Saundra Shapiro's Style, Substance and Compassionate Beauty
She owns an oncology beauty salon and spa, is a Harley enthusiast and would never go grocery shopping with rollers in her hair
Photography by Jared Sych
Saundra Shapiro is a multi-faceted woman. She goes from confident, put-together businesswoman to leather-clad Harley enthusiast with ease. She loves fashion, but, like many busy women, she hates shopping.
Her career has taken her from being an options trader for a private company to kid’s salon ownery to founder of her current all-consuming endeavour, Compassionate Beauty, a specialized boutique and spa for women with cancer.
At first glance, the racks of fashionable swimwear and lingerie and tables covered with giftware and books in the salon look like those you might find in any other boutique geared toward chic women. But a second look reveals their true nature.
Opened and operated by her since 2005, Compassionate Beauty is Shapiro’s second successful business. In 1987, she opened Beaners Fun Cuts for Kids, which she operated for 14 years and then franchised. Beaners gave her the opportunity to raise her daughter at work — not many corporate environments offer a ball room for tots. But after her daughter was grown, she sold the original location — it was time for the next stage.
What is Compassionate Beauty?
I’m proud to say we’re an oncology boutique and spa. The name describes what we do, what we are, but what we want to be is a connection between diagnosis and life. We want to make women with cancer feel beautiful again.
Did you have a clear definition of beauty before you opened Compassionate Beauty?
Nobody has ever asked me that, so maybe I’ve never figured it out. When my best friend was diagnosed with cervical cancer, she needed all these different things. She needed the wig, so I brought her a wig. I shaved her head. She wanted a facial, but she was too embarrassed because her aesthetician hadn’t seen her bald, and she didn’t want to be that vulnerable. She wanted a massage, but her massage therapist was afraid because now she had active cancer. I knew her, and her cancer didn’t define her. So she was going to be beautiful all the time for me.
When women come here, they automatically have a sense of need and vulnerability. Do they look up to you?
I think they see me — and I hope they see me — as just an equal, somebody who’s here to help and to honour where they are in their journey, however it looks to them. So, I never want to be inappropriately dressed; I never want to be revealing. I never want to make somebody say, “Oh, I used to be able to wear that.” We can’t have that here. That’s true for all of the staff at Compassionate Beauty as well.
Why do you love fashion?
Because it makes us feel special, a little more individual. Because we can all be different.
How do you reflect your personal style?
I think I always like to be professional. I always want to be age-appropriate. I never want to dress like my daughter. That part is so important.
Do you remember a time in your life when you said to yourself, “Not age-appropriate; I’m moving on from that?”
Yes, absolutely. It is certainly not when I’m wearing my Harley leather. It’s always age-appropriate [laughs]. I think that I had these Moschino jeans that were all patterned, and I had to say, “Okay, I’m done with them.”
So when you’re done with an item, you’re really done with it?
Yes. I was done with it. And I think that’s being true to who I am, what I am and what I represent. It would be inappropriate for me to be too revealing.
Are you originally from Calgary?
No, Montreal. Can’t you tell? Come on, I’m a little bit of Montreal. I was born there, raised there. I came here with my family in 1982.
Was the transition a shock?
Horrific? Was it horrific that women went to Safeway with rollers in their hair? That they walked out with crewneck sweatshirts and sneakers? [Nods her head] Yes, yes. Although, I have to say that the first time I went to Safeway, I forgot my wallet and the manager came up and said, “Take the groceries home and just come back and pay me.” And I went, “Okay, seriously, I’m from Montreal. We don’t offer those things because nobody would have groceries in their store.” So, you know, there is a balance her
How did you adjust to living in this city with that type of flair?
Well, I really liked when I met Carl [Abad]. But, I have learned to love the mountains, although I miss the water. I now ride a motorcycle, which, in Montreal, I probably would not. It’s home now.
Carl is one of Avenue’s favourite stylists. What does he do for you?
I really love his eye. He brings me back to Montreal. He pulls clothes for me and puts it all together, stands in my closet and says, “Okay, you can do this, this and this.” It is not my favourite thing to spend the day shopping; I do not love to go to the malls. So, when the mall comes to me, I love it.
Does he edit, too?
Yes, and he manages the closet. He didn’t like how I had wire hangers, so next came the wooden hangers. And he groups everything. I’m busy. By the time my weekend comes, I want the downtime, not the uptime.
