Who are you? Where do you live and what do you do everyday?
I am Candy Fuegen. I am a mother to two children, a hairdresser, and a multi-business owner. I live in a river town called Muscatine, Iowa. It is the only Muscatine in the world. The Mississippi River is directly behind my salon. We are also known as the Pearl City. In 1905, Muscatine was the largest pearl producer in the world. It is our "claim to fame" you might say.
Every day looks different for me. I have owned a salon for 18 years. I still work behind the chair every day, but my days are much shorter. The team that I have supporting me has allowed me the opportunity to expand. In October of 2022, I opened two more businesses. In one location, I put in a Pilates studio and a clothing store. In my experience with the salon, I knew who was coming and what the sales would be for the day based on appointments. As for the clothing store, how do you project sales? Who will come? Who will be attracted to the brand I have created? So to offset overhead, I put the Pilates studio in to ensure traffic and sales. The clothing store is named Liv Leo Apparel and the studio is LivLeo Active. Our tagline is "Leisurely Active." We carry loungewear and activewear. The name is based on my children. Olivia is my leisurely girl and Jackson Leo is definitely my active son. It’s a perfect homage to my kiddos.
Were you raised in Muscatine? Why there?
I am a Muscatine native. I definitely pictured myself leaving and going to a bigger “better” place. My family is here and my friends. Before I knew it, I was married and raising children. My husband at the time was a partner in a trucking business. And then came Salon Incognito; I have been a hairdresser for 31 years. We put down some major roots. As I have grown, I learned that Muscatine is my home.
Did you literally come out of the womb as a hairdresser? You don't look a day over 35.
I was not one of those young girls that cut Barbie’s hair or did their friends' hair for special occasions. My love for the industry came from working as a receptionist at a salon in high school, taking down appointments and washing color bowls. I wanted to be in a salon every day but I didn’t necessarily have to do hair. I just loved the environment and the business aspect of it. I went to cosmetology school immediately after my high school graduation. I was hired as a stylist at age 17. So, I started my career quite young.
Tell us about your daily rituals.
I am a major reader! I can’t go to sleep without reading. I love all genres of books. As soon as I wake up, I listen either to a podcast or a Libby book. My podcasts range from health (Skinny Confidential), humor (Bitch Bible), or true crime (Crime Junkies or First Degree).
The last book I listened to was "Rose Code." It's about women decoding messages during WW2. Women were employed to decode messages through the war and to find out when the next battle was going to take place. I guess intelligence services thought women paid more attention to detail and that their egos wouldn't get in the way of “cracking the code first,” all obviously top secret. But they were living totally normal lives. They had husbands and moms and dads and children. I like those stories, everyday women with kids and relationships who do extraordinary things.
When I am home alone, I love silence. There is so much stimulation at work, that it's nice to have quiet. When I really need an escape, it's reality TV for me! Any of the Real Housewives franchises or Love Island.
Any other rituals?
I became sober 4 years ago. I needed to replace drink with something healthy at night to fill my time. My replacement became my nighttime hygiene routine. I dry brush, drink hot tea, and quiet my mind. My two dogs are a huge part of my evenings as well.
Do you think that you have a vocation or a job?
I have so much passion for my industry. I haven’t worked a day in my life. It certainly isn't a "job" so I guess, vocation?
And what would you call this vocation?
For me, health and wellness and beauty are number one in a world where women don’t always put themselves first. It may sound shallow that beauty is a part of my day, but beauty looks different to so many. Beauty is a feeling. I don’t really identify as some kind of wellness guru.
I guess I'm just a lady doing the thing.
When did you decide to become a hairdresser and why open the store?
As I mentioned, I worked as a salon receptionist in high school. I loved the camaraderie of the people coming in and out of the salon. People left there smiling and happy. There was always so much joy that inspired me. Even more than doing hair, I wanted to sit in a salon and find a way to make a living... and I did! The proudest moment I have had most recently was our work Christmas party. There were 27 people in attendance. We sat at a table that was set family style. To look at the staff that have become dear friends, and see their significant others beside them was quite overwhelming. I am responsible for helping these talented people put food on their table. I am honored to be surrounded by such greatness.
I was able to start another venture because of the awesome staff that works in the salon. In our small town we have extremely limited shopping options. Farm implement stores, Walmart, and 3 shops downtown. That is it. With all of the guests that come into the salon, I basically did market research daily. I know what people are looking for. They tell me what is lacking. So, I took that information and built the store from there. As they say, “if you build it they will come." The clothing store, LivLeo Apparel is directly across the street from the salon. When I was told that the building was available for rent I just knew I had to do it! Another sign from the heavens was accidentally meeting the twin owners of T.W.I.N., a sustainable fashion line. I was visiting my daughter in New York. We stopped by Artists & Fleas and the twins were there with their mother at their booth. The clothing was to die for and the "Twins" were so personable! I told them I was opening a clothing store and I wanted to partner with them. I thought I was going to have to beg, but they jumped at the chance. My salon is 100% sustainable. T.W.I.N.’s mission is sustainability. Having the enthusiasm and passion for this project from the twins made my decision so easy to open this business. I never thought of the repercussions if things didn’t work out. If it doesn’t work, close it and move on.
