#3: Badass Business Babes*: Megan Porter, Barber Extraordinaire
It feels like the media/press recycle the “same old” influential [white cis men] creatives. So, instead of just complaining about this (which I’m super good at!), I decided to begin highlighting some of my favorite creative business babes! (Here, “babe” is used as a gender neutral term.)
Megan Porter is a queer barber, who flies around the globe with Paul Mitchell, teaching classes and workshops. When in Salt Lake, they’re headquarter’d at Curriculum Barbershop in Sugarhouse.
I met Megan because the queer community is super small (2 degrees of separation FTW!). She’s a stellar human who listens to supercool bands you’ve never heard of, and I’m stoked to have them as the third business babe in this series. This blog post will be especially helpful for the folks reading who want to be full-time creatives, so share this post with one of those folks!
Note: All photos are used with Megan Porter’s explicit permission, and cannot be used without her consent.
1. Let’s start at the roots. What made you decide to become a barber?
I was raised by a single mom, and I had 3 brothers, and while she was cooking dinner she’d have me shave my brothers heads. It looked TERRIBLE, as I’d put a #2 guard on and shave their heads. Understanding shapes or aesthetic wasn’t involved AT ALL.
Then, when I started to explore my sexuality, I needed to make myself more presentable to the “Alternative Lifestyle” folks. At that point I was very femme-presenting, but that’s not who I was. I had a friend who was in hair school give me a red mohawk.
I came home and my mom was horrified, but she still gave me a lot of support. Because she’s an artist too.
After that, I kept getting bad haircuts. I was still presenting pretty femme, so everyone was always not wanting to cut my hair short enough or would try to make it “pretty.” -_-
2. Of all art forms, why barbering?
I moved to North Carolina when I was 21, and I decided to go to hair school. I started in Raleigh, and I loved it. I fell in love with Paul Mitchell’s culture, because, you know, like you say, Fashion IS Political.
I think that how you wear hair really determines who you are, as an outer appearance. It communicates to others without you speaking. And while you shouldn’t judge someone right off the bat, let’s be honest: we do. After school, I moved back to Salt Lake and had my focus in barbering, and my career took off.
3. Can you walk the reader through what getting a haircut from you is like?
When I see someone new, I look at how they present themselves and we chat. Then I start running my hands through their hair, talking to them about their lives, and I find folks usually have a lot to say about their career.
The “career question” helps me decide where to take the client. I’ll say something like, “You work for a corporation, how far can we go with your hair? What are the restrictions or constraints?”
They’ll be like, “Get as wild as you can without getting in trouble.”
I create a good haircutting experience is by connecting with my client.
[Writer’s note: Megan has been cutting my hair for the last few years (I’ve followed her from shop to shop, wheeee!), and she is the most gender and body- affirming person ever. They really listen to her clients, and if you don’t feel like talking that day, or facing the mirror, she’s totally down.]
4. Let’s talk stock. What are your favorite tools? What helps you make great art and great hair?
I own so much gear. I’m such a gear-head. Wahl is amazing at strong fades. My favorite shear company is called Hanzo, because they are so artist focused. They make these amazing shears, and they give a payment plan to what fits you. If you can’t pay it that month, they wave it and you pay the next month. They believe artists should have good tools, and they make their tools accessible to young artists.
Other than that, I love the Oster Titan. I love their fast feeds for beards, and I really like those because the arm of the clippers is versatile.
I can keep talking about tools all day, but another brand is Andis. Most of their products are on POINT. All of their clippers are rotary and magnetic, their T-Edgers are my favorite.
5. How have you migrated from being a local barber to migrating onstage and cutting hair?
As a student I learned under Winn Claybaugh, who is pretty much the principal of Paul Mitchell education, and he always says, “Be a yes person.”
“Be a yes person.” -Winn Claybaugh
And I took that advice to heart. Any time something came my way in school, I made a habit to say “YES.” There was this opportunity called “Beacon,” a small competition for building your portfolio. It involved taking photos of 3 models, creating a brochure and a website, etc, to promote who you are as an artist.
And I did that in school, when I was in the “CORE” where you barely start hair, like the kindergarten of hair. I used my friends as models, and I used a friend’s living room.
I was proud of myself for even doing it, and I was chosen! It’s widely available to every single hair school, and I was competing against thousands of students. I was 1 of the 200 that were chosen.
6. How have mentors played a role in your success?
While doing Beacon, I came into contact Stephanie Kocielski, VP of Education at Paul Mitchell. She pointed at me in a crowd, across a room, and said, “Who are you? What’s your passion? What’s your story?”
And I told her.
She gave me her personal business card, and said, “Call me.”
So I just called her the next day, while we were both at Beacon, and she told me she was looking to build a barber team for Paul Mitchell.
And she felt that she wanted me to be who I am, to connect with queer or androgynous folks, she saw something in me that other people didn’t have.
I graduated school, and ever since then (this was 4 years ago!) I have worked my butt off!
I have flow worked backstage, and eventually she threw me onstage. At that point it’s very “sink or swim.” Recently, I worked in Italy!
