Rarely stories come along that dually remind you how much more to life there is outside the salon but how vital our all-consuming trade in an industry we’re passionate about can be. The experience of Neel Morley of Neel Loves Curls sits comfortably in that Venn diagram. Neel is a dedicated hairdresser with a niche speciality in curly hair and a genetic disease called Polycystic Kidneys, whose life has been aided, emboldened and made in any way possible due to his professional drive, his love of hair and a much-needed organ donation. His story is one to make you take stock.
Neel decided to become a hairdresser at age 22 in 1999, at that time across the pond. His subsequent travelling and settlement in Melbourne, as well as further education and a changed focus to curly hair came later, discovering the true passion that saw him through the worst of his illness.
“My work kept me going, my obsession with it and making people happy with the way they naturally look,” he said. “Even in hospital I had the nurses coming into the ward and asking for curly hair advice, I don’t even have a name, I’m just the curly hair man and I don’t even have curly hair myself!”
Neel opened the first curly hair salon in the country, and has grown the presence of this Melbourne space with social media, so much so that clients travel from interstate and even internationally for the salon’s renowned services. Customers from Bali, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka visit Neel to discover his brand of quality, hydrated curls.
“Clients range from two years old to people in their 80s,” Neel explained. “I hold pre-teenager and children’s events to teach young women how to look after their natural hair, and I feel so great after doing it. It’s a lot of work to organise and I deliberately make it free so everyone will come along, and mothers thank me for making their daughters realise how naturally beautiful they really are.”
“I try really hard on my social media to show all different people at all different ages with all different curl types, I think a lot of salon social media can be quite ageist and if you’re over 45 you’re not really on it, so I want my salon to be fun, colourful and unique,” he continued. “I want people with straight hair to feel jealous that they can’t come into my curly hair only hair salon.”
Alongside his thriving business, Neel has always had the full-time concern of his illness and his preoccupation living life to its full, knowing that the disease would impede him later on. At this stage of his life, living to its maximum involved throwing himself into his business and the hair world at full capacity.
“It’s hereditary in my family that we have Polycystic Kidneys, which is blood clots in your kidneys, my dad and some of my siblings have also had kidney transplants, one of my cousin’s had a heart and kidney transplant,” he explained. “I always knew it was coming to me, so in my 20s I partied, in my 30s I travelled and in my 40s I just wanted to have my own business. I believed that having something I loved and was passionate about meant I didn’t get depressed because I was always so busy running to my business when I was plugged into dialysis.”
Despite spending up to 25 hours a week plugged into dialysis, Neel was also working 80 hours a week in the salon, leaving little time for anything else, including sleep. After leaving the hospital around 3:30am, he would go rest in the salon in time to be up and ready for work at the start of the day. Throughout these times, his biggest concern was how his illness may affect his hairdressing career.
“I had 18 operations in 2 and a bit years, and after one of them, when I had the surgery in my arms to put the dialysis needles in, I couldn’t feel two of my fingers, so that was my biggest fear that I couldn’t work if I didn’t use my hands,” he said.
Eventually, it was a call in the middle of the night alerting him to a six swap organ transfer, where organs are sent around the country in a multi-swap to match with the right subject, which saved his life. He now uses the creativity and tenacity so evident in his business to champion organ donation and the way in which it can save someone’s life. He advocates for opt out systems being used in other countries around the world, promotes Donate Life events and delivers information about the cause to try and raise Australia’s unfortunately low donor rate.
Additionally, Neel conducts events to thank nurses, the professionals who helped him through the most dangerous time of his life. He has also reached out personally to the donor family of the donor, thanking them for the second lease on life they gave him.
“I lost masses of weight and looked really bad, but I just had to work to give me my purpose, it’s my calling,” he said. “I wrote the donor family a letter trying to convey how amazing what they did for me is, work kept me afloat but they gave me my life back.”
Neel continues to champion the notion of embracing your natural self, with his mantra that ‘frizz is just a curl waiting to happen’ and his social media presence that brings in global clients and highlights clients of true diversity and across the age spectrum. With a passion for what he does, a mission to increase organ donation in Australia and a miraculous second shot at life, Neel is both a force of nature and a force of good.
“I’m an interactive, positive person so nothing was going to stop me, and now my next mission is I want people to know about the transplant list,” he said. “I feel really blessed in my life to have this second chance, this year I felt like celebrating the day I got my kidney for my birthday, because I felt like that was my new life.”
To register to become an organ and tissue donor visit www.donatelife.gov.au
Click here for Styleicons|TV.