That’s a very liberating approach. A lot of people don't have that mindset. They're so afraid of failure.
My clientele asked for it. I knew what they were looking for. LivLeo Apparel is a gender neutral and inclusive clothing store. There’s no reason to not shop there. We have a variety of price points. Everyone can shop here, we dress every body.
You mentioned gender neutral as well. Is Muscatine conservative?
I would have to say Muscatine is conservative. But we are a very transient town. People from all over the country come here for work. Muscatine is the headquarters of many large corporations. Being informed and putting it out there that we are here for all people and bodies has really ingratiated us to so many. I get to hear quite often how thankful the people of Muscatine are for a safe shopping space. We are also 35-45 minutes away from the University of Iowa so there are a lot of folks coming from there too!
If you build it, will He come?
Absolutely, positively. One day 18 years ago, I saw that the space was up for sale that my salon is now in. I took out a $10,000 loan, and got into the space November 20th. Opened January 3rd. But I didn’t even tell people I was opening! Social media didn’t exist. I had no brand or ethos. I put an ad in the local paper with the vibe of “I’m a hair cutter, I’ve cut hair for ten years… come get a haircut!”
Everything just, happened. With the clothing store, people still don’t quite know about us yet. Opening a business 20 years after my first, the world is so different. You have to have social media. You have to scream from the rooftops that you’re there. You spend so much time posting, sharing, hashtagging. But in a small town like this, word gets around especially when you offer something good.
What do you know now that you wish you had known ten years ago?
Do you have hairdresser friends? Yes? Okay. We can be bitches. Now, I bet you love your friends. But sometimes working together with your best bitchy friends can be hard! Being a young owner versus being a now-seasoned owner, I had to learn about ego. Intent. What was my intention 18 years ago with my staff as opposed to now? There were misconceptions of what I wanted.
Hairdressing itself carries a terrible connotation: We're not smart. We couldn't go to school. We just did this on the side if the real job didn't work out. I hated that connotation. It was my mission in life to raise the bar for hairdressers and as such I was hard on younger hires because I wanted success for them when maybe they just wanted a job and then go home to their family and pursue something else. Sometimes your definition of success isn’t theirs. What I wish I had known was that I had a lot of ego – I was too intense. But now I know to not impose myself. However, if you want to be one of the very best hairdressers in this area, come, let's do it. We're going to communicate. Give me your boundaries. If I have something to say to you today and you say, “I’m not down for it today, let’s put a pin in it and revisit it,” I can give people that grace now.
The grace of giving feedback at a later time.
Being patient, taking your time, putting yourself in their shoes.
Do you think that that also extends into other realms of your life, that communication?
I feel like I was a terrible communicator. Growing up it was best to be quiet and speak when spoken to. It was a volatile home environment. As a wife and mother, I didn’t have a great example as to what “healthy” looked like. But I digress. I wanted to be a survivor and not a victim. I’m sure I was combative and larger-than-life in order to be heard. Clearly, that is hard on a marriage. As I have matured, I have learned to sit in my feelings as opposed to being reactive. I have learned to show grace. Patience is something I still work on to this day.
You keep using the word grace. Do you have a faith tradition?
No, it's funny. I don’t. I have faith in that I believe in a higher being. But I don’t follow a particular organized religion. Never went to church as a child, never learned Bible stories. Now I am dating a fella who is deeply religious. He went to Bible college. When I am saying something irreverent, he will say, “Well, that reminds me of a story in the Bible.” And it spurs the most enlightening conversations.
Truth be told, my favorite piece of jewelry is a necklace that was handcrafted from Kenda Kist that says "FUCK."
I wonder if Jesus would have enjoyed saying “Fuck it.”
My fella would start with, “Well, actually….” And then he proceeds to tell a story making Jesus sound like a cool dude. It’s so great.
Do you care if your life has an impact on other people or the planet?
Is it bad if I say the planet and not so much the people? (Laughs) But it's one in the same, right? It eventually comes down to people…who impact the planet. I work hard everyday to lessen my impact on the planet and to make a huge impact on people. So, yes, I care.
You mentioned sustainability. What impact do you want to have?
Davines is the hair care line that we carry. It's from Italy. It's family owned. They manufacture, research, they do everything in the village. It's a self-sustaining building. That's very near and dear to my heart. In our salon, 98% of our salon waste gets reused in some way through a company called Green Circle. They take our hair. The hair goes to women's prisons and they fill these booms. And then the booms go into the ocean and it absorbs oil spills. It takes away pollutant water. Instead of throwing our color waste down the sink and into our waterways, it gets pounded out. The pigments get separated from the liquid, and now they're able to do something with that color pigment. And then they distill the water. Brazilian waxing…they take the wax, sticks, papers, and they do something.
