There are almost 700,000 hairstylists in the United States. Uncounted in those ranks are the very specialized hair stylists who style the hair of some unique customers that will never complain about their cuts or styles -- because their chairs host dolls. It's a dream job for Luisa Rodriguez, doll hair stylist at the American Girl store in New York City.
Not just dolls
If you know a girl between the ages of 6 and 12, there's a good chance she's begged for an American Girl doll.
American Girl is a Wisconsin-based brand of dolls, books, clothing and accessories. A distinguishing factor of these dolls is that many have historical ties. Addy, for example, is a doll who escaped slavery via the underground railroad. The brand also encourages girls to empower themselves through their dolls.
Nine U.S. cities feature stores that are more than just toy stores: They are experiences, allowing girls to have high tea with their dolls table-side, see Broadway-quality shows, and get their dolls' hair done.
A dream job
"I meet girls from all over the world, from Paris to Wisconsin," says Rodriguez, 20. "Who [else] can say they spend their entire workday playing with dolls?"
Rodriguez is a full-time college student, studying political science with hopes to attend law school. What started as a seasonal job for her in 2010 is now a three day per-week welcome break from her studies.
While stylists for people must pass a state licensing exam after hours of preparation, Rodriguez only had two days to master the dolls' hair texture and styles.
But her continuing education never ends, as she makes it her responsibility to keep up with the latest kid culture. She watches kids' TV to keep up with the latest programs and characters so she can relate to her clients.
Like every job, being a doll hair stylist has its challenges. Little girls can be tough on their dolls, rendering the doll's hair unmanageable. Try telling a little girl that her doll needs a head replacement.
The store can get very busy on weekends and the salon does not take appointments. Girls can wait on line for up to two hours to get their dolls' hair styled. Rodriguez styles as many as 25 dolls each day.
"You want to live up to the standards of the company," says Rodriguez. "We don't want to get too overwhelmed, but at the same time we don't want rush the experience for each girl."
Surprisingly, many girls and parents don't complain or demand a "re-do." OK, sometimes mothers do.
"It's only the parents, but they're concerned with getting their money's worth," says Rodriguez. "Some of them look at the doll like another child."
A trip to an American Girl store is often a special occasion for a girl. Dolls cost around $100, tea in the restaurant runs $20 per person, and time in the doll hair salon costs about another $20. A new dress for a doll costs about $30. The store carries dresses both in doll sizes and sizes for little girls. The same dress for a little girl cost double what the doll version does. But American Girl isn't just selling stuff; it's selling an experience. Those experiences are memorable for the little girls as well as for store employees.
Rodriguez sums up how much she loves her job with a story:
"A month into working, I was beginning to enjoy my job. A girl [came in who] was about 7. This was her first American Girl doll, and her first trip to New York City. She and her mom were trying to come up with a name for the doll. It had to symbolize New York. I said, 'How about Madison?'"
Rodriguez styled the doll's hair. The mother stepped away, then turned back and said ... "By the way, she told me she was going to name her doll 'Luisa.'"
"I gave her a good time, and she named her doll after me," says Rodriguez. "Sometimes you have an impact on these girls and you don't even realize it."
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