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Interview With Hairrari Founder Magda Ryczko

Gender-Neutral Barbershop Founder Aims to Change Her Corner of the World, 1 Haircut at a Time

I've never drastically changed my hair – no highlights, coloring, fun cuts, layering, or anything in between. I've always asked for the same cut (straight across around shoulder length) from the same hairdresser (the one my mom has gone to for as long as I can remember). The biggest decision I have to make every six months is if my hair will fall right above, below, or at my shoulders.

Over the years as I have come into my queerness, I itched for a change. My long-lasting cut did not represent how I felt, but I was not confident enough to change it. "After graduation," I always told myself. By the time I was graduating, we were in the first few months of a global pandemic, forcing us all inside. Six months into staying home, I bought cheap shears online and my girlfriend (you guessed it!) gave me my usual cut.

As vaccinations were in sight, I thought a lot about what my first, nonvirtual activity would be. I could have never imagined a haircut would have been first on that list, though it sounded a lot more fun than my original thought: going to a grocery store outside of my neighborhood. Sure enough, I found myself sitting in front of Magda Ryczko, the founder of Hairrari, a gender-neutral, all-inclusive barbershop with locations in New York City and Los Angeles.

She took the time to truly understand what I wanted. I'll never forget the buzzing sound of the clippers running across my head for the first time: I was shedding a layer of myself. I left that day with a haircut that made me feel more confident than I ever had before. To me, this haircut was the difference between feeling okay and feeling confident: between tolerance and euphoria.

When Magda opened Hairrari in 2011, she only had two chairs – the same Williamsburg location now has five. "My vision wasn't that big," she told POPSUGAR. She went to cosmetology school and worked as an assistant: sweeping, washing out color, and doing blowouts for two years at 12 salons before a woman-owned barbershop in Williamsburg took a chance on her. She was there for four years before she started to look to open her own shop called Manetamed – the still-standing, 10-year-old Williamsburg location. Over the next three years, Madga opened two more NY locations, both called Hairrari because she "ran out of names," and launched a line of products. Earlier this year, she co-opened one in LA with a former employee.

We sat down with Magda to learn more about Hairrari, the importance of haircuts in the LGBTQ+ community, fostering a space for inclusivity, and the domino effect of inspiring people.

POPSUGAR: I think so much of what you're talking about also really talks to the essence of the community that you've built of the staff and of your employees, but also of the clientele and other businesses in the area. It's really great to see what you've built. How does that feel?

Magda Ryczko: Well, thank you. I mean, incredible. I honestly don't even have time sometimes to reflect and say "Oh wow, I've built this" because I'm always building it every day. I think a lot of it has to do with the training, because we give so much and we put in that structure – training people well and branching out to other businesses, doing collaborations, and giving back. I think, then, the universe gives us back as well. I just feel like we always have to keep giving back in some way.

PS: Absolutely.

MR: It feels really good when people come together and they just share how happy they are to come in. The other day, somebody wrote me saying, "Thank you so much for providing such a place welcoming for trans men." It kind of made me sad a little bit because then I was thinking every place should be welcoming for trans men and trans women and everybody. That's our mission.

Nobody should feel fear or uncomfortable going anywhere, especially where they're spending their money. They should be spending their money in places that are supporting their beliefs or whatever that is in the society. I feel like it's really important for all of us to create space for people to be who they are. Every day we open, our eyes are opened to something new that we can help with. Right now, definitely [supporting] trans rights, all the queer rights, Black Lives Matter, and bringing up Asian lives too, because I feel like this is a really important time right now and the last year was so important for society.

PS: How do you try to foster that inclusivity within all of the locations and make it such a welcoming space?

MR: How did it start? When I opened initially, I just opened a barbershop. It wasn't labeled anything, but since I identify as a lesbian, I guess, I had some lesbian clients from before. They started leaving reviews like "best dyke haircut." Then I attracted a lot of lesbians or queer people, and then trans people. We were just friendly for everybody and it just naturally became that kind of a space. We also have a lot of straight people that work for us, which is important, I think: to spread the message to straight people. A lot of our clientele is also straight, and [in] the beginning it was like 80 percent men and 20 percent women. I don't know how many nonbinary clients, but it's grown. Now it's just very 30/30/30, I would say.

People come in with their whole families and bring their queer kids. Or like, from New Jersey, people bring their trans child for a makeover. So I feel like it's really special when a grandpa and grandma come in with their grandchild, you know what I mean?

I feel like that's important: to be welcoming to anybody and to show that we're cutting all ages, all genders, all sexual orientations. We do that by posting photos, talking about it in articles, just being welcoming, having kid prices on our price list, and not having a women's haircut or male haircut. We do have "feminine long hair" on the schedule, because feminine means a description of the hairstyle. You can be any gender and get "feminine long hair" or "masculine long hair." It's a different skill, so not all our barbers do feminine long hair. Somebody can book with the wrong person and they can't do it. Not everybody specializes in everything, and I require everybody to do short hair.

