Flora Shepelsky should sleep very well at night. To a great degree, she makes her living helping others. Shepelsky – proprietor of Design by Flora in Teaneck – is one of the country's most respected and popular wig experts and designers. Many of her wigs, falls and toppers, which are made from real hair imported from Europe, are used by women seeking to make a fun, bold fashion statement. Others are sported by women battling cancer, contending with alopecia or experiencing hair loss.
"These women come in, and I'm able to restore what they so preciously loved and lost," Shepelsky says. "I see it all the time: women walk in crying tears of sadness and feeling sorry for themselves.
"When someone finds the right wig, it restores them," she says. "Sometimes when you restore their beauty you restore their health. So this is very fulfilling to me, and I love it when those women walk in crying tears of sadness and walk out crying tears of joy."
During a conversation at her Teaneck showroom and warehouse, Shepelsky, a petite ball of energy who speaks English in a thick Russian accent, says, "I devote my life – my everything – to this. Every dime we save, it all goes into hair and wigs. I enjoy the work itself. It's very challenging and extremely different. Just to say that I do wigs, it's a very uncommon thing to hear."
Though she's a successful entrepreneur these days, with her thriving Teaneck store and a growing Internet business, nothing came easy for Shepelsky. Born in Russia and raised in Israel and Brooklyn, she entered the hair business at 15. "I've always been very good with hair," Shepelsky says. "I used to watch people do braids and cornrows and I could just mimic it. It came to me naturally." She attended beauty school, intent on learning about makeup.
"I was 16, and while in beauty school got a job working with wigs," she recalls. "I went there for makeup but realized there was nothing I could do in that field until I got a license in New York. You can't operate in New York without a license while you're in beauty school. You do not need a license to do wigs. So I knew the wig business existed and I called around and I found a job working for a woman in the wig business. And that's how it all started."
Shepelsky spent 20 years working for others. Then in 2005, she and her husband, David, moved to Closter in order to be near her mother, who lived in Fort Lee, and her sisters, who lived in Alpine and Hackensack. Soon after – joined by David, who's also her business partner – she opened and operated Design by Flora out of a 200-square-foot room that she rented, and she bought wigs from other companies. Shepelsky outgrew the space within six months and settled into her current 2,800-square-foot space at 437 Cedar Lane in Teaneck, which now sells wigs manufactured by Design by Flora.
Running her own business, Shepelsky explains, provided the opportunity for her to do everything from selecting hair to writing brochures to designing pieces – and to do it all her own way, to her §specifications and standards.
"I opened in that small space first," she says, "and now here we are, in this one. We have the Manhattan boutique that just opened and we're planning to expand to other cities. We're expanding our Internet business, because that's huge for us. We sell and ship all over the world. So it's very exciting."