On the cutting edge: New Chicago hair salon gives gender norms the snip

Franky Halloran smiling in front of a colorful wall of art in her salon, WFLYH.
In front of a gallery art wall in her salon, Franky Halloran smiles at the camera. (Amanda Rosenberg/MEDILL)

By Amanda Rosenberg
Medill Reports

Franky Halloran laughs happily to herself as she completes a four-hour coloring session with one longtime client. “Damn, dude, this looks so fucking dope!” exclaims 39-year-old Halloran, owner of We Fucking Love Your Hair salon (WFLYH for short). Her amusement and joy harmonize with the whirring of blow dryers and the lively conversations that can be heard between other stylists and their clients. Halloran moves her feet excitedly, shimmying in place and fluffing up her client’s hair, now bleach blonde with a layer of lavender peeking out from underneath. It looks exactly as she had envisioned, Halloran affirms repeatedly.

Once you walk through the doors of WFLYH, you’re part of a club of people cool enough to have their hair cut by Halloran or one of her stylists. From its punk rock-inspired interior to its genderless and gratuity-free policies, this salon is all about breaking the rules and shaking things up. Walking into WFLYH, you’re immediately hit with an explosion of colorful art and music. The matte black walls are furnished with a Pride flag alongside graffiti-style murals made by Halloran’s colleagues.

Halloran adorns herself in an array of colors: bright pink hair with streaks of gold, graphic T-shirts and two sleeves of tattoos, which include a phoenix on one arm and an array of birds on the other. Halloran blasts everything from classic rock to indie pop from playlists her husband created specifically for the salon. It’s hard to miss the rows of hot pink rolling carts filled with hair sprays, bleaches and curling irons that line the walls; Halloran says they cost six times more than identical carts in black. But black wouldn’t have been the same, she insisted. The pink carts against a black wall encapsulate the vibe Halloran wants her salon to portray. Down to the sea of plants and bowls of free snacks, the design of the salon is carefully curated to be both welcoming and exciting. Everything in WFLYH is “Frankified,” as she and her friends put it. Halloran strives to create a space where everyone feels welcome and comfortable expressing themselves through their hair, no matter what it may look like.

Fortunately for the new business owner (and her loyal clients), transforming traditional tresses into works of art comes naturally. Halloran opened WFLYH in Ukrainian Village this past February with one goal – to shake up what she considers to be an antiquated salon industry. Her first order of business: wholly eliminate all nods to gender. “I think it’s ridiculous that men get half-price haircuts,” Halloran said. “I think it’s absolutely absurd. So many salons still say men’s and women’s haircut. It should just be called a haircut.” No matter a client’s gender, Halloran’s prices remain constant. This pricing system especially benefits LGBT+ individuals. Since anyone of any gender or sexuality will be charged the same price for the same service, clients aren’t required to disclose their identity during their appointment, which can be a barrier for many people at a typical salon. 

Prices at WFLYH are based upon time spent. If a treatment takes less time than anticipated, the client pays less. Additionally, the salon doesn’t allow tips, which builds trust with patrons and provides a more stable form of income for stylists. A combination of practical factors and the overall atmosphere of the salon makes WFLYH trendy and emblematic of a changing industry. 

These practices are being adopted by others as well. Destroy the Hairdresser, a coaching business specifically for hair stylists, is one company facilitating this change. It provides coaching for stylists in the industry looking to improve their practices. Halloran works for the company as a mentor, consulting with fellow stylists on how to improve their business practices. Halloran was also a student in the same program, where she learned how to improve her work-life balance, promote herself and expand her business.

 Halloran’s mentor, Cyd Charisse, a co-founder of Destroy the Hairdresser, encouraged Halloran to open her salon in the first place. 

Charisse said the first thing she suggested to Halloran was that she leave the salon she was working at. “I told her to open her own business because that was the only way that she was going to be able to create the community, the education and the brave space that we needed here in Chicago,” Charisse said. She saw how salons overworked and underpaid their employees and knew Halloran had the potential to change the industry. 

Halloran implemented many of WFLYH’s progressive policies after learning about them through this mentorship program. 

“Hourly pricing, being gratuity free and removing gender from pricing are three of the main methods that we teach at Destroy the Hairdresser,” Charisse said. “We are really trying to pave a path for the industry to change all of these barbaric rules that don’t make sense anymore.”

Charisse added she believes WFLYH is proof these practices work. The positive impact on her employees is seen in their work, and transparency for clients keeps them coming back. Charisse hopes Halloran “has such a magnetic and profound quality of staff that she can back off from being behind the chair enough to educate and coach more.”

Halloran had a “very obvious and very strong” personality from early on, said her mother, Rose Griffith-Halloran. “She was very much her own person.”

Halloran grew up in the suburb of Latham, New York, and attended her neighborhood Catholic school. Her mother soon realized the school didn’t afford the creative freedom Halloran so clearly needed. Even though the closest public school was far across town, Halloran’s mother made the decision to nurture Halloran’s interest in the arts by transferring her there. Doing this gave Halloran the ability to create art and drawings, learn about ceramics and sculpture, and even design chairs. 

These interests blossomed over time, as Halloran continued developing her creativity throughout high school. She also began experimenting with her hair, dyeing it with Kool-Aid and even shaving it at one point, according to her mother. “Her attitude was always just, ‘it’s hair, it’ll grow,’” Griffith-Halloran said.

From 2002-06, Halloran attended Temple University Tyler School of Arts, where she majored in ceramics and blown glass. Once there, however, she lost her passion for these arts. She said that, during her time in college, she never learned how to fire a kiln, despite that being a staple of the craft. Halloran felt she was striving toward a passion she couldn’t take full reign of.

