InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each week ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This week we chat with Khane Kutzwell, a 38-year-old Trinidad-native and entrepreneur.
ELIXHER: Tell us a little about yourself.
KHANE: I was born in Trinidad, raised in Far Rockaway, Queens and schooled in Manhattan. I’m a barber (Camera Ready Kutz), spiritual incense maker (Euphoric Scents), and a party promoter (SWEAT! and The Groove).
ELIXHER: When did you begin cutting hair and what drew you to the craft?
KHANE: I started cutting hair in November of 2007. I was looking to start a new business and at the time heard many barbershop horror stories from my friends. I went to barber school thinking, “I could do this as a hobby.” I ended up loving it and having more of a natural talent for it than I thought.
ELIXHER: Why was it important for you to create a space where queer folks could get their hair cut?
KHANE: Hearing the stories of friends who had particularly uncomfortable experiences at barbershops—knowing their only wish was to get groomed without being stared at, talked about, refused service, or cut in the way the barber chose instead of getting what they asked for are just two reasons why it became important to me to create a space where queer folks can have the type of bonding experience that barbershops are known for. When you’re going to a barber shop you should feel like you’re being pampered not hated. I never did and still don’t understand why some barbers are so judgmental. We’re providing a service and if the client who is paying us money (hello?!) asks for a baldy, for example, it is not our place to ask why or scoff at them but to just oblige.
ELIXHER: Who or what inspires you?
KHANE: I’m inspired by my mother’s past struggles. I’m also inspired by people who tell me I can’t possibly achieve something that I’ve decided to make a goal.
ELIXHER: Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
KHANE: Usually when I look at someone’s head I can see the designs start to form in my mind’s eye. A lot of the time it’s quite spiritual for me…while talking to my clients I get a sense of their personality/aura and the designs are representations of what I feel from them. Sometimes clients will have an idea of what they want and bring in pictures. Sometimes they just know they want a design with straight lines or they want swirls, sometimes I match their tattoo to a hair design. I love the challenge of producing what they have described or shown, but I very much love when a person sits and says, “I give you free range. Do whatever design you feel to do.” [Laughs.]
ELIXHER: How would you describe yourself in three words?
KHANE: Honest. Loyal. Driven.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest misconception people have of you?
KHANE: People think I will never settle down. [Laughs.]
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?
KHANE: My biggest challenge. Geez, that’s a hard one. I think my biggest challenge was asking for monetary help this past summer from friends and even people I didn’t know due to a much needed surgery I had. I just bit my lip, kept my head up and asked. I face challenges head on! Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do no matter the pain or pride.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
KHANE: As far as being Black, I’m proud of our natural strength, brain power and connection to the elements. As far as being queer, I’m proud to have a broad idea of what love and family can be and ability to understand and accept other people’s vision of that. When it comes to the queer Black community, it’s hard for me to put those two things together as one without addressing them separately. Although there are still issues that could divide the queer White and queer Black communities, ultimately we’re all queer and will be judged the same regardless of color by society. That aside, I’m proud to be a part of the queer Black community because I have folks around me that I can share with culturally in a positive way as well as heal some of the cultural issues that seep into our queerness.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the Black queer community?
KHANE: One thing I would love to see happen is for us to have more conversations around dispelling the sexual hang ups we tend to have.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Khane?
KHANE: I’ll be opening my barbershop soon. My goal is September of this year…sooner would be great! I plan to have at least 5 shops—each in a different city. I’m looking at DC, Philly, California, Atlanta, and Brooklyn, NY. I’m accepting donations and always accepting new clients. Every new client helps bring me closer to that goal and donations of course do the same. Right now I cut from my apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The number for people to call or text is 347.687.Kutz (5889) and if anyone would like to make a donation towards helping me open my barbershop, they can find me on PayPal using the email firstname.lastname@example.org.