I say it. I can’t believe I say it, but I do: I group a woman-identifying person and a non-binary-identifying person together and say “you guys.”
In Santa Cruz, it’s genderless, the same way “dude” and “my guy” is. But in my line of work, I can’t blame being a Santa Cruzan. So, I check in.
“All good with ‘you guys,’” Megan Andrews says with their thumbs up, while Sheena Lister comments that she “gets the Santa Cruz vibes” from me.
It’s this ‘lax behavior that makes interviewing The Barb Shop’s Andrews and Lister so easy, so comfortable. But don’t take their demeanor as not taking their business seriously – because the second we get into it, the energy changes. They’re passionate. Dedicated.
But when life changes two months after a career move, it’s understandable why you must maintain a sense of lightheartedness and downright determination. Here – let me explain.
The Barb Shop was born from Lister’s discomfort. She paid $200 in salons – unrealistic to keep up with every six-to-10 weeks – or was the only woman in the barbershop.
“I couldn’t help but ask myself over those years, where is the place for me? Where do I belong? Where should I be sitting? Where should I be getting my hair cut?” she explains.
It was meeting Andrews that made the idea of launching this idea a possibility. Meeting through a mutual friend, the two bonded over sports… and then fell out of contact for two years, aware of one another, but not connected. That is, until Andrews went out to coffee with the aforementioned mutual friend.
“Our mutual friend said, ‘have you heard what Sheena’s doing?’ And Megan said, ‘I haven’t, what’s Sheena doing?’ And then the rest is Barb-story,” Lister smiles.
Andrews was drawn to the idea of Barb because they had felt the same way – the awkwardness of walking into a salon and barbershop and wondering, “where do I fit? Do I fit here?”
After speaking again, this time about business and astrological compatibility (Lister is an Aquarius, and Andrews is a Scorpio; “we’ve stayed in the ‘best thing ever’ lane,” jokes Andrews), The Barb Shop became a reality.
Lister and Andrews had also created a pomade meant for short hair – no gender listed. The two gave themselves six months for proof of concept, but within two, proof of concept had been… well, proven. It was clear that Barb was filling a necessary space.
“What we’ve always said to each other is that we see Barb as much more than just a hair product, that there’s this community element, lifestyle element of who Barbs are and how they move through the world,” explains Andrews.
Lister jumps in. “I think that’s going to be the magic, to look at someone and be like, ‘oh, you’re a Barb.’ And that person goes, ‘oh, you’ve heard of Barb, I’m a Barb.’ And just to have that instant connection. It happens in communities. It happens with identities anyway, right?”
It does. And that’s when our conversation gets interesting.
As our readers know, QUILL is all about gender-inclusivity – men can wear makeup, and women don’t have to shave their armpits. But one thing to acknowledge: there are places in which men have always been accepted, whereas women have been shunned. It’s a twist on gender-inclusivity, but an important one to acknowledge.
“We are skewing into a space of wanting to represent more people first and focusing on that, with the value in mind behind it all that, yeah, hair has no gender,” says Andrews. “Hair length has no gender. That is absolutely where we come from.”
At the same time, look at their Instagram feed, and you won’t find cis men showing off their short ‘dos. This is purposeful.
“As soon as we talk about ‘hair has no gender,’ or ‘we don’t need to have these gendered conversations,’ [then] short hair is for men, long hair is for women,” Andrews continues. “We actually decided to be intentional about centering around non-men in order to create some more equity in that space and representation.”
On top of this, the words “gender neutral” and “gender inclusive” don’t always strike a chord with the audience. As Lister shares with me, “I just got push-back today on the use of the word gender-neutral, that, ‘well, if you say you’re a gender-neutral brand, but you’re targeting women, non-binary, trans folks…’ So there’s a little bit of a disconnect.”
And, sure, maybe it is a little confusing – at first glance. But when you dig deeper, you find that The Barb Shop is gender-neutral, because they’re normalizing short hair as a genderless concept through women and non-binary people – excuse me, Barbs – who were told that long hair was the only option.
