Review and Q&A with Motive Salon on #NorthsidePgh

While I was recovering from my hysterectomy, I had to find a new hair stylist. So I turned to Facebook and asked for a referral to a stylist who was queer friendly and used organic, cruelty free products. That spawned a huge discussion. Some people thought gay friendly was the same as queer friendly (it is not). I found several LGBTQ owned or gay friendly businesses that were not using cruelty free/organic products.

Then someone mentioned Motive Salon on the Northside. I did a cursory glance of their social media and website information. The pricing structure was gender based and that is definitely not queer friendly. I pointed it out to the referral source. She called the owner and the next day, the website was updated to reflect prices based on time versus gender. That’s queer friendly.

Why? Well, hair styles and maintenance have nothing to do with gender. Gender is not just binary. Short styles can be far more complicated and time-consuming than a trim for long hair. It is about the service and the time & artistry that goes into the service. Removing gender references in pricing lists indicates that people who do not conform to gender expectations are more likely to be treated with respect and dignity. Not only is it more fair to everyone, it removes a potential barrier of having to define yourself by the gender binary to access services.

So I made an appointment with Noelle. Then I asked the salon owner to do a Q&A. My review is at the end of her responses.

My queer eye view from the waiting area. Note the reusable mugs paired with the Keurig. This actually works for me.

Your Name:​ Breanne Kochmanski​
Your Pronouns:​ She, her ​
Your Connection to Motive:​  Owner ​

How do you describe your identity? ​To me, I would simply describe my identity as female. ​

Please briefly share the history of Motive Salon: ​Motive Salon began as my need for a smaller and more creative environment, and control over my schedule, for more time with my family. I absolutely love what I do, and I wanted to explore my clients’ “motives” for their identities. I wanted to understand what drives each client of mine, and learn to harness that in order to create a look for them that is completely 100% their own. Upon the suggestion of several resident Northsiders, we explored the area and fell in love. We opened on September 23, 2014 and haven’t looked back since! We have embraced the north side, and the north side embraced us. We do our best to create a salon culture centered around education and sharing knowledge. This is not normal for salons; most covet their education and knowledge, not sharing for fear of recreation and loss of clients. At Motive, we believe that by raising each other up, we can overcome more than we could alone. We are in love with what we do, and we’re so happy that others do too! We’re celebrating 4 years in business this year, and hopefully many more to come!

My stylist, Noelle, mentioned that you use products that are cruelty-free and paraben-free. Is this across the board for all products? What lines do you use/sell? We use Kevin Murphy and Moroccan Oil product lines which are cruelty, sulfate, and paraben free. Some of the products are organic as well. We also use Wella FusionPlex, Eimi and Sebastian, which are more traditional style lines that some of our clients are used to seeing on the shelves. The color lines we carry are Wella, Pravana, Redken, and L’oreal which are not organic. Unfortunately, most organic color lines do not function like traditional color lines. However, when a client has allergies or requests a certain product (including organic) we bring products in to suit their needs.

Is your space fully accessible? I saw a stoop at the entrance I used, but is there another accessible entrance? No, unfortunately, it is not wheelchair accessible because there is no space for a ramp to be ​safely ​ installed, between the other business doors and the narrow alley. If we are ever able to expand our space, or make it bigger in any way, we’ve talked about putting an accessible ramp at that point. It’s something we wish we could do, but in an old city building, just isn’t possible at this point.

Why did you change your pricing structure from the traditional male/female cut pricing to pricing based on the time required for the hair style? We changed our pricing in order to make it less confusing for our future clients. We have never been the kind of of place that charged a “women’s” price just because you were a woman. Or charged less for a haircut simply because it was short. Some short haircuts take an hour, and some take 30 minutes — regardless of whether you’re male or female. We are a service based business, and therefore charge by our time. I don’t know why I didn’t change it sooner because we have always done it that way. We’re a welcoming and non-judgement establishment, and we feel this pricing better reflects our belief system.

