Don't Call Me Lady

Originally published in Barber Evo, USA Edition #1

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Close your eyes. Imagine yourself in a barbershop: the clippers buzzing, the conversations and music in the background, the sound of water rushing as the last remnants of hair are washed away. Who do you see? How do you imagine a Barber?

This was the first question I posed when I created the website for Her Chair His Hair, and one that I still ask almost 5 years later to this day. The barber that comes to mind will vary based on a plethora of descriptors: old or young, new or advanced, Latino or Russian. However, that Barber you imagined is likely a man and that doesn’t make you wrong, but it does show how far we have to go as an industry.

Every day since I graduated school, I have had the same, eye opening conversation. “Hi, my name is Cassie and I’m a Barber.” Most people, men and women alike, will blink confusedly and ask a simple question, “Oh, you’re a stylist/lady Barber/Barber-ess?” It used to bother me so much until I realized that it is not their fault because we all have been conditioned to think of a barbershop as a place for men. Women have salons and men have barbershops, right? As we lovingly say in Brooklyn…“nah.”

In 1924 the first “women barbers” were admitted into the Barber Union and in 1985 women constituted for 50% of Barber school enrollments.

Women have played an integral role in the barbering industry longer than most people are aware. In 1924 the first “women barbers” were admitted into the Barber Union and in 1985 women constituted for 50% of Barber school enrollments. These statistics are only applicable to the United States in the 20th century and yet, without proof, most people will brush them off and say that it is a new “trend” or “fad” for women to become barbers. So why is there so much pushback? In my years of doing research, networking and developing relationships with women in the industry, the consensus is typically the same: nobody believes us when we tell them what we do for a living.

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Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow barber, platform educator and brand manager at the International Beauty Show in New York. We spoke about a recent event she participated in as a featured judge and how it lead her to realize something very strange about the structure of the battles that were hosted. Full disclaimer: I think, to a degree, “female” categories at Barber events are great because they’re a way to dip slowly into the water. With that being said, the active separation of men and women at these events are a complete disservice to all professionals. This woman told me that the “female” category was not only priced less, at the same price as the student category, but that the cash prize plus physical trophy dwarfed in comparison to the other categories.

Some will read that last paragraph and yell out, “But Cassie, at least there is a female category to represent women in the industry.” I ask you to hear me out. Why at least? From my perspective, it’s indirectly sending a message that women are not on the same playing field as men when it comes to competitions and we all know that’s simply untrue. Well, some of us do at least. This is not an attack on those who have good intentions and are attempting to include or attract women to their events. Historically, most Barber events are geared toward men and any good marketing course will tell you that diversity is key, especially when there is an 18 trillion dollar “female” economy to tap into.

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So where do we go from here? We move forward in unison as an industry while respecting that we all have strengths and weaknesses in our personal path to success. All events, for both stylists and barbers, can actively create an inclusive environment so that any professional looking to enhance their skill set feels welcomed. Most importantly, in my opinion, when someone tells you who they are or what they do, you can believe them and skip the 21 questions about how their gender magically affects their title or license. 

Oh, and you can stop calling me “lady.”

Cassondra Kurtz

Founder of www.HerChairHisHair.com 

Master Barber, State of New York

A Story of Triumph: @KeilaLaBarbera

Founders Note: It has been my absolute pleasure, and an amazing journey, to meet the women who make this industry tick. Every event I’ve attended, every time someone has used the #HerChairHisHair hash tag, and every trip has resulted in absolute awe at how we have grown into our role as barbers and men’s hair specialists.

Although it has been quite a while since I’ve posted an interview, I have never stopped thinking about how I can share someone’s story while trying to give them a platform they so rightfully deserve. These women all demonstrate grace, strength and talent while taking on additional roles such as caretaker, mom, or business extraordinaire.

I took the time to fall back in love with this industry, to reconnect with beautiful and supportive souls who believe in us, and to build a team that cannot be stopped.

