Pomade is pomade. Anyone can use it, regardless of their gender, to style short hair. Yet traditionally, shopping for pomade has meant being bombarded with hyper-masculine marketing—drawings of men, labels that advertise the products as "for real men," and classically rugged scents like leather and tobacco. Not all people with short hair identify as men, though, which means the pomade category has historically excluded an entire population of people. That's why Sheena Lister and Megan Andrews founded Barb, an inclusive hair-care brand for people with short hair.
When deciding to launch the brand in early 2021, Lister and Andrews identified a considerable gap in the short hair styling market based on their own experiences. "The one product I've owned throughout my entire identity lifetime is hair pomade," says Lister, who notes that she slowly chopped off her long, curly hair as she "came into her identity" over time. "But they've always been marketed to men, made for men, and smelled like men, so I never felt like I had a product for myself... and once you market a product only for men, you're automatically leaving people out."
In launching Barb, Lister and Andrews wanted to create more than just hair-care products. They set out to cultivate a community in which anyone with short hair could feel safe, accepted, and included—and that's exactly what they've done.
The pomade that started it all
Barb released its debut product, Barb Soft Clay Pomade ($30), on its site last June. When it launched in Urban Outfitters in January 2022, the first batch sold out within 24 hours, a testament to the great need for pomade products for all.
What makes the product stand apart is its light, gender-neutral fragrance that blends refreshing scents like lavender and eucalyptus, leaving its user smelling like fresh laundry (because not everyone wants to smell like they've just come back from chopping wood). "We actually went back and forth on whether or not we wanted a smell at all, but we loved the smell so much that we decided that we were going to run with it," says Andrews, who serves as the brand's chief operating officer.
Barb's marketing focuses on those who have traditionally been ignored by the short hair product offerings on the market. "It's important to us that we're targeting women and non-binary people, because, to date, we haven't been seen," says Lister. Head over to the brand's website or Instagram, and you'll see beautiful images of women and non-binary folks owning and celebrating their short hair.
Barb also works with stylists who serve women and non-binary people to test their products, which hasn't been done historically. "Across the industry, short hair products are only tested on men. They test the scent on men, they test the product on men," says Lister. By widening the testing pool, they're able to ensure they're making products that anyone can love.
But, that doesn't mean people who identify in other ways can't also use the Barb. They're just not the target audience.
"A lot of men are buying our product—because it's a great product," says Lister. "And a lot of women are buying our product for their men—partners, brothers, siblings, whatever. That's ultimately our goal, to create a space where everybody can feel themselves, regardless of their gender or sexuality. The short hair is the connector."
Aside from being inclusive, the pomade happens to be a damn good product in its own rite. It's made with natural waxes and plant proteins to deliver the perfect mix of texture, fullness, and shape. It provides a medium hold in a natural finish that feels soft and creamy on the hands.
After using a bunch of not-so-great pomades in their lives, Andrews and Lister wanted to make sure their formula wasn't goopy or hard to use. "We made sure it wasn't sticky, but was very malleable, so it's easy to work into your hair," says Andrews. They also worked to achieve the perfect level of shine. "We wanted to make sure that it was shiny enough, so it could still be suitable for folks who like more of a slicked-back look, but not too shiny."
The pomade is just the beginning for Barb. They're working with industry leaders and stylists to get three new products out this year, one of which is being created specifically for Black textured hair. "It's really important to us that we're taking the time to ensure that the products that we roll out are as good as our Soft Clay Pomade," says Lister. "We've received amazing reviews and feedback from our current customer base. And we just want to make sure that we're living up to that product quality."
Great products aside, Lister and Andrews are disrupting an entire industry by putting together a community of "Barbs," aka people with hair shorter than chin-length. They're working to ensure that everyone feels welcome getting their hair done, regardless of how they identify. Not only can barbershops be uncomfortable places for people who don't identify as men, they can also be discriminatory. For example, in 2020, a woman was denied a haircut at a barbershop because men were "put off" seeing a woman in the store, reports BBC News.
"Today, if I went into a salon, I may not be the only one with short hair, but it's likely I'd be the only queer, lesbian-identifying person with short hair walking in, in my sweatpants and sweater, looking for a great haircut," says Lister. "And then on the flip side, 99 percent of the time I go to the barbershop, I'm the only woman."
In either situation, "If you have a stylist giving you a cut and you sense that they're uncomfortable, then your cut's not going to make you feel your best," adds Andrews. "You deserve to be walking through the world feeling your best." They note that educating stylists on proper pronoun use, for example, can make a huge difference in someone's experience at a salon.
For now, the brand is hosting pop-ups where women and non-binary people can feel safe getting their short hair styled (for example, they hosted one last year at San Francisco Pride). But the hope is that by leading by example, the rest of the hair-care industry will catch up and realize that getting your haircut doesn't need to be gendered.
"It's the idea that you don't have to have a menu for your cuts that are 'men's cut' or a 'women's cut.' Why aren't we just talking about short cuts, shags, mullets—just styles?" says Andrews. "We want to make sure that the traditional hair and beauty spaces know about Barb. That they know about these conversations that they're starting to incorporate the language, the pronoun use—it's all super important. It is going to be step-by-step. But we've got to start somewhere, and hopefully giving people resources and language, even if they just look at our website and they're like, 'That's interesting how they said that.' Great, then we've made one little step."
Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.
Loading More Posts...