Many months ago, I received an email from LaToya Johnson-Rainey, owner of A Hair Boutique. She had heard about the (then) upcoming Pittsburgh Dyke Trans March and wanted to know how she could help. LaToya ended up donating water to the march, something very much appreciated. And practical. In other words, supportive without asking for her logo to be plastered about or other such sponsorship acknowledgement.
Not knowing much about wigs (nothing at all), I asked some of my friends and readers for their feedback on what they thought about this. Soon I had some genuine questions which LaToya was willing to answer. I was very struck by her personal story – she lost her mother in a car accident at age 19 and experienced severe burns. I also realized that this is an entire industry and world about which I know very little.
I’ve spent a portion of this week dealing with being TERF’d by Gender Identity Watch, talking about the MichFest protest and then trying to raise funds for the funeral expenses for Alejandra Leos, a 40 year Latina transwoman who was murdered a week ago. Frankly, I am very glad to spend some time talking with someone who values and appreciate transwomen – someone who wants to lend her support to their every day lives, not just paying for funerals and fighting off the haters. I am glad to know LaToya is in Pittsburgh and has created an affirming space for trans women who want to explore her services. The reality is that some transwomen will not be able to afford an upscale chic boutique including some who attend the Dyke Trans March. But knowing that LaToya is an ally is important – to give evidence to our community that people do care about all of us. And paves the way for other allies to step forward in their own way.
I’m running this interview as we head into Pittsburgh’s TransPride Conference to remind us all that we have neighbors like LaToya.
And that’s not something to be underestimated.
How did A Hair Boutique begin working with the transgender community? What services do you offer the trans community? AHB began working with the transgender community October of 2013 from advertising online and word of mouth. We offer discreet service in an upscale chic atmosphere to help the transgender community (as well as those who are drag) find the perfect wig. Our skilled staff takes the time to explain the importance of wig cap construction, hair types, and wig maintenance. In addition we have the skills to help our clients find flattering styles that fit their face shape, style, and that brings out their most flattering features. This is exceptionally helpful for amateur wig wearers and those who are seeking change. In addition to wigs we specialize in skincare. We also have professional makeup artists who are available by appointment.
I imagine that being fitted for and selecting a wig is a very intimate experience. How do provide customers support in those moments? Our wig consultations are conducted by appointment. This gives the client total privacy to be as comfortable as possible. Our clients have a blast learning about wigs and trying on different styles. Through interactive consultations clients are able to explore all the different colors, textures, and styles. Many wonder how they may look with long blonde hair or short pixie red hair and so forth. We play music, we talk, we laugh, and most of all we help our clients embrace themselves and feel beautiful. One of our biggest goals is to make the client feel comfortable. We personally understand how intimate wig shopping is and also how our hair affects our self-esteem. We know there are so many questions and concerns that accompany wearing wigs. This is why we offer ongoing support even after the clients leave the boutique. The very next day after a consultation the client receives a Welcome & Instructions e-mail. The e-mail basically thanks the client for visiting AHB, explains all the details about their wig, caring instructions, and helpful tips.
One of our readers asked “I want to purchase a nice wig, but I’m worried about wearing it to bars and other trans spaces filled with smoke. So I just spend less knowing I’ll replace it eventually.” Any suggestions? Absolutely, this is a common question. What we suggest is once you find a wig that you absolutely LOVE buy two. Wear one to bars, outdoor events, to work out, and other events/activities that may compromise the quality and smell of the wig. Wear the other to work, church, and special occasions. The one that you wear often wash it after about 10-14 wears, in between that time use a wig deodorizing spray. Your special occasion wig wash about every 20-24 wears. Follow our specific maintenance tips for both wigs and they will last longer. Once the compromised wig is old throw it out and switch your special occasion wig to your compromising wig. Buy a new style or the same style and use it as the special occasion wig. Using this method will save you money and keep you looking your best. If you keep buying inexpensive low quality wigs overtime you will spend almost double the money and not look half as good. MAINTENANCE IS KEY!
Your business was a supporter of the 2014 Pittsburgh Dyke Trans March. Why did you chose to get involved? A big part of who I am is helping others. Helping individuals and organizations that support people fulfills the mission of AHB as well as my personal desire to be happy. The quote that I live by is “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” By Arthur Ashe I don’t have much but I do have I believe I can make a difference. The opportunity to support the 2014 Pittsburgh Dyke Trans March was awesome because not only did it let us be involved in something important it also gave us the chance to let people know about our boutique.
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you ever met and what that relationship meant to you. I can’t really remember the first LGBTQ person I ever met as I was probably really young. My family owns beauty supply stores and my mother was a beautician so I grew up pretty diverse. I can tell you about my most memorable transgender woman client here at A Hair Boutique. She came to us in the beginning of her transition, she was very shy, and didn’t know anything about hair (or any other lady type of thing such as clothing and make-up). To be honest I was very nervous because I did not want to offend her as I did not know the proper way to address her. Should I say “she” or “he” because she was dressed as a man. When asked her name she provided a female name so I addressed her as “she”.
She was sort of a “plain Jane” and didn’t want anything elaborate. She had thee most beautiful eyes so I found a few wigs that complimented that feature. After about thirty minutes she let her guard down and we began to have fun. Putting the hair in different styles was a challenge for her so we went over how to do a basic ponytail, brushing, and tying a scarf. The consultation lasted about three hours because we bonded and went over so much. When she received her “Welcome & Instructions” e-mail she replied and expressed her gratitude. She became a loyal client to the shop and new friend for me.
I continuously learn about rediscovering yourself and the trials and tribulations that come along with the transgender transition. We can be ourselves around one another and as much as I help her with girly things and shopping she helps me with me with embracing and understanding transgender women. This relationship a lot to me and my family.
What LGBTQ character in television, film, literature or song resonates with you and why? I have quite a few…first of course RuPaul because she has changed the game in fashion and WIGS! I mean her lace wigs were FLAWLESS before lace wigs were even popular. Next King Amiyah Scott who is like the Kim Kardashian (minus the sex tape) of transgender women in my eyes. We don’t really know what she does but she looks beautiful doing it. In addition she is courageous and very open. Most recently Laverne Cox resonates with me from Orange is the New Black. She is a great advocate who is breaking done barriers as being a triple minority. I absolutely love her dedication, leadership, and again she is beautiful.
What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community? The most simple thing is treat and view people as people. It is that simple – differences make up the world, you don’t have to always understand it but embrace it and respect all living beings.
In conclusion what sets us apart from the rest is our business culture and service. We truly care about people and helping everyone “Just Be Beautiful”. We did not get into the business strictly for profit or to push people to shop with us. We started our business to sincerely make a difference on how people feel about themselves. At the age of 18 I had to wear wigs and weaves after being severely burned in a car accident which my mother was killed. My self-esteem was shattered, I didn’t like looking at myself in the mirror, and I thought everyone was always looking at me wondering “how did I get this way”. After mastering how to properly wear wigs and embracing myself for who I really was my confidence increased. Once I had confidence and faith nothing or no one has been able to stop me. AHB gives me that energy and allows me to share it with others…and that infectious energy is earned not bought!