QUILL always talks about taking steps toward inclusivity, and The Barb Shop has done that in neutralizing an outdated notion that short hair is for men, and men only. But that wasn’t enough for Lister and Andrews. So, they turned to activations.
“We call them Go Barb events. We partner with a stylist and they either pick a client who’s mentioned to them, ‘Hey, I really want to go short, I want to do a big chop.’ Or we’ve thrown out social media and said, ‘Hey, if you’re ready to go Barb, let us know,’” Andrews tells me. “And we sponsor the cut. We pay for the cut, we set up the whole thing and help that person go Barb.”
COVID put a wrench in these events, but Lister and Andrews are preparing to start them back up. On top of this, they have their “Ba(R)b + D” program.
“We’re going out to people who cut hair, who work in shops, who run salons and know products that they love, know products that they don’t love, and are the least celebrated in the industry sometimes – which is not okay,” Andrews emphasizes.
The two created a pool of hopefuls, which will be whittled down to an even smaller group. Through the program, stylists will “develop the products from formulation ingredients, all the way through testing on their own clients, with their own hands, and finishing with, ‘here’s the product we decided on, it’s going to market,’” Andrews says excitedly.
“They’re going to get credit with their actual names on our website and then our materials so that everyone knows who built this product. And these unsung heroes who are cutting our hair and making us feel so good get to be a part of what drives Barb forward.”
These ideas are big, and they’re damn impressive. I mention that authenticity is important when building a brand that is to be taken seriously, and that it appears the two can be themselves.
“We are the definition of what so many entrepreneurs and so many underrepresented founders go through every single day. You walk into a room with people who don’t look like you and instinctively are like, ‘holy shit, can I be myself?’” says Lister.
“And what I truly appreciate about this journey is that both of us can show up as ourselves every single day. That’s what our entire brand is all about.” She pauses thoughtfully. “I think it’s an example of when you show up as your authentic self, people will listen. Because it’s much easier to pretend you’re somebody you’re not just to fit in.”
Andrews feels the same. “This is just how we want to look,” they shrug. “We don’t feel brave. We don’t feel like we’re doing things. This is who we are. So we hope our brand is imbuing this confidence of moving through the world that everyone deserves.”
Inclusion doesn’t stop at having short hair and offering cuts, though. Andrews and Lister know that anyone can have short hair – but not every hair type has products available to them. For this reason, “we have worked with one consultant specifically, who’s an educator, and we’re looking forward to continuing to learn about the industry and hair types in general,” says Lister.
It comes back to creating community among Barbs. “The ‘why’ for what we’re doing is to unite folks with short hair and create a community for folks with short hair, regardless of age, ethnicity, race, all of it,” Lister shares. “It’s a no-brainer for us. If we’re creating products for people with short hair, we need to make sure that’s inclusive of all hair textures, types, and all humans.”
The word “inclusive” sticks out, because there’s really no other word to describe what Lister and Andrews are doing.
As we wrap up our interview exactly 43 minutes later, I express my gratitude. And that’s when they ask me about QUILL – for the details, specifically.
I’m taken aback. I’m interviewing them, am I not? But they seem interested, so I explain that my past workplace, in which I was a beauty editor, was all about performative activism, and my bisexual, woman-identifying self did not feel comfortable. So I left, combined my love of beauty and love for my community to form QUILL, and the rest is history.
It feels good to tell my story to people who get it. “Congrats to everyone doing it!” Andrews exclaims, and I laugh. “We’re all doing it,” I concede, a large smile on my face.
We confirm details on publishing (I will be delayed in reaching out again to confirm, and Lister and Andrews will respond as if it’s no big deal, bless their hearts), thank one another, and hang up.
I look at my long hair after the two Barbs hang up, admire the hair I always want but cut off when things in life go awry. Life is good now, and my hair reflects that, flowing in soft waves down my body.
So I head to the bathroom, grab the scissors, and chop my chest-length hair to my collarbones. I’m not quite a Barb yet, I know – and maybe I’ll never be a full Barb – but I’m one step closer. And if that’s what will give me the power and confidence that Andrews and Lister emanate, I’ll take it.
I chop another inch off.