How Lacy Gadegaard West founded Laced Hair Extensions and the Laced Foundation
I like to say that I am a stylist by trade and a CEO by accident. Honestly, it is still weird to say I am a founder and CEO. When I started Laced Hair, I was working at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Sourcing my own hair extensions was just a side hustle to help me better serve my clients.
Fast-forward to 2023, and my businesses are flourishing. Laced Hair is officially a teenager—we celebrate our 13th anniversary this month. The Laced Hair Salon is in its sixth year, and the Laced Hair Foundation is celebrating our second annual Hair for Hope Gala at the Grand America Hotel on February 23rd.
I grew up in a small town in southern Utah. Early on, I knew I wanted to become a hairstylist. Looking back, I cannot tell you how many people tried to make me feel like being a hairstylist was a poor career choice. After graduating from hair school, I moved to Las Vegas and got a job doing hair at the Bellagio. I was fortunate to work alongside amazing mentors in a great salon where I styled celebrities, pro athletes, musicians and dignitaries.
Hair extensions were a great way to add a little more glam for performers, but they were not widely popular or available like they are today. Based on my experience with hair extensions and how they made me feel when I wore them, I knew the product would be great for a much broader audience. I wanted to be part of that movement.
Leveraging my experience at high-end salons, I began to develop methods and colors that were completely unique to the industry. Stylist friends started asking if they could buy them from me, and my then little business was born!
I made so many mistakes when starting my business. I bootstrapped my business from the beginning and early funding was always a challenge. I partnered with bad suppliers early on and lost money, and because I didn’t have much money to begin with, it took me a long time to make any progress as I reinvested the little profit I had into product development and supply.
"After several tests, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was told that I should think about getting my affairs in order. Countless doctor visits and more testing resulted in a new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. I started treatments at the University of Utah’s Neuro Unit, which resulted in the loss of over 70 percent of my hair."
Looking back, I was fortunate to really nail the product/market fit with my early products. However, I still had to figure out the supply chain, build and manage a website, hire part-time employees and complete a laundry list of other things I had no experience with—remember, I am a hairstylist by trade. All of this was also on the heels of the 2008 recession, which hit Las Vegas particularly hard.
I wish I could have secured a loan in those early days to help with my inventory challenges. I gave a lot of my product away for free to influencers and celebrities, and I took advantage of this new platform called Instagram to help spread the word about my brand and introduce stylists to my products. I started to hit my stride when I began sharing my trade secrets and educating other stylists.
Today, our education program, The Laced Academy, has certified thousands of stylists in our methods in cities across the U.S. and Canada. We have come a long way from the early days when “education” was a stylist shadowing me at my chair while I worked on a client or a demo at the hair school where I graduated! I have always wanted hairstylists to be successful, and my brand exists to provide them with education, products and tools to take their careers to the next level.
I often get asked about the key to my success, and I always return to the phrase, “Don’t quit.” Never giving up is the reason why my businesses exist today. Business is complicated and the journey is full of ups and downs. My side hustle survived cross-country moves, a divorce with little kids and a scary health diagnosis—for a time, I wasn’t sure I would be around for much longer. The ultimate test hit at about six years as a business owner when I started experiencing unexplained symptoms that would begin as headaches and turn into slurred speech and paralyzed facial movements.
After several tests, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was told that I should think about getting my affairs in order. Countless doctor visits and more testing resulted in a new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. I started treatments at the University of Utah’s Neuro Unit which resulted in the loss of over 70 percent of my hair.
Lucky for me, I owned a hair extensions business. I would wear some of my clip-ins to help me feel a little bit more “normal.” Women would ask me how my hair looked so beautiful, and when they learned about my business, they would express their desire for hair extensions. Many of them were going through costly treatments and could not afford hair extensions. At that very moment, sitting in the hospital listening to these heroic stories of women overcoming so many health issues and struggling to pay their medical bills, I wanted to do more. That’s when the Laced Hair Foundation was born.
I see many successful business owners make their fortune and then turn to philanthropy once they have established success. I recognized I had a unique opportunity as a young hairstylist and business owner to not only have my business but also give back and add a deeper meaning to what my brand was all about—all at the same time.
I created the Laced Hair Foundation to help women be their most confident selves. Individuals can nominate themselves or others to receive free hair extensions through the foundation. There is no shame in the hair game!
The number one thing I hear from recipients is they feel that they shouldn’t be asking for our services because they know it’s “just hair,” but let’s be honest, hair can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day. And honestly, rapidly losing hair can completely debilitate your sense of self when you feel like you have already lost so much of what you once knew.
I hear from so many women that when they lose their hair, they are reminded of their health challenges every time they look in the mirror. The way I see it, if I can help these women have a few more good days amid whatever hurdle they are overcoming, we’re making a difference.
I am grateful and humbled that the Laced Hair Foundation has already provided beautiful hair to hundreds of women and continues to do so. Every time we select a new recipient of the foundation, I am left speechless by their stories of courage and completely moved by the transformation and restoration that “just hair” can bring to them.
In 2021, I hosted the first annual Laced Hair Foundation Hair for Hope Gala. I was astonished at the outpouring of love and resources we received from the community. At the event, we raised almost $70,000 for the foundation and kicked off a new chapter for the foundation to source and donate wigs to women suffering from extreme hair loss. This was a game-changer! We receive many wig requests from women who reach out to the foundation, so this fundraiser was important to me. I am so excited to be able to provide wigs to women who don’t have enough hair to get extensions.
Our first wig recipient is Annie, an incredible and stunningly beautiful eighteen-year-old cheerleading senior. Over the last several months, she has undergone chemotherapy. I was so impressed to hear her speak of this experience—she decided one day that she was sick of losing her hair, so she shaved it off.
She has been searching for a wig for some time, and I am so happy we could help her find a quality wig. When we interviewed her for the upcoming Hair for Hope Gala, she said having the wig made her feel like herself again, which is all I could ever hope for. I am continuously motivated by the ability to restore confidence in women while arming them to face whatever challenges that come their way. There are so many amazing women who make this world a better place, and I hope I can give them just a little more confidence, happiness and radiance in their everyday lives.
Laced Hair Extensions has had an incredible almost 13 years and continues to grow, which is largely thanks to our incredible customers and my amazing team. Any business owner only has so many hours in the day, so building a good team is crucial for any young entrepreneur who plans for growth. I’m lucky to be surrounded by amazing team members who inspire me and work so hard for our customers.
Tickets are still available for our second annual Hair for Hope Gala at the Grand America Hotel on February 23rd. I’d love to see you there!