What Can We Learn From Open Barbers – The LGBTQ+ Friendly Salon?
Open Barbers in North London, is exactly as the name suggests – open for LGBTQ+, open for all people and all genders (including those who don’t identify with a gender) and those on a low income.
Back in 2019 HJ interviewed director Greygory to find out the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community when they visit a salon or barbers, why Open Barbers operates a ‘pay what you can afford’ system and why he hopes that Open Barbers won’t exist in 50 years’ time… Although the interview was done a couple of years ago, it’s essential reading for all those in the hairdressing industry – and beyond.
In three words, how would you describe Open Barbers?
Inclusive, affordable and accessible.
How do you want LGBTQ+ customers to feel when they visit from Open Barbers?
It’s really important to us that our clients feel actively welcomed, listened to, validated, comfortable and free from gendered (and other) assumptions when they visit the salon. We know that our person-centred attitude is highly valued by our customers and is usually something they find to be lacking in other establishments, hairdressing and otherwise.
How do you think the hairdressing and barbering community responds to the LGBTQ+ community?
The hairdressing and barbering community needs to stop making assumptions, listen to people, and recognise that clients are the experts of their own identity and desires for their appearances. Sadly we hear a lot of the negatives which is why people seek us out, but salons and barbers can learn a lot from that as to how they may be unintentionally excluding people.
Anecdotes we regularly hear from clients on their previous experiences and hairdressing traumas include: outmoded assumptions that women have long hair and men have short hair and anything outside of that is undesirable; women with short hair need to have wispy long bits and should dye their hair to avoid ‘looking like a lesbian’ (even if they are); women, non-binary people and trans men being charged higher ‘women’s’ prices for a masculine haircut or basically being denied services in barbershops; that women’s hair is harder to cut (even though barbers are very happy to cut my hair and as a trans masculine person I still have the same head as I did pre-transition); people trying to grow their hair into a longer, more feminine style having their hair cut short and masculine without their consent, gross sexist barbershop banter and general toxic masculinity being imposed on everyone in the shop… the list goes on, but says a lot more about the prejudice and fear in barbers and stylists than it does about the client. These experiences can be deeply traumatic as barbers and stylists hold so much power over people’s appearances but don’t always handle that power respectfully.
We also know that some salons and barbers out there are getting their environment, services and non-gendered pricing right for people who don’t feel the need to travel to us anymore, and we encourage those businesses to keep up the good work!
The hairdressing and barbering community needs to stop making assumptions, listen to people, and recognise that clients are the experts of their own identity and desires for their appearances.
Do you think perceptions of are changing within the hairdressing / barbering industry?
I would like to think perceptions are changing in line with the increase in numbers of incredible young LGBTQ+ clients we are welcoming, and I am always filled with such hope when new LGBTQ+ stylists get in touch wishing to join the hair industry for the same reasons we have. However, things aren’t changing quickly enough as we have clients travelling from across the UK and even Europe to seek services with us as they are so poorly served in their local areas.
Gender neutral pricing and greater gender / trans awareness in the industry is desperately needed if salons and barbers are to better cater for LGBTQ+ communities.
In 50 years’ time do you think Open Barbers will still exist or do you think the industry will have become so inclusive that all barbers will, in effect, be ‘open’?
It is my dream and ambition that Open Barbers may one day be obsolete, and as our mission is non-profit and anti-capitalist this is not at odds with our business model! The thought that within our lifetime, the campaign for a more diverse understanding of hair and identity in the industry to be achieved would be fantastic, however at the moment reporting of homophobia has doubled and transphobia has trebled, which is a very frightening statistic.
Salons and barbershops need to recognise their role in this, and that to be truly inclusive of LGBTQ+ people is also to engage in tackling misogyny, racism, fat phobia, mental health stigma and ableism, as queer and trans people face multiple barriers to inclusion and as the amazing Audre Lorde said: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”.
It is my dream and ambition that Open Barbers may one day be obsolete, and as our mission is non-profit and anti-capitalist this is not at odds with our business model!
Why do you operate a sliding scale payment system?
We have been committed to a sliding scale payment system since the beginning, as we believe that everyone should be able to access an affirming haircut regardless of their income levels. It is often the case that queer and trans people need to access gender affirming haircuts as part of their survival in daily life, and due to a lifetime of discrimination and bullying have not always been able to complete education, access employment or have supportive families.
There can be other complex reasons why some people who need our services have less disposable income, but on the flip side those who have experienced more comfort and privilege in life like to support what we do by paying generously which helps us to balance out our turnover. We have built a ‘pay it forward’ system into our pricing model which works beautifully.