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Hair Stylist Looks to Open LGBT-Friendly Barbershop in Crown Heights

By Ben Fractenberg | August 1, 2014 7:28am
 Khane Kutzwell works out of an apartment on Easter Parkway and is fundraising to open an LGBT-friendly barbershop in Crown Heights. 
Camera Ready Kutz
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CROWN HEIGHTS — Khane Kutzwell decided to start cutting hair after friends in the LGBTQ community complained to her about how they were treated at barbershops.

From strange looks when female friends asked for a super-short haircut to awkward silences or comments, Kutzwell heard a litany of uncomfortable stories about her gay or lesbian friends' and clients' experiences with the standard barbershop options.

“They need a place where, let’s say, something’s not going right in the day or they are having problems with their family — or a teenager just came out to their parents and they are feeling low,” said Kutzwell, who identifies as queer and works from her studio apartment on Eastern Parkway.

Since 2007, Kutzwell's business Camera Ready Kutz has aimed to provide a place where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers can get their hair cut in an accepting atmosphere. But operating out of apartments hasn't been cutting it.

The 42-year-old launched an IndieGoGo campaign on June 7 to raise $25,000 to open a brick-and-mortar store in Crown Heights.

In a good week, Kutzwell will see between six to eight clients a day, with one day off. But cutting hair in an apartment means that Kutzwell can only operate by appointment.

“You can’t just walk up to my door and ring the bell. And I want to be able to do that,” she said.

Kutzwell decided to fundraise through the site, but so far she has only generated a little more than $600 out of her $25,000 goal.

“People are asking for it, but people don’t really want to support it,” she said. “Then to see the guy who has the $10 fundraiser for the ingredients to make potato salad and he gets like over $40,000, I’m like, ‘What is going on here?’”

Chanel Roper, 32, hung out in Kutzwell's apartment with her son, Chikae, waiting to get a cut the day before Chikae's third birthday.

“It’s definitely a sense of community. You always feel comfortable around your own," said Roper, who is a lesbian.

"There is no judgment. You don’t have to get weird looks. It’s a good environment and she’s a very pleasant individual so I enjoy conversing with her," Roper said.

Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Sheila Akbar found out about Kutzwell from a friend when she was looking for a place to get a short haircut.

“I don’t want to go into a male salon to ask for this haircut because I’m going to get harassed. I know I will. I don’t feel comfortable going into them," Akbar, 34, said.

In 2004, Kutzwell opened a store in the West Village that sold oils, incense and African artifacts. Rents started to rise and she was forced to take a second job managing a Starbucks and then was forced to close the store in 2006.

“Then a few years into that I had some friends that would complain about how they were treated in barbershops,” Kutzwell said. “So my entrepreneur self kicked in and I said, ‘You know what, I can do this, let me check out barber schools, see what that’s like.’"

She went to barber school in 2007 and the following year quit her Starbucks job to cut hair full time.

If the fundraising picks up, Kutzwell hopes to open the shop in Crown Heights so that the current clientele can come to the same area and the business is stable as the neighborhood continues to gentrify.

“I want to know that I have a business here that is already established and [that] this is a person-of-color business, queer and it looks beautiful," Kutzwell said. "I was here before all the other extra stuff came in. That is very important with me.”