With that being said, it is an honor to share this particular story of a woman who, in my opinion, has the soul, determination, and talent of an absolute winner. She has officially graced our stage at the second annual Her Chair His Hair showcase in New York City to benefit ‘Cut It Out’, a program that benefits domestic abuse survivors, and therefore absolutely deserves to have her story told now more than ever.

Watch the video content or feel free to read along below and see photos of Keila and her work.

Video by Daniel Recinos

A Story of Triumph: @KeilaLaBarbera

Keila, also known on Instagram as @KeilaLaBarbera, is currently located at MVPS Barbershop in Worcester, Massachusetts. Don’t know where that is? Neither did I, so you’re not alone. About 45 minutes from Boston, she is the self proclaimed First Lady of her shop, and she definitely deserves that title.

A born hustler, Keila is constantly thinking of ways to improve her shop and experience for her clients. However, her passion and hard work doesn’t stop there. When I had the opportunity to interview her last January (I know, I know, I’m slacking!), she was already working on her second year with the Massachusetts Barber and Beauty Convention in her hometown. Putting together a part of the show called “Hair to Empower”, the hairstylists battle to completely transform their models from head to toe.

The catch? Keila personally interviews women from homeless shelters and selects them based on inspiring stories or their desire to want help for themselves. At the end of the battle, the women not only walk away with new looks, she also provides them with baskets from participating sponsors, local businesses and guidance so they can obtain education and work. Prior to show time, Keila interviews each of the women on camera so that when the models and stylists go on stage, their interviews are on the big screen for the audience to see the final transformation.

I asked Keila what inspired her to become a barber and she told me that it was never something she planned on pursuing. “I didn’t choose barbering, barbering chose me,” she continues to say that it was always an aspiration “to become something great, I just never knew how.”

Sound familiar?

Coming from a broken home, Keila enrolled herself at a local community college to study Behavior Analysis in pursuit of achieving something great. Unfortunately, being a single mother and in school while working, she encountered some dark times and decided to defer college for a semester. That’s when she decided to give the Cosmetology program at Robroy Academy in Worcester a try.

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Developing A New Path

At the time, Keila was in a very abusive relationship that, like many men and women in the same situation, she found very hard to get out of. Where did she manage to find happiness? “The only light in my day was when I was in school working towards my new career,” Keila tells me, “…Before I knew it, school was over and I obtained my Cosmetology license. But with ugly marks on my face and a broken spirit, it was very hard for salons to hire me.”

Managing to leave her relationship, Keila moved forward and later found out that a when someone was making terrible comments about her, a man who worked at her previous hair academy stood up for her. Returning to her school to pursue a job search, she of course wanted to know who the kind stranger was.

Many of us know this man for his talent, but most importantly for his grace and friendship.

Walking into the room to search for him, Keila immediately realized it was @GeeTheBarberWheelz. Describing him as “the man who forever changed my life, my partner in life and business for five years (now six) and counting.

She instantly enrolled in school to become a barber that day.

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On Being a Woman in a Man’s Industry

Every woman’s story is different and I’d like to take a moment to say that this industry is wonderful because of both the women and men who put tireless work into their craft every day.

For Keila, people are “pretty surprised and intrigued” when they find out her profession. She mentioned she is often asked if she’s “any good at it”, which she has admitted that she hates answering it verbally. Our firecracker would “rather show them”, because what better way than to prove you’re the best?

I asked Keila how she handled any clients, especially if they refused her, when she first started in the industry. Apparently, she used to be refused all of the time! Now, she’s proud to say that on average she currently sees 10-15 people every day working from open until close, seven days a week. This cutting machine is booked primarily in advance but tries to accommodate walk-ins between appointments if the shop is extremely busy. She’d rather take that extra client than see them walk out the door and take their business elsewhere.

So how did she handle clients when they used to refuse her? “You’re refused especially when you’re a woman, so my personality is very inviting as well as professional,” Keila tells me. She often finds herself being told, “I’ve never had my hair cut by a woman before.” Building a reputation for herself in Worcester, she notes that this doesn’t happen often anymore.