Did you go to school in Alberta?
Montreal. I did fashion merchandising, and I also did my schooling to be a stockbroker there.
Did you work as a stockbroker?
No, instead, I decided to open up Beaners Fun Cuts for Kids [in 1987]. It was where my brain was. I thought, “If my daughter’s sick or when she goes to school, after school and on the weekends she can just come with me.” So, she hung out a lot in our little ball room, and I stayed there for 14 years and then did a franchise of it.
Are you still involved in Beaners?
No. In 2001, I sold it. My daughter was going to university, and I was sort of done with the three- year-olds. I’d always wanted to do this — Compassionate Beauty — because, during my last couple years at Beaners, one of my clients had ovarian cancer, and when she asked me to shave her head, I thought, where else could she go? That was my first “a-ha” of maybe this is what I could be doing, or want to be doing.
After that “a-ha” moment, when did you open Compassionate Beauty?
I took about two-and-a-half years off, and then my best friend was diagnosed with cancer. I spent the year with her, and I opened in 2005. Our first day was her birthday.
Did you do that as a tribute to her?
You know, they say there are no coincidences in life, but I did not do it as a tribute to her at all. It was the first day that my contractor said that they would be done.
Is Compassionate Beauty a labour of love?
This is a total labour of love. But, on the flipside, I put everything I had into doing this, instead of sitting at home. I went back to school and got my MBA in 2001, so I was not ready to be at home. I had this to do. This was part of my journey. Everything that I have done has led me here.
You must have a lot of happy endings, and a lot of sad endings. How do you deal with that?
First, we always want to talk about our good news. Our good news is when somebody has been to Compassionate Beauty, been through our chemotherapy area, so we shaved her head, she has a wig, and then she comes back because her hair is this long [indicates a few inches with her fingers] and she’s just excited to show it off. To me, that’s just an awesome moment. I think the cards that we get dealt really help us because when we do have a low moment, it seems the universe brings us something to keep us going. To me, a sad moment is when a husband comes in and says he lost his wife, but, “She wanted me to tell you thank you for being here for her.”
How do you take care of yourself?
The difference for us is, sometimes you just gotta shake it off and let it all fall off.
Is it as easy as that?
No, but it’s a tool that we’re taught to let parts of it go. And the second part of it is knowing we were there to help, that we did something worthwhile. We didn’t give them the disease; we’re just trying to help them through it. It’s super-hard. Super-hard. When it’s my mother whose head I have to shave — super-frickin’-hard.
You had to do that?
I did. But then how thankful could I be that it was me, and I could do it, and I had the skill to do it, and I had the place to bring her to. That was pretty big. It was worse for me when my father stood up after and said, “Okay, you can shave mine, too, in honour of your mom.”
How is your mom now?
She is a four-time survivor. This is the woman who hated my idea, thought it was the worst thing. Thought I should stay home, retire and not open this, that it would be too sad and too heart-rending of a day to be here. I always say she became my No. 1 client. She had lung cancer, beat that. Then she had lymphoma, beat that. Then she got breast cancer, beat that. And then her lymphoma just came back. She’s a fighter.
That’s got to be an inspiration for you.
She’s my poster girl. It also puts me at Tom Baker in the cancer clinics with my clients, so it’s not that I don’t know what goes on.
Kiss Cancer Goodbye T-shirt from Compassionate Beauty.
Do you have a supportive partner?
I have a partner, yes, who really gets what I do and is proud of what I do. He lost his wife to breast cancer, so he has a different kind of understanding. So when I do come home hurting, he understands, and he can put his arms around me and make it a little bit better.
Do you get on your Harley and clear your head sometimes?
Totally. So [my partner] taught me how to ride, and I was sitting on the back of his bike one day, and I said, “Phhh, I can do this.” So I took some lessons and bought a bike. We rode to Phoenix, which is just about as beautiful as you can get, through the Grand Canyon.
What kind of Harley do you have?
I have a deluxe customized, which is super-cute. It’s a serious bike.
What do you love about riding?
I love motorcycling because everybody just is who they are. They really are. They are who they are.
Compassionate Beauty is located at 26, 22 Richard Way S.W. Appointments are recommended. 403-686-6936, compassionatebeauty.com.