“I felt very misunderstood and that professors felt like I couldn’t handle the responsibility,” Halloran said. “I didn’t have a good enough education to really know how to get into ceramics.”

After graduating, Halloran decided to leave the kiln behind. She moved to Chicago with her partner at the time and, on Craigslist, saw a job opening at a hair salon. “That would be dope,” she thought. “I can dye my hair whatever fucking color I want.” Halloran applied but learned she needed a license to be a hairdresser. She spent the next year in beauty school, and upon graduation, landed a job at a large Chicago hair salon, where she stayed for 12 years. Halloran asked the salon remain nameless, for many reasons including some alleged toxic practices, such as overworking employees, forcing unpaid labor and pricing services unfairly.

At this salon, Halloran would have a new client in her chair every 30 minutes. She said in all her years there, she rarely had time for lunch.

She said there was always so much pressure from the salon’s owner to bring in more clients and to sell hair products. “It was always, ‘If you just sell two more products, maybe next month you’ll get a raise.’”

In 2019, Halloran unknowingly began what would ultimately become her brand. She made stickers that said, ‘I fucking love your hair,’ and passed them out on the street to anyone she saw with “dope fucking hair.” Today, if Halloran notices someone with a cool hairstyle, she approaches them with a sticker, hoping it brings them joy. Most recently, at a Roots concert at The Salt Shed, Halloran said she was squeezing through a line with stickers in hand, ready to hand a few out. She saw one individual with red shoulder-length micro locs and handed them the sticker, bringing tears to their eyes. Halloran said she loves interactions like these, where something so simple can make a person happy for a moment. She also includes information about her business on the back of the stickers for promotional purposes, but says the point is really just to brighten someone’s day.

With a title for her brand and 12 years of salon experience under her belt, Halloran decided to open her own studio.

“Ironically, for the majority of my career, I have said I never want to open a fucking hair salon,” Halloran said. But she felt inspired by Charisse’s advice and mentorship. “The very first thing Cyd said to me was, ‘You’re gonna open up a hair salon,’ and I was like, ‘You’re fucking crazy.’” But Charisse eventually convinced Halloran to leave the salon and work for herself.

Halloran rented a location at Salon Lofts, which provides independent beauty businesses a small space to run their company and perform services. Halloran used this space for her two-chair private studio, which she opened in March 2020. Five days later, the world shut down due to COVID-19. She had to close the salon and didn’t qualify for regular unemployment since she had quit her previous job. 

Halloran persevered through the pandemic due to a mix of preplanning and luck. When she decided to leave her job and open her own salon, she first saved six months’ worth of living expenses, in case her salon failed and she needed something to fall back on. Halloran was able to use that money she saved, in addition to her husband’s income, to financially survive the closing of her new business. 

A year later, Halloran reopened her salon, which was still called “I Fucking Love Your Hair.” This was until, she said, “I had a fever dream, and I was like, ‘It’s not ‘I,’ it’s ‘we.’’” This name, she thought, would be more inclusive of the stylists she planned to hire. With a new name and a few new employees behind her, Halloran found a location and opened WFLYH, now with eight chairs, in Ukrainian Village on Feb. 14, 2023. 

Enrique Gonzalez, a stylist at WFLYH, started his own career as Halloran’s assistant at her previous job. Today, he specializes in color and extensions. He says he loves working for Halloran.

“Franky is such a giver,” Gonzalez said. “I really feel like she will give the shirt off her back to someone if they need it.” As Halloran’s employee, Gonzalez says he feels supported both by her mentorship and the policies she has in place. He particularly appreciates hourly pricing, as it allows him and his clients a chance to really focus on the service they booked. 

Gonzalez explained that, at his old salon, he would see up to three clients at once. Now, he says he gets to take his time. “I can appreciate having my foot off the gas now and going a little slower,” he said.

Although the salon opened just a few months ago, it has brought in over 500 clients. Including Halloran and Gonzalez, the salon has 10 stylists (or “artists,” as Halloran sometimes calls them). They offer services like bleaching, color, extensions and textured styling. Each new patron is required to fill out a questionnaire where they answer questions about their hair’s color, texture and prior treatments. Clients are then matched with a stylist who can best meet their needs and are invited in for a consultation where their hair can be properly assessed. 

Halloran has no plans to change how things at WFLYH operate, other than hiring a few more employees and offering them more benefits, like health insurance. Going forward, she hopes to one day bring small business owners into her space to mentor them on improving their own companies. Opening another location, Halloran says, makes her nervous and “want to barf,” although she’s not entirely closed off to the idea. Just not any time soon. 

What Halloran is really focused on right now is making her space a place of kindness and respect for clients and stylists alike. She can constantly be seen reassuring her employees on their importance and capabilities. She tells them not to apologize to her for small requests they make and reassures them their appointments went well. When a client walks out with a great haircut, Halloran is sure to point it out with a, “That looks dope!” 

She also acknowledges it can be hard for her employees to convert out of the typical salon environment when they start working for her. She reminded one employee, “Don’t forget to give yourself time, I know it can be hard to de-transition out of the double-booked mindset.” Halloran hosts private monthly coaching sessions with her stylists to remind them of their excellence and go over any issues they may be struggling with, like time management or difficulty building clientele. 

To Halloran, positive reinforcement is the most important part of being a business owner. “If my boss told me what I did excellently every month for 12 years, what kind of a different soul would I be?” she contemplated. Halloran hopes to be that positive influence for the next generation of stylists. 

Amanda Rosenberg is a magazine graduate student at Medill. You can contact her on LinkedIn or Twitter.