DENVER — When Demi Rivera was growing up, going to the hair salon was the last thing she wanted to do.
“I had such a hard time being in regular salons when I was a kid. The noises from the blow dryers and everything really got to me," Rivera recalled.
Rivera's grandmother was a hair stylist, and she remembers being intrigued by the craft, but did not consider it becoming her career until the end of high school. She obtained her cosmetology license in 2014 and began working in salons, but discovered the same stressors from when she was a child.
"There's a lot of cross noise and a lot of chatter, a lot of crowds and just like, too much going on all at once. It can be very overwhelming," Rivera explained. “I have never really felt like I fit in, in other salons. I wasn't diagnosed with autism until 2019. So, I really didn't know. I had a couple of salon owners tell me that if I couldn't handle the stress, I should quit doing hair.”
Instead of quitting, Rivera started her own company that caters to the needs of clients who are neurodivergent or have autism, providing an option from the sensory overload that can be caused by typical hair salons. She named her company Talking Hairs, as an homage to the Talking Heads.
“We don't feel like there's usually a lot of space for us. There's usually a lot of attention toward autistic children. But you know, we all grow up and we all become adults. And so then once we do, we feel like we're pushed into society to fit in and just kind of endure," Rivera said. “[Talking Hairs] is a comfortable space for all of us. Somewhere that everyone feels like they're safe when they come. They can be themselves. They don't have to pretend to be someone they're not.”
Rivera said she has around 185 clients, and one of them is Nicole Armour, who has autism.
“It's always been stressful getting my hair done. So it's nice to finally have a place where I can just be calm and myself," said Armour. “It's just nice to have a safe space to get my hair done because it is an intimate thing. And it's nice to have someone who can you just feel comfortable with.”
Rivera was recently forced to leave her last location without much notice, and said she is paying nearly double in her new location. She also said she broke her knee in June, meaning she could not work. For those reasons, along with inflation, she has started a GoFundMe to help keep Talking Hairs afloat. The fundraiser said the money will be used to provide financial stability for her business during a time of economic hardship.