Len Grant visits a new hair and beauty salon in Ancoats catering for the transgender community.
Ancoats was the epicentre of the city’s innovative industrial past and so it seems fitting that Transfixed, a fledgling company at the forefront of its own business sector has set up shop here. I went along to chat to Lisa Breakey who, with co-founder Zara Prior, set up the business 18 months ago. Both have considerable experience in hair and beauty having worked in salons and the theatre for many years. They weave their new business venture in between teaching jobs at The Manchester College. But how did it all start?
“We went out to Sparkle – the transgender festival in Manchester – with some friends a couple of years back and we were both amazed at how many trans people there were with bad wigs and unflattering make-up! We thought there must be a gap in the market here and that was the beginning of it. We began by doing our research: chatting to lots of people and different organisations who support the trans community… and it went from there.”
So why did you choose to set up in Ancoats, and here at Beehive Mill?
“We wanted to be close to the city centre and also to the gay village and, at the same time, have somewhere private and discreet. People say Beehive Mill is quite a bohemian building – there are lots of musicians and artists here – so it felt right for us and comfortable for our clients. Most people who come to us are quite nervous and shy so this is perfect.”
How much did you know about the transgender community before you started Transfixed?
“Not much at all. We thought there were those people who wanted to dress up and those who wanted to a sex change. But it’s much more complicated than that. Transgender is a umbrella name for transsexuals, transvestites, cross-dressers, everyone. You have to imagine a spectrum and everyone is somewhere on that spectrum, but it’s not helpful to try and categorise people. Some are very secretive and others are very open. We’ve had men coming to the salon with their wives, and even with their children.
“We get a lot of satisfaction from treating people as people. Everywhere there are barriers and whispered comments – it’s the last taboo really, isn’t it? – but we try our best to instill our clients with confidence. They feel more accepted here than anywhere else and some have even said, ‘You’ve changed my life’ which is wonderful to hear.”
So there is no ‘typical’ client for you?
“There are many other ‘services’ out there for the community that are no more than a front for the ‘seedy’ side of the business. Our clients aren’t looking for that. They want somewhere where they can get a wig professionally fitted, or have a beauty treatment, or get some make-up advice… and that’s it. We talk to our clients just like we’d talk to women clients in a conventional salon. That makes us different and unique.”
And what about the future?
“Our older clients tell us that society is a lot more accepting now than say, 15 or 20 years ago. And, as cities go, Manchester is incredibly tolerant and open. Transgender people feel comfortable here. So it can only get easier for our clients which will mean our business should develop and grow.
“Even now we stay open late on Wednesday and Saturday evenings so clients can come here, get their make-up and hair done, use our dressing rooms and set off to the village for a night out. It’s great to offer that service.”