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New residents prospering

By Dick Nichols Wheel contributor The commercial face of Okotoks is constantly evolving, with upscale businesses being opened by newcomers, many of who have remarkable stories to tell.
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By Dick Nichols

Wheel contributor

The commercial face of Okotoks is constantly evolving, with upscale businesses being opened by newcomers, many of who have remarkable stories to tell.

Identity Hair Design, located in the shopping centre at the southeast corner of 32nd Street and Milligan Drive is owned by Fima and Natasha Prives, who came to Canada from the Ukrainian city of Lviv, population 730,000. Their story is typical of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from all over the world who have been welcomed by Canadians in the past four decades

“I have always been entrepreneurial even though free enterprise was illegal in Ukraine,” said Fima, 59. “When I was 16, I would buy jeans from tourists for $50 and sell them for $200. If I’d been caught, it was four years in jail”.

In 1978, Fima, his father, mother, sister, and Natasha, whom he’d married shortly before, decided to sneak out of Ukraine in the middle of the night, leaving everything behind, including their money.

Using Russian vodka and chocolates to bribe train conductors, they travelled to Rome where, after a two-year wait, a refugee organization arranged for them to come to Canada.

“Immigration Canada decided to send us to Saskatoon,” he said with a wry grin. “We arrived on January 9, 1980. The temperature was -42 C.”

Life was good in Saskatoon. Over the next five years, Natasha became an aesthetician, specializing in cosmetic skin treatments, while Fima, an experienced hair stylist, worked at a meat processing plant to earn the money to open his first salon. They had two children—Monique René and Julian Nathan—and later opened a second location.

“But by 1997 we wanted to live in a bigger city,” Fima explained, “so we moved to Calgary and opened a salon there.”

Life in Alberta has been good, too. In 2007, Natasha created a line of cosmetics called Vada, which she produced at a small factory in Okotoks. It was purchased by a major cosmetics producer five years ago, shortly after Identity Hair Design opened its doors.

“Opening a salon in Okotoks was a challenge,” Fima said. “In downtown Calgary, everybody is preppy and urban. In Okotoks, it’s much less formal. Still, people in Okotoks will pay for good quality service.”

To his role as master stylist, Fima brings several years of training with Vidal Sassoon in California. He has also worked with major product manufacturers and set up stylist education programs.

With its sophisticated interior decor and upscale service, Identity Hair Design has become what Fima calls a ’Mommy Oasis’.

“We don’t allow children under 12 years old,” he said, “so when Mom wants a break she comes here. Some people didn’t like that idea, and it’s not that we don’t like children, but we wanted to create an oasis where tired moms, or even grandmothers can just relax.”

It’s known as customer experience marketing.

“If somebody is looking to learn a little bit about fashion, we are the place. We won’t give a 19-year-old girl’s haircut to a 55-year-old woman. We know what fits.”

Fima and Natasha have also offered students from Foothills Composite High School the chance to train at the salon. “I think kids who take hairdressing should have the opportunity to experience a variety of techniques,” he said. “We take an artistic approach and not everybody needs that, but I think the kids should be exposed to it.”