On September 1, 2015, Jessie Anderson opened Big Bro’s Barbershop for business on a budget of roughly nine thousand dollars, all crowdfunded from community members. In exchange, he had promised a brick-and-mortar space dedicated to the wellness of the trans community, created by a member of the trans community. Big Bro’s Barbershop would be a place where trans people could receive hair services without hassle, purchase gender-affirming products that are rarely available on store shelves, and have access to resources that are often difficult to find or afford.
For the first eight months that the business was open, Big Bro’s was located in a 300ft² windowless art studio in an industrial Franklin Street warehouse. Clients would ring a doorbell on a discreet sign hung on the front gate, and Anderson would run downstairs to escort his guests up to the shop. However, this original location was surprisingly well-received – queer folks in Vancouver were hardly strangers to community events and resources being hosted in odd affordable corners of Canada’s most expensive city.
Rapid-fire press coverage declaring Big Bro’s Barbershop the first business of its kind generated enough hype for Anderson to win Best Emerging Entrepreneur at the 2016 Small Business BC Awards, as one of only ten SBBC Awards winners selected from 535 province-wide nominations. This momentum carried Big Bro’s into its current location, an 800ft² storefront on Nanaimo Street, shared with independent queer hairdresser Zed Payne.
Since first opening its doors, Big Bro’s Barbershop has hosted a number of projects, fundraisers, and independent contractors, including:
- two trans (and trans-friendly) tattooists (now owners of their own tattoo studio, Sticks & Stones)
- two trans (and trans-friendly) makeup artists
- a monthly-rotated gallery of work from local visual artists
- a trans (and trans-friendly) body piercer
- a trans (and trans-friendly) tailor and bootblack
- an afternoon of beautification services for a group of current and former sex workers, via PACE
- trans health surveys
- fundraising sales for by-trans-for-trans projects, including locally-produced sitcom The Switch
- financial contributions to the Trans March, Black Lives Matter, and more
- community consultations with Vancouver-based medical providers and non-profits
- a free, permanent clothing swap for community members
- double-discounted haircuts each month following the distribution of income assistance cheques
- free access to harm reduction supplies (safer sex supplies, menstrual pads, hormone injection supplies, safer drug use supplies)
Big Bro’s Barbershop continues to serve its community as one of the few physical spaces dedicated to enhancing the lives of Vancouver’s trans community beyond the context of medical transition.