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Growing Beyond Hometown Roots

Not only is she the First Lady of MVPS Barbershop and an accomplished hair battle producer, Keila is also on the famed Xotics team created by Curtis Smith. She admits she looks forward to getting back on the road for the Xotics HairBattle Tour while also keeping some other projects under wraps while she develops them further.

When asked what she hopes to do for the industry, Keila says, “In general I just want to inspire others the way I was and still am inspired.” She also points out how she’d like to shift the focus away from “attention and credit of other barbers when they are not the ones putting money in our pockets.” A prevalent issue I sincerely agree with. “Our clients are paying us. So instead of caring about the opinions of our competition, professionals should focus more on their reputation in their current and future clients’ eyes.”
 

Facts and Trivia

So anyone that has read Her Chair His Hair before our re-launch knows that we always showcased a few fun facts about our featured ladies.

Keila apparently loves Funyuns, so I highly suggest a solid tip and a bag of those to get priority seating in her chair.

For our barbers, she says that she loves her Wahl Magic Clippers and shears.

Keila’s biggest pet peeve? “I absolutely cannot stand when clients or co-workers take my tools off my station to use without asking. Just like when Eve would instantly become upset when someone took her apple juice from the movie Barbershop.”

 

Want to learn more or book an appointment? Keila can be contacted at KeilaOlivencia@gmail.com.

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#ThrowBackThursday HerChairHisHair Presents: Lady Barber Showcase

Hey everyone, I know it's been a while but I also know as barbers, stylists and other industry professionals you definitely understand how work can get the better of you. I have to admit, I have missed writing SO much and was upset that there was very little time for me to get back on here. In good news, our community has continued to grow by the thousands and it is so exciting to see all of you kicking ass while taking (client's) names.

We've just come off an awesome high of having a full stage set up at Connecticut Barber Expo in Hartford, CT thanks to Jay Majors!

I thought it would be nice to finally post some awesome photos and video from our first, personally hosted event in October, Her Chair His Hair Presents: Lady Barber Showcase and Breast Cancer Fundraiser. We raised collectively $1,250 which was donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. and will help so many women across the country with early detection, Breast Cancer education and research, patient ongoing therapy and so much more. *cue cheers*

Thank You...
There are so many people that had a hand in helping make this event a success and I hope you'll take the time to read through the list.

Special thanks to our biggest sponsor, Mr Beauty Equipment from Long Island, New York. They donated the amazing red barber chairs and pink stylist chair you see on the stage and the side tables that allowed the women to properly store their tools. Also, a special thank you to Always Pro Barbers  from Brooklyn, NY for donating so many items to give away including clippers, spray bottles, books and more. Jakpot, creator of the pink Breast Cancer King Midas Capes that graced the stage and were also given away. Charly of the Hustle Barbershop in Queens, NY gave away some seriously cozy shirts that were a huge success as well. 

All night we were vibing to music by the amazing and incomparable DJ Jena Red. We were also graced with some serious talent when Emily Simone came out to play her electric violin. Without these ladies the party just wouldn't be the same. I truly believe great music and entertainment are key to an event.

My parents were also an amazing help, Donna and Jeff, for the delicious cupcakes attendees snacked on and my dad's musical genius with mobile sound. Thanks to him, Jena, Emily and myself all sounded on point when needed.

All of these amazing photos are by Kelsey Campbell who donated her services and time to come capture this night. Video by David "FitBarber" Falla, who also took the time to make sure the event was covered completely. 

Last, but certainly not least, thank you to the ladies and gents who came out to showcase and model for us! Mariela, Lisa, April, Guin Gui, Lady Jae, Corina, Carmen: all of you ladies participated in something that has never been done before. You are the first to headline, showcase and cut in an all female, barber focused, event. Here is to so many more accomplishments in your career as you continue to pave the way for other women in this industry. You are all so talented and creative and I only wish the best success for each of you.

How to Travel to NYC for $500 or Less! (For Her Chair His Hair Presents: Lady Barber Showcase)

In our industry it seems that we always come last. Haircuts, doctor appointments, happy hour and even a short vacation. Our clients seem to always need us when we're about to walk away and after restocking on products, sharpening shears, or covering booth rent, there seems to be very little money left to splurge. 

