Since graduating from our Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Start Up Programme, Open Barbers’ co-director Felix Lane has completed the Scale Up programme. Open Barbers also moved into their own dedicated salon in 2016. Their team has expanded by 200% including a wider range of services with colour and for-Afro hair types. The new venue has enabled Open Barbers to provide space for other therapeutic practitioners who share a compatible ethos. We had a chat with Greygory, founder of Open Barbers…
What does your social enterprise do?
Open Barbers is a hairdressing project open to people of all genders and sexualities. We cut any length of hair, and we provide a hairdressing experience free of assumptions around identity. Within our salon is an informal socialising space with tea, coffee, biscuits, books and fanzine collection most of which are made by our clients and reflect issues we care about.
Why are you passionate about this cause?
Open Barbers is informed by personal experience. I identify as transgender and have experienced a lifetime of difficulties being served in hairdressers and barbershops. Ever since childhood, I found getting a haircut extremely embarrassing, uncomfortable and at times impossible. Barbershops would deny me entry because they were for ‘men only’, unisex salons would charge a higher ‘women’s’ price, and hairdressers refused to cut my hair short enough because they said it wouldn’t suit me.
Hairdressers have a lot of power and control over our appearance, our confidence, and our sense of self, so I re-trained as a hairdresser to set up a salon where the client gets to determine their own identity and appearance on their own terms.
What was your biggest challenge in starting your social enterprise?
Our biggest challenge remains our capacity for growth. There is a high demand for our services, our clients are very loyal and they spread the word very well! We are performing a continuous juggling act of delivering haircut services, learning about and fulfilling our responsibilities as a Community Interest Company, and trying to grow the size of our space and team. It’s important to us that we hold onto our principles of being LGBTQ led, accessible and affordable so our main challenge is keeping all those balls in the air while moving forward at the same time!
How has the School for Social Entrepreneurs supported you?
SSE has introduced me to a fantastic group of social entrepreneurs who we may not otherwise have had the chance to meet. Fellow students, staff, speakers, tutors and mentors collectively represent an incredibly generous source of knowledge, experience and ambition. It has been both practically helpful, and very motivating.
“It has been both practically helpful, and very motivating.”
SSE has been an invaluable source to bringing Open Barbers into existence as a serious organisation; helping us to turn our potential into tangible outcomes. It has given us confidence in ourselves that our project is valuable and we are the right people to be delivering it.
Have you had a ‘light-bulb moment’?
A light bulb moment for me has been getting a greater understanding of the landscape of social entrepreneurship and understanding how social investment works. I may not necessarily go down that road, but I hadn’t previously had much grasp on the broader picture of what else is out there. It has been really helpful to understand where I fit in and how to position myself.