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My Instagram name is @lesbianhaircuts. In high school or middle school, that was a degrading word. I wanted to neutralize that word, or make it not a negative word, and put it out there because it is a positive. People should be proud to be a lesbian and/or gay, or anything they are, as long as they're true to themselves or treating people well and being a good person.

Basically, I just look in the society and I see what could improve and I try to improve it in my small way with my business and the brand. I think it's important for someone to come and not have to explain [pronouns] to us or not have to be misgendered or something like that. We're all getting it everywhere else, so hopefully we can — one business at a time — get better and keep growing and keep learning.

PS: So many people turn to haircuts as a means of self expression and affirmation, especially when it comes to gender and sexuality. I'm curious what influence you see haircuts having in the LGBTQ+ community and the impacts you see with clients after giving someone maybe a gender affirming haircut?

MR: That's such an important haircut for a lot of people. We specialize in makeovers as well, so I feel like that's a big thing we do long-to-short makeovers. In that aspect, I feel like people sometimes wait two years, three years, or they say, "I've been thinking about this for years to make the move." It's a very nerve-wracking or emotional experience for a lot of people. Sometimes they even cry in that moment. I feel like it takes a lot of preparing, so that's also what I train people to do – to take their time and to talk to the person. I've had a few clients travel from Massachusetts recently. They traveled three hours just to get that haircut because they've been researching a place to go to. I feel like that took a lot of research to go to this length just to come and drive to get a haircut.

To do that haircut, I feel honored. Honestly, to be chosen to do that big transformation for them and then feel like, afterwards, that could be transformative to their whole being: style-wise and the way somebody acts. Sometimes I could tell this is going to give them freedom, in a way. Sometimes that long hair is just weighing people down to keep that little feminine aspect. Society always expects women to have long hair or look a certain way, so I feel like just cutting it off, you're showing off your face and yourself, especially if you're nonbinary or you're trans. That could be like the completion to your look or your whole presentation of yourself.

It's important for people to have a place to come to that's not just like a barbershop or not a salon, but more in the middle. I think there was a gap in salons and barbershops. More barbershops are more just one type of haircut or more male-dominated, and not really gay. Salons, I guess, it's mostly long hair and color. Now there's a big trend starting of more queer-inclusive spaces. I feel like Hairrari is more in the middle. All our barbers or hairdressers are required to learn clippers. If they don't know clippers but they just know long hair, then I teach them the clippers.

I feel like haircuts are definitely confidence builders, and we're like their therapists, too. People came after [staying home] and they literally didn't come out of their house for like a year and a half. Recently they just started coming in again, and we're the first person they came to. My 70-year-old client said that this was her first time out. She just took an Uber, came in, and said she was going to go to this place next to her house, but then she was like, "No, I want to see Magda." All our [barbers] are like that. They all have their clients and their fans, so I feel like we're responsible to be there for them. Even now, somebody asked me if we're closed on Pride and I was like, "We need to be there for all these tourists that come in." If some people want off, they can be off, but I feel like we should be open because some people just come to see us for Pride. That's their celebration.

It's not just work. It's a responsibility to be present, be there for people, and inspire people [so] that they can be themselves, that they can see all these amazing beautiful people that work with us, that are just doing their thing. It's like a domino effect. It's basically all about exposure and visibility. I think that's number one for everybody. We are a business that everybody can walk into and everybody can connect with us, so I think that's just so important. Even though it takes so much work to manage everything, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

PS: That's beautiful.

MR: It just makes me proud of myself and everybody. Whatever happens in the future happens, but I'm just thankful that somehow I was able to do that and make this space for people.

It's just fun to see all these people being themselves, and they should be accepted. We're all people, right? We're all on this earth. We're not asking the way to be born. If people just take the time to get to know people without judging, it will be a much more beautiful space, but I feel like that also comes from knowing other types of people. I'm always an advocate for spreading love and making sure people are welcome, or any way we can help: if there's any free haircuts we could give to anybody. It says it on our website, [that] people can nominate somebody in need or having a hard time. We do a lot of free haircuts when we're training – basically free haircuts every day. It's always good to offer to the community. Especially after corona, I know people are having hard times, [so] it's good.

I'm always thinking about how to grow, about how to give back and I noticed in my life, if I'm so busy and I'm not doing some contest or giving stuff for free or doing free haircuts, I notice we get slower. I feel like I'm really connected to the universe.

PS: That's incredible. So many people used this past year staying home, if for better or for worse, to explore their gender and sexuality. Now that people are getting vaccinated, are you seeing more of a demand for affirming haircuts than before?

MR: I feel like we've always had a lot of people just getting their affirming haircut, but right now definitely after the vaccinations many more are coming in and people have started hormones. I think it was definitely like a reflective time for a lot of people. Even for me to be closed for three months, it was kind of like a dream, because Hairrari's now 10 years old. It's just brought in a stop and made people reflect on what they want, who they want to be, if they want to make the moves to transition or just be themselves. [They] have the time to really reflect and think about who they are as a person, and not having the hustle of everyday work or just the New York busy life.

Image Sources: Shelly Simon / Courtesy of Hairrari, Sara Granberger / Courtesy of Hairrari and Nicie Mok / Courtesy of Hairrari
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