People • Community
8 Boulevard Customers Worth Celebrating During Pride and Beyond
Jun.01.2023By Boulevard Staff
These self-care businesses prioritize inclusivity and self-expression
It’s hard to overstate the LGBTQ+ community’s impact on beauty and wellness. As more and more spaces in society become safe for queer people, it’s worth taking a moment during Pride to appreciate how much has changed. People across the gender and sexuality spectrum can feel comfortable and cared for at these eight Boulevard-powered salons — even those in locations that have been historically hostile to the LGBTQ+ community. These businesses, spread across the country, believe in serving the community and changing the status quo.
Virtue Vegan Salon: Serving looks and the community
After graduating from Ohio State in 2007 and earning a cosmetology license from the Pioneer Career & Technology Center, Melanie Guzzo started teaching in Columbus, Ohio. But when she decided it was time to find the place she’d practice her own craft and build out her career, she came up empty. Nowhere seemed to fit the vision she had of a salon: eco-friendly practices, professional development for stylists, and a commitment to the vegan lifestyle she herself had adopted in her 20s. Rather than bend to the world, she took inspiration from a vintage barber’s chair that belonged to her grandfather — the same one in which she cut her father’s hair — and opened Virtue Vegan Salon.
The salon’s original location in Clintonville saw it serving the flourishing LGBTQ+ population in the neighborhood for 13 years before Guzzo opened a second location in the Brewery District. Virtue describes itself as a multicultural, gender-affirming salon, with pronouns for its stylists listed on the site. It hosts food drives, pop-up events, and educational seminars, making it a gathering place for its community. And Guzzo’s commitment to veganism and eco-consciousness remains in effect. The salon donates hair clippings to a program that uses them to soak up petrochemicals from water, all its products are vegan and sulfate- and paraben-free, and the salon aims to become zero waste.
Acute Salon: Leading the gender-neutral charge
The more time passes, the more commonplace gender-neutral salons become. But every trend starts with just one person. For Fort Worth, Texas, that person was Charli Bonham. Inspired by salons that functioned as community centers, after 17 years in the beauty industry, Bonham opened Acute Salon to serve everyone, regardless of gender expression. Acute’s philosophy states the hair industry’s traditional gender binary is outdated and that, more than anything, clients want to feel safe and confident in the chair. That’s part of why it charges based on the extent of the work being done rather than the gender of the client receiving the haircut.
Beyond the work of styling, Acute supports its community in several ways. Its homepage includes links to LGBTQ+ resources in Fort Worth ranging from trans support services to STI testing locations. The salon itself hosts events such as adult sex ed classes in partnership with Planned Parenthood, quarterly trans-inclusive lactation classes, and drag show fundraisers. Resources even extend outside the building’s walls, as Acute maintains a free pantry outside the salon for folks in need.
‘Cure Studios: Upscale, sustainable nail experiences
Rachel Daily and Kristin Owen were having dinner together when they began to fantasize about an upscale nail salon experience. Hair salons in their city of Austin, Texas frequently met this profile, but nail salons they’d seen were more transactional, less focused on creating a comfortable and luxurious vibe. So Daily and Owen decided to be the change they wanted to see in the world, opening ‘Cure Studios to bring sustainable, gender-neutral client experiences to Austin.
Daily and Owen have spoken at length about her passion for creating visibility, opportunity, and safe spaces. In line with that, ‘Cure’s decor skews green and gender-neutral, avoiding stereotypically feminine colors or designs. The studio’s booking process asks clients for their pronouns and music preferences. But Daily says it’s no one thing that makes ‘Cure feel welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community — it’s an accumulation of small gestures that add up to clients feeling seen and respected.
Hype Hair Studio: Transcending age and gender
Hype Hair Studio looks to the future, dedicating itself to an elevated and inclusive salon experience. Founder Kristine Templeton spent 30 years in the beauty industry, from behind the chair, as an educator, and as an owner. That experience led her to create Hype, where cuts, coloring, and styling are priced according to time spent rather than age or gender. At Hype, hair transcends both, with gray coverage treated no differently than standard color work. The studio also includes pronouns for each of its providers, while Templeton makes sure to give her team in-house education and career coaching, laying the road toward a more inclusive beauty industry.
