll always want to do a show here or there, but it’s a really demanding schedule, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. It was really fun working in California and having actors that I’d seen on TV and in movies be in my chair. But I needed to do something else, and being my own boss is the best decision for me.”

Though Blair will likely continue designing for theater companies occasionally, her goal is to make Compassionate Creations her full-time gig. Since they ended their first fiscal year in the black, she’s confident she can make that happen. “It just feels really cool to make a wig for a real person, you know,” she says. “We get to see her picture, I get to talk to her on the phone. It’s really rewarding.”

Jessica Kibler graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and University Honors College with a degree in English in 2014. She now writes and lives in Portland, Oregon. You can find out more about Compassionate Creations at: compassionatecreationswigdesign.com

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