So how the hell are you supposed to make it to New York City for a weekend of networking, education and, ultimately, a great time at Her Chair His Hair Presents: Lady Barber Showcase?

I'm glad you asked.
 

Naturally, this varies based on where you are located and how far in advance you plan but luckily in the United States flight prices can dip unless they are in high demand. Statistically, after back to school and before Thanksgiving, many people aren't looking to travel and prices become much more affordable. 

I love to travel and I love to make last minuted decisions about where I'm going which usually results in having to squeeze here and budget there when it comes to my trips. So I thought I would share a few things to help make it financially possible to get out of your house and on the next flight to New York. (Truthfully, I just REALLY want to see your face at my event so I can hug you for all of your online support thus far!)

Travel Options

A lot of people think the only way to get somewhere else is by plane. Granted, we are working on shorter weekends than most, so typically it is best. But if you're coming from the East Coast, perhaps consider the bus?

Kiplinger.com points out 'For example, an advance-purchase Greyhound bus ticket for travel in October from Raleigh, N.C., to New York cost $45 versus $52.95 to fill up a 15-gallon tank at the average East Coast gas price of $3.53 a gallon (and you'll need to fill up more than once for a drive of that distance). A one-way Amtrak train ticket for the same route would cost $90.'

If taking a bus, or driving, is not possible and flights are the way to go, consider which airport you fly into. I've found that I can save $50-$100 flying in or out of JFK versus LGA and Newark. Which brings me to my next point.

Cross Check Flight Prices

Most people directly go to the website of their airline of choice and call it a day. I've found there are a few ways to find the ultimate flight within your budget. 

  1. Google! If you simply put in origin and destination Google will show you all different versions of flights that range in time, layovers, and price.
  2. Google comes to the rescue again. Similarly, if you find that plain old Google isn't doing it for you there is the Flight Matrix. It sounds way more complicated than it really is but if you do a little leg work you will find that you can save sometimes up to $100 on a flight with this bad boy.
  3. Points! Have a credit card that you forgot has amazing deals for spending money on it? Chase Sapphire Visa, Amex for Jetblue and Delta, and Chase Freedom are just a few cards I use to take my money already spent and turn it into a flight somewhere more exciting. I recently even booked a flight to Long Beach, California for Modown Barber Exhibit for the price of taxes ($11.20). That's it!
  4. Buddy passes. Know someone that works for an airline? More than likely they have one or two of these up their sleeve and maybe in exchange for some haircuts and beers they will be willing to help you out. Typically these are for one way so you will have to purchase another one way back but have no fear! Most airlines like American Airlines, Jetblue and Southwest love doing deals on Mondays or Tuesdays for one way flights. 

Airbnb to the Rescue!

Hotels and other traditional versions of stay in New York can run you $250 at least per night unless you're far out near the airport or in New Jersey. Why not stay down the block from the Lady Barber Showcase hosted at 28 on 27 Shoot Studio and Event Space located at 28 West 27th Street, New York, New York and in the middle of everything Manhattan has to offer?

  1. On average, to rent an entire apartment on Airbnb.com in New York will save you 21.2% and run you $180 per night. (http://priceonomics.com/hotels)
  2. If you decide to rent a room in an apartment sublet style, you will end up saving 49.5%. ALMOST HALF!
  3. If you really want to maximize your savings, you can split said Airbnb apartment with fellow barbers or friends who have always wanted to come to New York City (and see ladies kick ass while showcasing). 
  4. Want to save an extra $20? Use my referral link. No seriously, it doesn't expire and you can have it. I'm not sure if I truly even get anything for it but that's okay, I just want to see you on the 25th! 

If Airbnb still exceeds your budget, consider hostels which are a way more affordable option to hotels and require sharing some space but are typically very safe. If you're a member of Couchsurfing.com then you are all set with lodging!

Purchase Ahead of Time

This seems really obvious but a lot of people don't consider the money spent on dining out, seeing the sights and other incidentals while you're in New York. Websites like Groupon, LivingSocial, TravelZoo, and others are all about saving you money and promoting local businesses. 


