By Max Towle of The Wireless
A woman says she was discriminated against when she was turned away from a Wellington barbershop, but the owner says he was protecting his brand.
A couple of weeks ago, Rachel* walked into Carve Barbershop in Wellington's popular Left Bank shopping arcade and asked for a standard short back and sides.
Rachel, who is in her early 30s, had got a sweet cut at Carve a couple of years ago and didn't think twice about returning.
When she asked for a time, a staff member told her Carve does not cut women's hair. She told him she was only after a classic taper fade, but was again rejected. Orders from above, she was told.
"I left feeling unkempt, more than anything. I still didn't have a haircut," she said.
"But I was ticked off. It was a pain in the bum and it reminded me that I have to make sure I know who cuts women's hair and who doesn't."
Rachel uses female pronouns and said she is not "your typical idea of a woman".
"I use lots of different barbers around the place. It's cheaper and you know you're not going to have to ask especially nicely for the cut you want," she said.
"I can't understand why people think it's acceptable [to only serve men]. It's discrimination. I just don't get the reasoning. I'm not asking for anything outside of the services they provide."
After leaving Carve, she went to The Godfather Barbers a few streets over and there was no drama.
Carve has four shops - two in Wellington, one in Tauranga and one in Auckland. Its owner, Matt Time, said he understood "time has changed" and was sorry for Rachel's experience, but stood by his store's refusal to serve her.
"I am sorry about it, but in a way I'm not. At the end of the day, I have to protect my company and I have to protect my vision. Without the vision, there's no real point of us continuing to trade if we don't have something we're working towards."
His "vision" for Carve is a place where men can get a haircut, drink a beer and "confidentially unleash any issues or problems they might be having, either in the workplace or at home".
He sees Carve as a "traditional, old-school" barbershop. Its website describes it as "a men's only barbershop with the vision and concept to provide a relaxed and chilled environment for all men to enjoy".
Soon after opening his first shop in 2013, he said very rarely did women request haircuts.
"I sort of thought about it for a little bit and realised I didn't want to come across the wrong way, so we did take our first female client," he said.
"But we got to the point where we were probably averaging about six or seven women every two weeks. It was in 2017 when I made the hard decision and I told my guys we would no longer serve women."
He said some of his male clients had told him they were unhappy seeing more women in the shop. "They felt like they couldn't openly speak about their issues."
Like Rachel, Genevieve Fowler always visits Wellington barbers as "it's what I like having on my head".
"I keep it pretty short on top and I have a fade. I want a barber cut so it makes sense to go to a barbers. I've been to heaps and cycled through most of them."
She also regularly performs in cabaret and drag shows as her alter ego - Hugo Grrrl.
Genevieve has had "shitty experiences" at many barbers, ranging from being outright turned away, to "having a douchebag asking some yuck questions and making me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome".
"I've also been given the excuse that a shop just doesn't do 'that type of cut', which is blatantly false because all I want is a really plain, boring men's cut."
She said the idea that a barbershop should be "traditional" and only serve men is "just old-fashioned sexism".
"It's discrimination because you're asking for exactly the same service for exactly the same cost, but they're not providing it simply because of what's between our legs. There's no possible logic for it to be anything other than gender discrimination.
"Our money is as good as anyone else's."
Genevieve said it could also be discriminatory to assume someone's gender. "It's terrible for the trans people and gender queer kids I know. For us, getting a haircut is really important for your self-esteem and image and making you feel like you can cope with the next day."
Matt disagrees that his business is discriminatory.
"There are a number of businesses that just cater to women. Contours gym is one of them and I can understand their reasons for wanting to have a place where women can work out and feel comfortable without having guys watching them," he said.
"There are plenty of other barbershops in Wellington, Tauranga and Auckland that cater to women, and that's fine, good on them. That's their vision and their concept, but it's just not ours."
Matt said Carve currently does not employ any women, but is open to hiring anyone based on their skills.
The Wireless contacted several other Wellington barbershops and asked if they served women.
Dukes Barbers and Cuba Barbers said they definitely did, The Godfather Barbers said they did, as long as the hair wasn't long, while a staff member at Norris Barbers said he wouldn't turn women away, but added, "it's not something we want to base our business on".
Both Genevieve and Rachel said they, and their group of friends regularly post on Facebook to keep track of which barbers are female and queer-friendly.
"A lot of us queer folk now go to Electric Brain on Cuba St. It's like a collective sigh of relief having somewhere so safe and reliable," said Genevieve.
* Rachel asked to be anonymous.