Klára Váňová: Barberette wants fair price for everyone

Photo: archive of Klára Váňová

Klára Váňová is the owner of Barberette, Prague’s first gender-neutral barber shop. Its philosophy is that all customers, regardless their gender, should pay the same price. Klára started her concept in London in 2012, when she left her comfortable office job to launch her own business career. The barber shop picked up very quickly and a few years later, in 2017, she decided to open another salon in her hometown Prague.

Photo: archive of Klára Váňová
When I visited Klára’s barber shop in the district of Žižkov, I first asked her what made her return to Prague:

“Well, I have been living in London for 15 years and I missed my family. And because my business in London is very successful, I told myself: why not open another branch? And why not in Prague? I felt that Prague was changing a lot, was much more open-minded and I felt it was ready for my business.”

And were you right? Was it ready for your business?

“Absolutely. I am booked up for months in advance and all my clients are absolutely lovely. The people in Prague understood the concept very quickly, which drove them to me. And what I find amazing is that they are the same client-base as in London, meaning they are liberal and just really nice.”

Barberette is what you call the first gender-neutral barber shop. What exactly does it mean? Is it about the fact that people pay the same price, regardless their gender?

“Yes, that’s right. I set up Barberette in 2012, before most of the barber shops in Prague were open or existing. I opened it because I wanted a fair price for everyone and I wanted everyone to feel welcome here. “We have clients from 15-month-olds to 75-year-old ladies. And this is what I love. I love the inclusivity and the fact that women, or people who identify as women or as non-binary are able to enjoy the same haircut as classic barber shops offer.”

Was there a personal reason behind your decision to open this gender neutral barber shop?

“It was actually the only reason. I found it frustrating having to beg for a haircut in barber shops and then debating the price.

“I opened Barberette because I wanted a fair price for everyone and I wanted everyone to feel welcome here.”

“And then I thought: maybe other people feel the same way. And maybe because I understand the frustration my clients feel, I take this not just as a business but also as a passion.”

You actually started your career pretty late, at the age of 30. What was the trigger behind your decision to become a barber?

“The trigger was the international financial crisis in 2008. I had a very comfortable office job, with great people as well. The job was based in Canary Wharf in London and when the crisis came, I saw a lot of people being discharged from work. And I realised I was dependent on other people.

“And since hairdressing was always my passion - my mom is a hairdresser - I thought: why don’t I do a night course, while I am working? Because I had to obviously pay for the course and support myself in London. And in the meantime, my free time over the weekends, I have worked with other interesting hairdressers and barbers.

“And also because I was so old, the only way I could do what I want was to start my own business. I finished the course at the age of 32, I would have to start as an apprentice, sweeping floor for another two years. And that was not my vision.

“I also wanted to do a different thing. So the idea came within what I felt was right, not because I thought it was an amazing business idea.”

Photo: archive of Klára Váňová
What is the biggest difference between running a business in London and running a business in Prague? I would assume it is easier in Prague, since there is less competition.

“Well it is easier because it is my own language, I guess. It is much more bureaucratic here, but once you set things up, it’s probably easier here. It took me a while to get clients. It took me a while to get people to know about me, but I think it has picked up very quickly. And the same goes for London. As I said, the business grew organically. When I set up the London space, I already had some clients and I built it up slowly, and so I did in Prague. It is very similar, because as I said at the beginning, the clients are very similar and I knew it was going to work.”

So what kind of cuts do you offer? I associate barber shops mostly with cropped cuts. Do you also take clients with long hair?

“Barberette is kind of a bridge between the barber shops and hairdressing. I specialize in short hair which is above the ears and different styles in short hair. It doesn’t have to be cropped.

“Also wedges and beards. But we do here long hair as well. And we do it because long-haired clients had the same frustration as the short haired ones, which I never thought about until I met these clients.

“So it’s the same principle of giving clients what they want with short hair as well as long hair. So I do long hair, but I do simple, straight cuts and wash-and-go, with no real fuss.

“So I am not targeting glamorous long hair clients because I want to keep the barber shop feel. But at the same time, I want to be open to the long hair clients who don’t want the fuss.”

“It is amazing how satisfying it is, cutting hair, and spending time with the clients. It never becomes boring.”

So what kind of cuts are popular these days?

“It’s very lean, low-maintenance cuts. People want haircuts which they don’t have to style that much. Obviously popular are very short haircuts and fades.

“Everyone is different, everyone has a different shape of face, but if the person wants short hair, they will get it. A lot of people also bring pictures, we talk about what they like and dislike, so I hope I give people what they want.”

What if you think the haircut the customers choose won’t suit them? Do you try to talk them out of it?

“No, never, because it’s my job to make it suit. We discuss possibilities or alternatives, but I never say no. I always want the person look like they wanted.

“So, let’s say the haircut is not suitable because of the density of their hair, the face and the head shape, that I can deal with, but the density is something you can’t change.

“I explain it to the client and we come up with a solution. But I never say: this is not for you. That is just really bad. Because it makes the client feel very uncomfortable. I want to make people happy and give them what they want. That’s my way.”

And who are your typical clients? What’s the proportion of men and women?

Photo: archive of Klára Váňová
“Everyone is asking about this! My typical client is a lovely person. It’s hard to explain. It’s better to be part of it. But when I opened a barber shop in Prague, there were about 90 percent of men and ten percent of women.

“And also obviously I am open to non-binary clients or LGBT clients. I would say we have much more female identified clients than men but I want everyone to feel happy, whatever their gender is.

So, what is it that you love most about your work?

“I always say that coming to work is like coming to a party. You spend a nice time with lovely people and you make them happy with the haircut, straight away. In 45 minutes you make somebody feel amazing. The positive energy is everywhere. I also love doing clean haircuts. It never becomes boring. It is amazing how satisfying it is, cutting hair, and also spending time with the clients.”