Whether it's hitting the gym, getting a fresh haircut, or finding the perfect outfit, trans and gender-diverse Australians often face challenges in finding safe spaces to access everyday products and services — but an increasing number of trans and gender-diverse owned businesses are recognising and responding to this long-ignored market.
Early in Rhiá Rebel's career at a Melbourne barbershop, the need for more inclusive haircuts became apparent. Rhiá reflected on an afternoon the barber met two eight-year-old twins. “They came in with their father and one of them was so excited to be there. She jumped in the chair straight away while her brother was kind of quiet.” After the father instructed his daughter to “get down”, Rhiá advocated for their young client and asked if they could cut her hair, but the answer from their boss was a resounding ‘No’.
“That was the first time I thought, 'Yeah, nah, not for me’.” said Rhiá, adding “as kids, we've got friends that are boys that we treat the same as girls and vice versa, it’s only later we’re taught differently. I don’t want to be a part of it.”
Over 11 percent of Aussies belong to the LGBTQ+ community making inclusive business practices essential.
Transgender Awareness Week begins on Monday, November 13th, providing an opportunity to celebrate trans pride and elevate the voices and stories of our community. It also offers a chance for allies to take real action in support of trans folk.
Since that realisation working in their first job, a "subconscious" idea took root in Rhiá's mind. Before long the Little Rebel Barbershop was born, with the business prioritising one simple thing — giving clients what they ask for. After years of offering friends haircuts, Rhiá “took a gamble” and leased a commercial property in Melbourne — a risk they didn't anticipate would lead to the booming success of their business, with two barbershops in different locations in the city and employing multiple like-minded people.
“For younger trans and non-gender conforming people, I know the shop is more than just a hairdresser, it’s a community.” — Rhiá Rebel
Rhiá believes their intention to treat everyone as an equal has fostered a sense of belonging which transcends much more than a mullet ever could. “What pushes me forward is that little girl I saw coming into the barbershop that day and was completely turned down,” said Rhiá speaking to Yahoo Lifestyle in between haircuts.
Enamel pins and looking stylish
An increasing number of Australians now recognise the importance of visible gender pronouns, with many individuals now displaying their pronouns on email signatures at work. But back in 2017 Bonnie Lavelle, the Founder of Rising Violet Press, knew there was great work to be done.
“I saw all these cute enamel pins and stickers around but none of them ever aligned with me,” Bonnie said. Bonnie started hand lettering cards and never thought their creativity would birth a fully established business that specialises in queer accessories, stationery and apparel — or products as Bonnie likes to call, “lots of cute queer things.”
Most notably, Bonnie created ‘pronoun pins’ allowing people in the community to proudly state who they are without having to explain themselves. The fact that these “fun” badges hold a deeper value for those in the community is not lost on Bonnie.
“There's so much pressure as a trans person or a gender non-conforming person, it's constantly in the back of their head, like, ‘Oh, I have to tell these people what my pronouns are otherwise they’ll misgender me.” adding “having something there that's available for everyone to see takes the load off.”
Online Design Services
Melbourne-based transgender designer Amery Oke-Johnston created their business in the depths of the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown. “It was quite terrifying to start my own business at that time but the services I provide, a lot of people needed them” they said.
It was a risk that paid off for Thought & Found, an online one-stop shop for those wanting to take an authentic step forward in the digital space, offering services such as branding and web design. Amery has already gone on to work on a number of in-demand projects such as helping with the advertisement of ‘TILDE’, Melbourne’s Trans and Gender Diverse film festival several years running, and producing visuals for Queer Screen and the culture magazine Sissy Screens.
Although Amery’s business isn’t exclusively queer-focused, Amery has worked with a number of like-minded businesses whose life experiences have only enhanced their ability to create great work together. Authenticity is key, as Amery points out. “Having those values align and having that shared lived experience is really important when we're talking about our stories and when we're telling our stories. I think being able to have that foundation helps me as a business owner to align with and develop an outcome that really resonates.”
An Inclusive Workout
It’s that level of human understanding that Ella Mason, Founder of Pony Club Gym knew only too well. As a coach in the fitness industry for over two decades, Ella wanted to create a place of “inclusion” at the Pony Club Gym and decisively chose an ironic business name to keep that value front of mind.
“I understand that gyms can be unpleasant places for a whole lot of people, not just those who are trans or people in the LGBTQ+ community but anyone that is in a larger body or doesn't fit into the very narrow view of what many believe health or fitness looks like.”
After creating a simple setup with gym equipment and weights in the corner of their garage at home, Ella now employs six other health professionals at a new venue in Melbourne. Despite the move, Ella hopes the space still emulates a homely feel so everyone who exercises there is comfortable.
“A lot of different people come to the gym, some are under 18 years old and others are over 70 but they all have that craving, that longing to move their bodies. Having a space where they feel at ease to do that is important.”
“At the heart of it, providing the community a space where they can have autonomy over their bodies and do things in a way that makes them feel good is all that matters.”
(Reporting by Sophie Coghill, Editing by Dan Phillips)