With a dozen locations in three cities on two coasts, Fellow Barber is chock full of interesting creatives who spend their time outside of our shops getting into various special endeavors. Since Fellow Barber launched Pay What You Can Mondays this week, we thought it was the perfect time to showcase two team members who spend their free time using their skills to give back to those in need.
Raquel, Regional Barber Manager in Los Angeles/Senior Barber at our Studio City location, and Anne, Fellow Barber at our Silver Lake location, donate their time on Saturdays doing haircuts on LA’s Skid Row for anyone there who may be in need.
I sat down with Anne and Raquel to chat about what it means to them to give back, and how barbering allows connection and closeness with folks who need it most.
Bryan Williamson: How long have you been cutting and when did you begin to apply your craft to public service?
Anne: I grew up in New York City and I had many different jobs (nightlife, bartending, waitressing, hosting) which all involved constant interaction with people. I started at Fellow Barber as a receptionist 4 years ago. I was feeling somewhat lost, not sure what my future was looking like. While working the front desk, I was seeing barbers interact with their clients. They were remembering their names and personal stories and providing beautiful haircuts. I wanted to do that! I wanted to have a clientele that was all mine. I wanted people to feel happy to get their haircut by me. My partner, Raquel, who is a barber, encouraged me to give it a try. I took the leap and enrolled in barber school. I was excited to start a new chapter of my life. I finally found what my passion was and realized that the skills I learned in my previous positions had led me to this.
Raquel: I've been cutting hair since 2011. In February of 2016, I started servicing my neighbors in need. It was just me and my good homie, John Janini, who I met at Fellow Barber while he was working at the front desk. We grew super close. He was always taking photos, so I asked him if he’d roll around with me renegade style and document the haircuts I was doing on the streets.
BW: What made you want to get involved in giving back and what was the process like?
Anne : It was recent for me. I was tired of sitting back not doing anything, watching how the world had exploded over the last several months with the BLM movement at the forefront and COVID-19 destroying people’s lives. People need help and I am able to provide some help with my haircuts. It was a hot summer in Los Angeles (hotter than usual) and having dirty long hair is not simply not practical!
Raquel: I lived on Geary street between Hyde and Larkin in The Tenderloin in San Francisco. I worked at Fellow Barber’s Market Street location and I walked to and from work daily. Up and down, I would run into people who just wanted to be acknowledged or have a chat. I was seeing people I could tell could really benefit from a haircut or beard trim. I realized fast what a luxury a haircut was. So, I started going out there on Tuesday’s to offer them haircuts via a nonprofit I created called TenderCuts. It wasn’t so easy at first. I had to approach and build trust very fast so they would let me cut them. They wanted to know why. Why would I just give them a haircut? Who is paying me? Was I a real barber? I slowly understood them more and more and it became easier. Finally, I teamed up with a local nonprofit providing mobile showers so every Monday folks could come get some TLC, a shower and cut. More and more, my fellow barbers and friends would come out to help and give cuts. They donated their skills and time, but most importantly, their care.
BW: Why is this work important to you and why is it important to the person you are cutting?
Anne: The work we do on Skid Row in LA is organized by Beauty 2 the Streetz, a nonprofit whose mission is to serve the homeless by providing things that make us feel inherently human. Shirley Raines started this charitable organization 4 years ago and working with her has been life changing for me. Raquel, who was no stranger to giving back to the community, wanted to start giving back here in Los Angeles. Once we found Shirley, we knew we had an outlet. It’s important to listen to people’s needs instead of giving them what you think they need. Simply asking people how they are doing or what their name is humanizes people who tend to feel invisible having been on the streets for a long time. They feel like no one is listening. We’re out there every week to let them know we’re listening and we hear them.
Raquel: This work keeps me sane and happy. It’s my therapy, in a sense. I started TenderCuts when I was in a rather sad place. I needed to connect and feel alive again and I have been paid back tenfold since. To see their reaction after not having had a cut in YEARS is like no other. I know it’s good for them because they tell me. They are direct and sincere and beautiful. I love doing this work. I feel it’s my calling in many ways.
Bryan: Anyone you’ve cut whose story particularly stands out?
Anne: I met a man named Steve who was recently able to get into housing and off the street. Steve had mentioned his daughter, who had just gotten a job at Walmart. He was so happy knowing that his child was able to go and be independent and make her own money. It stood out to me because he was trying so hard to be an example of strength. He lit up talking about how proud he is of his daughter, and to be able to have a bed at night. It is something I won’t forget. When we complain about minor things that don’t make us happy, in the big picture, it is nothing compared to someone who is dealing with much worse.
Raquel: There are so many that have changed my life forever. Once, I was cutting a guy around the same age as me. He was somewhat put together, well spoken. He said he was new to the streets and had just been kicked out of his home. His wife and mother of his two daughters, had left him for another man. He had no other family and just like that he was homeless. It struck me how easy it could be to fall on this type of hardship. It taught me to be mindful that all homeless don’t look a certain way. It could be your friend or a cousin or sister that needs help. Being kind and open minded goes a long way on the street.