Fruits Hair Lab: Star power and sustainability
Brian O’Connor was just a young stylist in the Tennessee scene when he first met Hayley Williams in 2006. The two hit it off, and the next year he styled her look in the music video for “Misery Business,” cementing Williams as the pop-punk icon at the head of Paramore and O’Connor as the genius behind the look. The two continued to collaborate, with Williams as O’Connor’s muse, canvas, and best friend. That friendship’s latest product: Fruits Hair Lab, opened in 2022.
With pricing based on hair length and extent of work rather than gender and a “gay icon” as a co-founder, Fruits aims to make people of all gender identities and expressions feel welcome. The Lab is also a carbon-neutral, Green Circle-certified salon, which ensures that it recovers waste such as hair clippings, foils, and color tubes.
Creature Studios: Cutting hair and opening hearts
Jenn Jones graduated from the Aveda Institute in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and moved to Atlanta, Georgia to begin her career in hair. She then pulled up stakes and headed to New York City for several years before returning to Aveda as a lead educator at the institute. She soon found salon work calling to her once more, so she and her husband Raymond McCrea Jones headed to Atlanta and founded Creature Studios to “create a safe space where all can show up as their authentic selves with respect, vulnerability, and an open heart.”
That begins with pronouns for the stylists listed on the site and extends to a commitment to environmentally conscious work. Creature operates with a sustainability certification from Green Circle Salons, using only vegan, ammonia-free, and sustainable products. It’s also a L’Oréal Professionnel salon, as the cosmetics company’s ambitious sustainability goals align with the studio’s own.
Scout’s Barbershops: Neighborhood pride
Living up to its namesake, Scout’s Barbershop was the first unisex barbershop in Nashville when Brooke Asbury and Keila Rokkan opened it in 2013. “Women don’t need the fuss of coming into a pink salon and sitting with everybody gossiping, but at the same time, men are getting more into grooming,” Asbury told The Tennesseean in 2015. The shop’s pricing reflects that ethos, charging based on hair length rather than gender.
Scout’s emphasizes convenience and community. By operating several locations around Nashville, the chain of shops makes it easy to find one in your neighborhood, keeping clients in their comfort zones whenever possible. Scout’s also supports non-profits such as the Martha O’Bryan Center and Backfield in Motion, two organizations that help children and teens living in poverty in Nashville. As LGBTQ+ people experience higher rates of poverty, that issue also becomes one of gender and sexuality.
Folklore Salon & Barber: Styling new stories
Pony Lee was in high school when they started cutting their own hair. It was one of the first steps they made toward defining their own identity, on their own terms. After attending beauty school, then barber school, and then working in several salons in the East LA area, they took another: opening Folklore Salon & Barber. Starting a business is always challenging, and Lee didn’t make things any easier by simultaneously starting their gender transition. But it couldn’t have happened any other way — Lee knew they needed to make space for them and their community if it was ever going to exist.
More than a decade later, Folklore stands as a keystone of East LA’s LGBTQ+ community, serving “dames, gents, and folks in between.” Not only does the salon price by hair length and extent of service, but it also actively showcases and partners with local queer artists, businesses, and social justice organizations. Speaking to VoyageLA, Lee put it best: “Living within the endless variations of gender expression allows us to think outside the box and foster an environment where guests feel safe exploring their expression.”
How you can help
As much space as the queer community has made for itself, there's still plenty of change left to make. If your beauty business is looking for ways to be part of the wave, consider working with Strands for Trans and the Gender Free Haircut Club.
The Gender Free Haircut Club
The Gender Free Haircut Club is a part of the Dress Code Project. Founded by Kristin Rankin, a nonbinary stylist, the Dress Code Project works to make more salons and barber shops into safer spaces for LGBTQ+ people to get gender-affirming hair service. It also maintains a list of salons providing that service. Salons partnered with the Dress Code Project can host Gender Free Haircut Club events, bringing in professional stylists to create fun, affirming, and free haircuts to LGBTQ+ youth. There's no bad time to have your gender affirmed, but it can be particularly affecting (and important) for young people.
Strands for Trans
In defiance of the hair care gender binary, Strands for Trans was founded as the first global network of hair, beauty, and wellness industry organizations that aim to create safe and positive experiences for all clients. The organization has brand ambassadors from Marc Jacobs to Balmain Paris raising awareness for trans issues and has used fiery ad campaigns to pressure anti-trans legislators. But at its core, Strands for Trans helps people in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., the Netherlands, Czechia, Finland, and Australia find salons that make them proud of who they are.