When Simon Lane was two years old, he reached up to grab a pot of tea from the kitchen counter. That one reaction changed the course of his life. The scalding-hot tea fell on his head causing third degree burns. He spent ten days in intensive care, wore a bandage around his head for the next two years and spent his childhood wearing an NHS hairpiece to cover his raw, bald scalp.
‘One of my earliest memories is a school friend pulling my hairpiece off in the middle of the playground and running away. All the other kids stood and laughed at me,’ says Lane. ‘During swimming lessons, I was the only boy wearing a swimming cap. I felt ashamed, angry and embarrassed every day. I shied away from girls and didn’t have a proper girlfriend until I was 23. Psychologically, it was really tough.’
Over the years, Lane tried wigs, ‘excruciatingly painful’ hair transplants and hair-loss concealer spray. He bagged a job as a sales rep for McVities but would wear a cap to hide his condition from his colleagues. By the time he hit his mid-thirties, he’d had enough. ‘If I was going out with my wife or friends, it would take me nearly two hours to "style" my hair before I could leave the house. And God forbid if it was raining; if I got my head wet, the concealer would stream down my face like black dye,’ he says. ‘I was desperately insecure.
‘My son was born in 2009 and all I wanted was to be a "normal" father. I wanted to be able to take him swimming and let him ride on my shoulders and hold onto my head. I wanted to be able to drop him off at school without shrinking away from the other parents.’
Lane finally found the long-term solution in 2010 when he received Scalp Micropigmentation treatment (SMP) from Paul Clark (left in the picture), the only full-time SMP practitioner in the UK at the time. The ‘hair tatooing’ process - which plants tiny dots of ink into the skin, imitating the look of short hair follicles and realistically replicating the appearance of natural hair growth - took three weeks. ‘When it was done, I went outside and just stood in the rain. It’s hard to explain how liberating that felt.’
Inspired by his own successful treatment, Lane studied the art of SMP techniques for four years under Clark. In October 2015, the pair then teamed up to launch their own Birmingham-based clinic called Brandwood, using personal savings and around £300,000 of angel investment. Their first Brandwood client and ‘model’ was Lane’s brother.
Two years on, the company employs nine people and has treated more than 1,500 patients. Turnover this year was over £600,000 and annual sales next year are expected to break through £1m. Brandwood is also launching new clinics in the UK, with its first international clinic opening in Australia this spring and potential franchising opportunities in the States.
‘Hair loss drastically affects your confidence and self-esteem,’ says Lane. ‘I saw a patient on Saturday who had terrible scars on his head from a hair transplant. He was in tears and told me he’d considered committing suicide. I looked him in the eye and said "I can help you". I’m not doing this for the money. I’m doing this to make a genuine difference to people's lives. I know what they are going through.’
Image: Philip Hartley