For the clothing store, finding T.W.I.N. was just insane. I am doing with haircare what they are doing with clothing–that I now sell. I had no idea what deadstock was, that Tencel was sustainable. I didn't even know what it was. There's something powerful about each brand the store carries, whether it's a $14 tank top, knowing where it originated and who made it. I like getting small batch goods from Asian-owned or Black-owned companies.
But in Muscatine, Iowa, I don’t necessarily lead with this. I say I’m an educator for Davines. I’ll talk about how they use food grade biodegradable plastics that can be reused in the kitchen. It’s a B-Corp. Yet people in Muscatine are slowly coming around. But this is what I’m doing. It is what I’m about.
Why does it matter to you?
Because I think we need to be smarter. We each need to do something that's bettering our relationship to the environment, to our soil.
What do most people do in Muscatine?
That’s the question of the century! What do you do in Muscatine? Some might say there is nothing to do in this small town. Others may say it's rich with activities. We have wonderful local restaurants, bars aplenty. We have a great museum and symphony. Muscatine has the best YMCA around. We also have a lot of industry. We are the home of HON office furniture, Bridgestone tires, GPC, Kent Feeds, and Bayer. GPC is grain processing. Cool fact about them is that they produce the actual alcohol for Tito’s vodka. GPC also makes the starch compound that is found in a Wendy’s Frosty. Bayer is an agricultural company that purchased Monsanto for seeds and pesticides. Most know the company for Roundup, which is quite controversial to some.
No wonder you care so much about the environment. You're literally the home of Monsanto.
It’s definitely a tricky topic. Many of my guests and friends are employed by this company. As with all things, there are pluses and minuses. With the seed we make more food. With the herbicides we deteriorate the soil. I am no expert on such matters. For me, it's just hard to believe that in 2023 we still have children that go hungry every night, or the only hot meals they get are at school.
Muscatine cares about these complex problems. It is also home to the world-class Stanley Center for peace and security which does policy work mitigating climate change, avoiding the use of nuclear weapons, and preventing mass violence and atrocities. For a county of some 43,000 people, we hit well above our weightclass in impact and in trying to make a better planet. We have global noterity.
So, cool story about our history. On our riverfront we have a statue of The Clam Man. Before the other industries, the city was known as the world’s largest pearl button producer due to the clams found in our river. A book was written called Shell Games by Jeffrey S. Copeland. It is based on Muscatine’s button history and the life and times of Pearl McGill, an industrial spy and a pioneer labor activist. It also speaks to the fact that a German scientist came to Muscatine to study the clams in the 1800’s.
For a variety of reasons into the 20th century and industrialization, the resources to harvest these clams were completely gone in a few years. The biodiversity was gone. We haven’t produced buttons in decades, but we have many businesses that have incorporated "Pearl City" in their names. It is an absolute shame that a natural product, one that put us on the map, was wiped out so quickly.
My hope for the future is that there is a bigger initiative to lessen our carbon foot print, and have that put us back on the map. Clean air, regenerated soil, and a clean river.
I have been a vegan for over 30 years in a city that is also a big farming and livestock community. Salads generally come with bacon crumbles on them. Meat and cheese are staples. I am a bit of a unicorn amongst my peers. It’s fun to talk with people about my food choices. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked "How do you get enough protein in your diet," I wouldn’t have to have 3 businesses!! (Laughs) Even in my food and drink choices I feel as though I am making the tiniest change on my impact on the environment. There maybe is a bit of irony in me being here. I don't know why God dropped me here. It may seem like I'm not supposed to be here. But then again, maybe that is exactly why I’m here.
Who are your people?
My people are my team. But what I found, I am also attracted to older women for friendships because they’ve been through the stupid bullshit. I don’t have a mother-person. I’m 5-ft tall and older women try to take care of me. They are like matronly caregivers. That’s hard for me to let happen sometimes! But they took care of me, especially during COVID.
A quote from Benjamin Franklin: “there are no gains without pains.” What are you suffering through to achieve?
To be cliche, COVID changed everything. I think it taught me to rethink the value of what I do. I realized I didn’t have to work so many hours to still find success -– I already put in the time, the pain. My clients love me, and they'll do whatever it takes to get in with me. These relationships are important, because you don't know when you're going to go through sickness or loss. COVID was the only time that we were ever shut down. People were paying me while we were closed. They said, “I'm already budgeted for you. I want to hold my spot for when you open again. I want you to remember.” We were taken care of. It was nice to just feel like it is more than just hairdressing because as I told you, it is something bigger than an “uneducated” person making someone pretty.
If you were a meme, what would you be?
Well, my very favorite one is the blonde little girl who shrugs, like “I dunno.”
I want to see what she looks like today, because can you imagine being that little kid and the entire world uses you when someone asks a question?
I relate. I always make that face. I was going to have my colleague Mandy sit in on this meeting because I didn’t think I would know answers to the questions. She said that people want to know about me. But I thought, “Who knows me better than you, Mandy?” [Shrugs like meme]
Anyway, enough of that. Let me give you a tour of the store!