We’ve heard about it, from you as you sit in our chairs, far too often: the relief of being at Ginger, a place that welcomes every bit of you as you are, after having felt excluded from the luxury of feeling comfortable AND beautiful in your own skin at the same time. You’ve shared the exact moment you internalized the idea that the beauty industry is no place for you. Or your body. Or your gender identity. Or your race. Or your sexual orientation. Or your ideas. And we get it. We’ve felt it, too. 


The irony of the salon industry having a way of making people feel less than - in any way - is not lost on us. Ideally, your salon is meant to be your safe haven, your lighthearted neighborhood hangout where you can come as you are - and leave feeling like the best version of your authentic self. 


The realities of discrimination in this industry are too raw, too real, too uncomfortable and wrong for us to fall in line with industry standards. I mean. You know us. We bucked the high bangs trend in .2 seconds flat in ‘94. We are ok with stepping out of formation. 


Discrimination has NO place inside these Ginger doors. And we are committed to actively walking the walk. 


Stina Leep and Abigail Curry, two of Ginger’s leading advocates for setting a new salon standard of acceptance and equality, share thoughts on discrimination in the industry, what the Portland scene is like specifically, and what Ginger is doing as a loud and proud changemaker in the industry - to ensure each client feels seen, heard, and accepted at home, at Ginger. 


Q: Tell us about the discrimination that exists and persists in salons.


Abigail: The hair industry perpetuates discrimination by continuing to accept exclusion of humans based on thier race, sex, gender, and orientation on a consistent basis in hair salons. I personally have seen the hair industry perpetuate racist discrimination by continuing to accept segregating business, classes, education, and advertising - by race. The stereotypical and racist idea that Black people don’t come into “hair salons” (lest we not mention, “White” in that statement) apply for jobs, nor do they use the same “kind of products” has long allowed the primarily White industrial leaders to be free from responsibility for creating inclusive environments, providing well-rounded and skilled workers equipped to serve humans with all textures of hair, or support Black-owned businesses and educators that are considered expert leaders in the field. I have heard clients explain why they prefer male hairdressers, queer hairdressers, and fat hairdressers.


Stina: The discrimination I've seen in all salons is a client saying, "I can't wear my hair natural- it just looks messy." This is the discrimination that goes from the workplace into people's personal hair care routines. The idea that curls are unkempt has an anti-Black connotation. We also see it in hair care products that are claiming textured hair is dry and needs oil. That goes all the way back to slavery; slaves were using pig fat as a natural pesticide on their scalp and skin to keep bugs away and prevent sunburns. This then became an assumption, and you even see it in Black hair care dating back to early 1900 when oil or fat was put into products due to lack of equity and resources. 


I have also seen ageism. I once worked at a salon where I was told I would get docked $10 if I told anyone I was still a minor. Those same employers also fired a Stylist and told all her clients she moved to Idaho with her husband, knowing fair well that she was a lesbian. They chose to create a lie to make themselves and their White Hetero CIS clients more comfortable.

In more recent years I have had Stylist tell me they would get sent home for not wearing lipstick by their male boss, that same boss would force her clients , whom were very obviously not Femme, to get makeup applied when they would come in for hair services.

Specifically in Portland, how do you see discrimination show up?


Abigail: I personally have had only one Black client book an appointment in my chair in 5 salons in 6 different neighborhoods over the course of 13 years of living in Portland, Oregon - despite my “profile” proclaiming that I  “welcome all” and am a curly hair expert. 

I have not one single Black coworker, nor have I seen one single Black applicant in a single salon I have worked in.


I personally have seen female clients, and other hairdressers, hold sexist discrimination by perpetuating the idea that male and gay male hairdressers are more precise, detailed, and know better how to make a woman feel and look attractive. I personally have experienced discrimination towards my sexual identity when an LGBTQ client informed me that they preferred a queer stylist that could understand their needs “better”, first assuming my sexual orientation based on my appearance and second, concluding I was  unfit to do their hair.


I personally have served clients who have shared stories of feeling invisible and shamed, as a result of hairdressers mislabeling their gender, mishandling their natural textured hair with the wrong products or the wrong tools, talking down to them as a result of being neurodiverse, or being offered smocks or chairs that don’t consider the size of their bodies in a world that celebrates skinny.  I personally have heard stories of parents, specifically Mamas, who have been made to feel unwelcome when they are caring for their young in hair salon spaces. 


 What can be done about it?

Abigail: Listening, learning, and changing! Not being afraid of looking dumb, and acknowledging what we don't know.


Stina:  We can acknowledge this is happening. Saying, "I see it, and I'm not okay with it." This is the big first step most of us need to take. Making sure to be an advocate for all the people in the room. Not everyone has had the luxury of standing up for themselves in a situation that feels safe enough to do it. 


What is Ginger Salon doing about it?


Abigail: Hairdressers at Ginger Salon want to serve the public, no matter who you are. We take pride in continuing to learn our biases and adjust business practices to protect and serve the wide array of humans seeking care for their hair. Ginger Salon has implemented A Learning Exchange specifically to address and serve our Black and Brown community historically left out of  the “White” salon industry standards. This includes extended service times and product offerings that allow for  equitable salon outcomes, regardless of the needs of your individual hair. Ginger Salon promotes and uses language and symbols that represent and respect requests of LGBTQ community members. Ginger Salon offers Silent Appointment services to help accommodate a wide range of clients, including the neurodiverse, that historically avoid salon atmospheres. In non-COVID times, Ginger Salon has offered appointment hours specifically for Mamas that include complimentary childcare, playthings, and a judgment-free zone for the littles to get rowdy while the Mama relaxes. Ginger Salon acknowledges the wide array of body types by offering one-size-fits-all gowns. Most importantly, Ginger Salon takes pride in being role models and leaders in the community to ripple love to all the humans seeking visibility and respect as they move through the world. 


Stina: Ginger loves people, and we literally changed our mission statement around our desire to create a safe and inclusive environment. We are holding each other accountable to honor all bodies that walk into our space, clients and employees alike. We have started a model exchange to bring Black and Brown bodies into the salon to experience our space and services in hopes they are willing to help us learn how to keep doing better. I personally am also trying to get into a local Beauty School to meet students and offer them some information on their rights as employees - if they choose that salon model. We must break all these patterns.