Hair loss gave Toni Astbury a head for business
When Toni Astbury's hair started coming out in clumps the young hairdresser was devastated.
For most women their luscious locks are their crowning glory but stress had led the 24-year-old from Darlaston to suffer from alopecia.
The mother-of-one says she was bullied for wearing wigs and even had to suffer people pulling them off when she was enjoying a night out with friends.
But now Toni has had the last laugh as she runs Precious Heads from her home in Midland Road where her handmade wigs sell for more than £2,000.
The former Darlaston Community School pupil thanks her one-year-old daughter Evie Rose for giving her the strength she needed to stand before a panel of judges at the Prince's Trust.
"After I had my daughter I wanted to do something amazing, for her and for other people," says Toni, who was also a pupil at Old Church Primary School.
"I put together my business plan and went to the Prince's Trust – it was like standing before the Dragon's Den panel.
"They asked me a lot of questions and were really excited about it as it was something totally different – and I was going to be helping people with hair loss."
Toni was told that day that she had been successful and was awarded £4,000 – they also asked her to be a young ambassador for the trust.
"It was amazing and I phoned everyone – I was so excited," she says.
"I had to wait for the funding to come through and then two weeks later I was at the UK Wig School in London where they taught me everything I needed to know."
That was two years ago and Toni is now in demand with her hand-made wigs which take around 50 hours to make.
It was at the Olympics that cyclist Joanna Rowsell stunned the crowd when, after completing a lap of honour to celebrate winning a gold medal, she pulled off her hat to proudly reveal her bald head.
Having lived with the hair loss condition alopecia since childhood, the 23-year-old, says her hair loss has helped drive her on to greatness and led to her winning in the women's cycling team pursuit at the velodrome.
Probably the most famous woman to proudly show off her bald head is former model Gail Porter, who recently checked into a South African rehab centre for three months in a last-ditch attempt to help her beat her depression and addiction to alcohol. The former pin-up girl – whose naked image was once famously projected on to the side of the House of Commons – rose to fame on Saturday-morning children's television in the 90s and was at one time among the highest-paid women on television
The troubled TV presenter lost her trademark blonde hair as a result of alopecia – a condition which affects around one in 100 people in the UK.
Toni says when she lost her own hair she could only afford synthetic wigs, which you can't style yourself.
"I prefer the real hair wigs – you can use products and curl it or straighten it yourself like normal hair," she says. "The hair comes from India and is very natural. They don't use chemicals on it like we do in the UK."
Toni says it can be upsetting wearing a wig and she is still self conscious about her appearance.
"When I had my hair loss I would be on a night out with friends and someone would pull my wig off," she says.
"Even now I have my own hair I still walk with my head down so not to attract attention to myself."
After leaving school Tony trained in hairdressing at Walsall College and then travelled the world on cruise ships.
"I'm not sure what triggered the hair loss but I had been off the cruise ships for a while.
"I was working at a hair salon at the time and it was hard – I didn't go out for a while which was strange for me as I was always known as the party girl."
Toni, who lives with her parents, says she started looking on the internet for wigs and discovered they were popular with several celebrities.
Now she knows there is a big demand for wigs as her phone constantly rings with orders. She regularly makes wigs from 8am to 10pm, working around the needs of her daughter.
"I never thought I would be doing anything like this," she says. "My clients are a mixture of people from children who suffer with cancer through to alopecia sufferers like myself.
"My hair started growing back around a year ago but it is really fine and soon it will start falling out again – that's when I will go back to wearing wigs," she says.
As well as wigs, Toni is busy helping those who want to have thicker hair thanks to her cold fusion extensions, which use ultra-sonic waves to secure the bonds.
"I've been so busy I haven't had time to worry about my hair falling out again," she says.
"I find wig-making relaxing and when I see the finished result it is amazing and worth all the effort."
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