6b. How do you thank a mentor like that? I feel like artists have 1–2 people that really *make* their career. How do you pay it back or pay it forward?
How I pay her back is by being thankful. She never ever expects you to pay her back. She’s an incredible and inspiring person, and when she leaves you miss her energy. She’s a door opener, a fairy godmother. She’s made me feel like I have a family. The only thing she expects that I show up 100%, and make the most of every opportunity. She’s so positive, and looks at you and sees your soul, she’s one of a kind.
I try to be the best version of myself around her. She’s the type of person who just sees YOU. I try to emulate her, and carry her legacy on, by giving back to other artists and future professionals.
7. Did you have a moment where you had to decide whether you were going to be the “Barber Onstage”? It can be scary to put yourself out there.
It was really within this last year. It’s been hard, because I’ve been navigating my gender and identity. I took a step back, and was like, “If you don’t know who you are, who are you going to be to those people?” I’ve taken time and self-care to consider these questions, and I’ve realized that I’ll be figuring this out [my gender] for the rest of my life.
Even using hashtags has been terrifying. I want to connect with female barbers, because I do have a shared identity, and hashtagging #QueerBarber can be scary. Am I credible to the barbering community if I do that? The rules are changing.
All of this is so new, barbering education is growing and it’s on fire, and to be part of this whole movement is so inspiring.
I know that I’m not alone in struggling with my identity, which is why I’m staying onstage. Honestly, we all are transitioning. Female barbers, coming into the world, I feel so connected to them. Queer barbers, we’re creating a community. After the last 2 times I’ve been onstage, I’ve been very confident and I didn’t wear a dress onstage.
8. Wait rewind, you’re supposed to wear a dress onstage? WAIT! I remember this from a while back, when you decided to wear your “Wednesday Adams” dress. Are women or AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) people expected to wear dresses onstage?
Paul Mitchell is so supportive, they really support the individuality of artists and are so accepting. It’s a weird double standard that exists in the hair world, and it can creep into barbering. Traditionally barbering is “proper,” so female barbers haven’t really been a thing. Male barbers, they would be dressed to the nines. So female barbers, traditionally, can be expected to wear dresses.
This last year, higher ups, folks who didn’t know me, expected me to wear a dress. And I got word that I should wear a dress to be professional, and that was a huge dilemma for me. I made 3 phone calls to higher ups, explaining my identity, and eventually they said, “You can wear whatever you want as long as you’re professional.”
I thought about it, and decided “Fuck THIS!” and I wore a dress onstage, with my wide-ass stance. I did it to prove a point, “You will never ask another AFAB to wear a dress onstage again!”
9. Let’s talk about your tattoos. How do they interplay with your artistry?
Professionally, I can see it being hard. “Hair dressing” is a very classy thing. A lot of people think they can get as many tattoos as they want, if they’re a barber or cosmetologist, and that’s not always the case. I love tattoos 100%, but I’ve found that it can hinder people, because people will judge you off the bat.
You have 9 seconds to prove yourself in front of someone. When I’m onstage, I have some of my tattoos peeking out, and a lot of people will be really shocked when they see my tattoos. In order to reach everyone you do have to be more neutral, but that is changing.
I love art, not just hair. But if people do decide they don’t want to work with me based on my tattoos, I don’t want to be around them anyway.
10. What’s on the horizon? What are you working on?
To be honest, I didn’t think I would get this far! I want to travel and educate, and fill others full of knowledge. I love teaching fun and active classes, as well as creating 1:1 personal connections. But I do see myself on the Paul Mitchell team and mentoring my own team.
As for the future, I want to do more editorial work — it’s so foreign to me. This is a world I haven’t stepped into. Along with that, learning about photography — like lighting, spacing, etc. I’m starting to place myself into positions, to learn as much as I can.
11. Last question. What’s some nitty gritty detailed advice for young creatives?
“I am not going to be the most talented person in the room, but I can be the most positive person in the room.” And that’s how you get further, through networking and through who you know.
My #1 piece of advice would be “remember why you started it,” when you feel defeated, or your chance to “break in” didn’t work. Why do you do this? If I’m never onstage again, I’m going to keep doing hair. I don’t charge people for a haircut, I charge for the experience.
DJ Muldoon, his quote, “Knowledge destroys fear,” is incredibly actionable. The quote demands you take action.
Anytime you’re afraid, it’s because you don’t understand it. I tell my students, “If you are scared of color, get yourself there and learn.” Face your fear. You begin to understand them and you can reach past them.
Another piece of advice that has stuck with me is, “Success unshared is failure.” and that is a Paul Mitchell saying. If you have success and passion, and you’re not sharing that, who are you? You’re not sharing through and reaching other people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, I’m Bri! A queer fashion designer (currently paying for that calling as a business and marketing professional for HBICs). Insta here, twitter here. If you’re a Creative Business Babe, and would like to be featured, drop me a line!
If you enjoyed this post, please share the shit out of it! Let’s raise the profile of badass business creatives. ❤