Overall, if you search head to toe for the right flight and book through Airbnb, for two to three days in New York City, you can actually do the entire trip for $500. It of course helps to travel with someone else to split the expenses. But it's doable! And I hope that this will help when planning your trip to the Her Chair His Hair Presents: Lady Barber Showcase on Sunday, October 25th at 6:30 pm. (Shameless plug!)

Until Next Time,

Cassie

State of the Union: Taking Back Our Industry

Tonight I was involved in a conversation amongst many peers that discussed where the industry was going for Barbers and what we could do to improve it. There was talk about how Barbers are being poorly represented in the media all the way to how Barbers represent themselves poorly. It took me a minute to realize why I felt like I have heard this conversation before but not amongst Barbers and finally it hit me: every industry is currently facing the same problem.

If you read or keep up with my previous posts then you know that I have this knack for intertwining multiple industries or topics that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. It's a blessing and a curse because I can go completely off topic but I promise I always have a point. Stick with me.

Barbers, hair stylists, makeup artists, and nail technicians or aestheticians are facing the same reality: prices keep going up and wages stay the same, or in some cases, decrease. Before I became a Barber I was a makeup artist for quite a few years and a freelance makeup artist at that aka struggle city. We are constantly fighting as makeup artists to prove our worth to clients amongst a growing crowd of upcoming artists and the generation of established artists before us. 

But Barbers work in shops or studios, they don't 'freelance', so why are they struggling? I'm glad you asked. I'll get back to that.

Another issue is reputation amongst our industries and how the public perceives us. Half of it is from what they've experienced in their daily life and the other half is from what they see on television.  

You're telling me makeup artists don't rip each others hair out on set? No way. 

Another known fact about me is I don't keep my mouth shut and sometimes to a fault but it's who I am and I don't plan on stopping any time soon. With that being said, everyone knows I speak out often on women as Barbers and how we are constantly perceived as eye candy rather than equals at events. 

So, wait, most Barbers who happen to be women don't dress like they're on a yacht in Miami with Pitbull? Sadly not.

Perception. That's how we take our industry back.

You are only good as your perceived value in this era of being a Barber or makeup artist. That's why visually stimulating social media platforms like Youtube, Instagram and even Vine make a big impact. If you can walk the walk after talking the talk then you have instantly increased your value to complete strangers. 

People are learning how to perceive us through television shows or movies like Barbershop, Blush, Jerseylicious, Face Off and Cedric's Barber Battle. Not all are bad but not all are good either because they are completely one-sided and, in return, professionals feel like they're not being properly represented. 

When the public watches these shows that create a gilded perception, it instantly decreases the value of our work. They see the easiest and most simplified aspects of it and think that's all it requires to become successful. Forget the hundreds and thousands of hours of training or experience and the heavy investments into your kit or tools. You just get it for free like the Youtube gurus, right?

This leads me back to the earlier question of why Barbers struggle. We allow the public's perception to control our pricing.

Only in the Barbershop community have I seen such disdain for people who increase their prices based on their experience, market and simple ability to do so. Products have gone up in price, so has rent and every other utility, plus your own bills to support yourself. So why haven't your prices? Because we continually allow the public to say,"But it's so easy, look at XYZ show! So why are you charging so much?"

...Because I like to eat. (Cupcakes, for any of you who were wondering. My birthday is January 28th.)


Recently I have found myself heavily investing in my continued education, taking time to network with my peers and just take a step back to listen. So many Barbers have so much to say about the rapid decline of how Barbers are perceived but, equally, so many have hopes for changing that and taking our industry back.

There's a quote that says,"The world is full of nice people. If you can't find one, be one." 

This industry is brimming with talent: established and upcoming. If you can't find something that makes you proud and willing to represent it, then make a change. There is one thing that stands true in any industry and that is if you build it they will come. Small changes create a ripple effect in our small community that reach out to our clients and their friends or families which in return will help build a positive perception. 

Think about it.

Until Next Time,
Cassie