Episode 46: Finding Your Magic with Lala Chihaia

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If you know anything about Hair Love Radio, you know how much we love leaning into the power of storytelling. We truly believe that stories change the world. Everyone has a unique story that is completely their own, and that’s why this month we are so thrilled and honored to be celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month. We are celebrating on the podcast by interviewing some of the most inspiring, empowering, and beautiful souls in our industry. These are women who are making waves, shaking things up, and have overcome so much - and are opening up on a whole new level on the podcast. We are so excited for you to listen to these stories, to help us honor their amazing journeys, and to let them fill up your hearts with love and gratitude.

About Lala Chihaia

Lala has an incredible story of resilience and pushing through hardship to achieve your dreams. She grew up in Romania when it was ruled under communism, won the lottery and came to the United States in 2006, and worked tirelessly to build a life for her and her daughter. She is now one of the best-known educators for updos and bridal hair, and uses her platform to inspire others and share her story.

Lala Chihaia is an educator for bridal hair and travels the United States, sharing her knowledge with people at hair shows. She started doing bridal hair in 2014, built her brand from scratch, started out without support from brands to platform her.

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Why Bridal Hair?

Lala’s journey into bridal hair started with leaving her comfort zone, failure, and resilience.

She was working as an apartment manager and a cut and color specialist, and didn’t know anything about bridal hair. - she didn’t know how to do a french braid. One day a client convinced her to do her wedding hair, and after doing a trial with some curls pinned up, the bride requested a french bun. Lala didn’t know how to make that style, and it was a disaster.

Two weeks later after recovering from a bridezilla moment, she bought a mannequin head. She was dead set on recovering from that failure and learning the style her bride had requested. After playing on her mannequin head, and watching the limited YouTube videos that were available at the time, a bunch of different styles started coming out of her hands. Opened an instagram in 2014, started posting photos of styles she made on her cousin’s head, quickly afterward she got 13k followers.

A salon owner reached out to her to teach a bridal hair class that she taught in January 2015. She remember being so nervous, but she taught a jam-packed class and the rest is history.

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Dreams of America

When Lala was young, her uncles immigrated to the U.S. and would send her family photos and letters of what life was like there. Since Romania was a closed communist country, she didn’t know anything about what happened outside of the country. Cars and TVs were a luxury, and all of the TV channels were government-controlled.

As a kid, she remembers looking at those pictures, seeing grocery stores with full shelves and exotic fruits like bananas, and dreaming about how wonderful it must be in America. She looked at those pictures every day, and at that point, the desire in her heart began to see more of the world and come to America.

On her block, there was a field with dandelions. As a child, every spring she would run out of breath blowing on dandelions, wishing and wishing to leave Romania and make it to the United States.

Life in Romania

Born and raised in Romania, came to the United States in 2006. On May 8th Lala celebrated 13 years in America. Most of her family still lives in Romania, except for some extended family.

Lala was raised as an only child in Romania. Under communism in Romania, food was rationed, and her father worked in construction for most of the month. Her mother was an epileptic, and would have epileptic episodes around twice a day. She spent a lot of time as a child in the hospital waiting for her mom to regain consciousness.

She remembers her family getting up at 2 or 3 in the morning, heading to the grocery store to wait in line for their rations. Most of the time the grocery store shelves were empty - and her family would get half a liter of milk, some bread, and two eggs every three days.

Because of her parent’s job schedules, she was put in a weekly institution, kind of like kindergarten. She didn’t get to spend much time with her parents growing up. In daycare, the government controlled and rationed everything - from what they learned to the power in the buildings. In this environment, she would sit by the fence watching people passing by, hoping each person that passed was her mom to pick her up. When she did pick Lala up, she and her mom had a tradition of going to the farmer’s market before walking home and getting pretzels and sour cream.

Lala doesn’t know if she is traumatized from her upbringing. Everyone around her growing up was living a similar life to her - so she said that it did teach her how to be adaptable. Supporting each other and building a community that looked out for each other was a big takeaway from her childhood. Overall, she thinks she had a happy childhood, even though looking back on the hardship still hurts. Now, the resilience that she has from her life experience really helped her build a life in the United States.