I noticed several small welcoming touches, including candy choices and coffee in real ceramic mugs for clients. How do you specifically make transgender/nonbinary individuals and those who are gender nonconforming feel welcome and affirmed in your salon? I just treat everyone I meet with respect and care for them as an individual. Every one of our employees is held to the same standard. The name I chose for the salon comes from the simple questions I ask everyone who sits in my chair before I start cutting. What is your motivation for your hair? Your life? Your vision? Your image? I feel like our job is to help people express who they are, are that’s the most fun for us! We’re also very open to suggestions or comments in order to make our space more accommodating for everyone.

Does the salon recycle? Ugh, this question is really tough for me because I hate to say that at the moment, we do not, and it kills me everyday. The salon is 600 square feet and I didn’t realize when I first designed the interior that I didn’t leave space for extra receptacles. We have to use literally every inch of our space and there currently isn’t any room to separate our trash, let alone have a recycling collection bin. As soon as I’m able to get a few more square feet this is something that is on our list!  I always take the cardboard from our product shipment packaging home to recycle, but we can’t do much better with the small stuff, at the moment. But I really cannot stress how much we wish we could do this!

When I put out to the Facebook world that I was looking for a salon that used cruelty free products and was queer friendly, Motive came up the most often. People were even contacting me privately with personal testaments. What do you think accounts for such a fierce loyalty among your existing clients around these issues in particular? It made me so happy to hear, actually — and I was truly proud that I was doing things the right way! My staff and I are dedicated to listening to and delivering what each and every client wants- because everyone wants something different. We pride ourselves on being able to figure out who you are — and what “Motivates” you. We don’t attack a haircut or color with ego, or with a limited arsenal of techniques. We’ll do whatever we have to do to get you what you want, or work with you to figure that out! We want everyone we meet to feel relaxed, open, and heard. I have always been someone who believes in acceptance and love for everyone. I am genuinely honored by everyone who trusts me and my associates to help them to get that through to the world.

Where can we find you on social media? You can find us on Facebook and on Instagram @MotiveSalon

​Is there anything you’d like to add? I love what I do and I am honored every time anybody entrusts me with helping to project their image. I don’t think its “just hair.” It’s your chance to tell people a little bit about who you are. And I love being a part of it! Also, if anybody ever has suggestions on how to make Motive feel more safe and welcoming I would love to hear about it! I’m open to ideas at all times! Thanks so much, Breanne and the team <3

Thank you, Breanne.


I was overall very pleased with my experience at Motive. My stylist, Noelle, was prompt, friendly, and willing to answer my questions. I liked the haircut she gave me and we discussed adding color in the future (I want to skip summer months because of the chlorine in the pool.)

The thing that really struck me was how closely focused she was on me, not the other people in the salon. She didn’t have sidebar conversations, she didn’t divide her time between me and other clients, and she wasn’t distracted. The space did have background music which somehow created enough ambient noise to keep each client/stylist conversation private, but was still open floor style enough to allow for some sense of community.

Things that struck me were small touches like dishes of candy, a keurig machine with reusable mugs, comfortable seats in the waiting area, the stoop into the store, the lack of any visible recycling, and other issues I asked Breanna to address in her Q&A. I appreciated her honest responses around difficult questions.

Other advantages include zoned and paid parking options on nearby streets, proximity to public transportation, and the nearby business community on Western Avenue.

My big suggestion to Motive is to incorporate more diverse clients into their promotional materials in terms of multiple spectrums – gender, age, race, body type, gender expression, etc. It would be nice to see more typical people who look like me and Ledcat on their social media channels. Photos of other fat women, images of queer folks with fantastic hair speak volumes to me about how body image and queer identity are valued in the space.

The issues around accessibility are terrible. It is really hard to find fully accessible spaces that are locally owned with affordable prices and proximity to public transportation. That’s an ongoing battle in Pittsburgh which does seem to rely a bit too much on the “we’re an old City” response across the board – Motive is no different from any other business on the Northside. I’d like to see the City, the CDC’s, and small business groups like the Chamber of Commerce begin to prioritize accessibility as an essential tool to quality of life and neighborhood development.

I do recommend giving Motive a try. My experience was positive and I plan to go back. If you are looking for a locally owned salon that is queer affirming and responsive, this is worth trying.


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