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Winning the lottery

After graduating high school she went to arts school, and then studied Psychology. She was close to graduating with her degree in Psychology when she found out that she won the lottery to become a citizen of the United States.

She immigrated with her daughter and first husband in 2006. Out of three years of college in Romania, only 6 class credits were recognized in the United States. Returning to school and re-doing her degree was not an option, so she got a job as a property manager. The management was flexible and allowed her daughter to be with her in the office.

She worked every day from 9-5. At the time she did not speak English, and Lala remembers listening to voicemails in the office and pausing after each word to look it up in the dictionary. It was an unsafe area, and Lala knew something needed to change. She and her family arrived right when the economic crisis hit, but she decided to go back to beauty school.

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After being turned down to attend Paul Mitchell hair school, she was accepted to Elite Academy in 2008, which was partnered with Vidal Sassoon in London. She knew no English, but struggled through and was at the top of her class. She continued working as a property manager, and would go to school at nights. On weekends she would do beauty services at a senior center.

She remembers being treated poorly by her fellow students at hair school. They couldn’t understand how someone who didn’t know English was passing her tests and classes. Little did they know, she would take the chapters home and do the same thing she was with voicemails for work - looking up each word in the dictionary and making sense of what was taught. During this phase of life, between hair school, working at the apartments, and taking care of her daughter, Lala did not get much rest.

Her and her now-husband, Alex, met in 2008 in Sacramento. They met on the property she was managing, and they became good friends. She says that he remembers falling in love with her early on - but she was married and was focused on saving her marriage. In 2010 they met up for lunch, and he kissed her forehead and he said, “Someday you are going to be mine.” She told him to get that idea out of his head, because she was still trying to save her marriage. She told him they would only ever be friends.

She graduated in 2009, and immediately rented a chair in the salon. She had no clientele and would rush from the apartments to wait in the salon for walk-ins.  

For 9 years she worked with three jobs, didn’t take any vacations, raised her girl in her workplaces, lived paycheck to paycheck, and worked tirelessly to build a life for her and her daughter.

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Overcoming opposition

There have been times in Lala’s life where anxiety and depression made it difficult for her to want to continue living. After one particularly bad episode, she returned home from the hospital and her daughter ran up to greet her and said, “Mom, please get better because I really need you.” That was the last time in Lala’s life that she ever contemplated suicide.

Even losing everything is not enough to quit on life. Nothing is worth leaving this life or quitting your dreams. Lala says if it is possible for her to make it on her own despite a really difficult journey, it is possible for anyone to pursue their dreams.

“I’m still smiling, I’m still full of energy and life, because this life is so freaking beautiful.”

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“Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough, smart enough, powerful enough, or you don’t have possibilities - because you are limitless. You are only limited in your mind.”

 

Fairytales Do Exist

After separating from her first husband, Alex found out and told Lala that he would do anything possible to make it work with her. Starting in 2016, he flew into every city that Lala traveled to support her, even when she was working, just to be close to her.

In June 2016, he moved to Sacramento to live close to Lala and her daughter. In 2017, he finally proposed. After being good friends for ten years, Lala says they are still learning how to be married. They now live in Florida. Lala says that she married her best friend, and that romantic guys definitely do exist. Her daughter, Deborah-Ruth, is now 14 years old.

From the child in Romania, making wishes on dandelions to now, Lala does believe that dreams come true and she is so grateful to use her platform to share her story and inspire others.

Lala with her husband, Alex.

Lala with her husband, Alex.

“We are the only ones that set our limits.”

Your Story is your Superpower

Lala has an incredibly powerful and inspiring story.

When Lala teaches classes, the people who come up and talk to her afterward don’t applaud her on the technique she is teaching or anything like that - they thank her for sharing her story. She has heard from so many people saying how her story has inspired them to keep going and persevering through hard times.

On multiple occasions, she has heard people say things to her like “You are everything I hoped you would be, and nothing I thought you would be.”

Lala says that her passion is much more about people and helping others achieve their dreams is much more powerful than just hair. She is so grateful that she has her platform to encourage others to chase their dreams.

She has absolutely inspired us, and we are so glad that she was generous enough to share her story with us.

Elizabeth Manuele