Q&A: Megan Andrews ’07 changes the game with gender-neutral hair care startup

Aug. 14, 2022, 3:36 p.m.

Megan Andrews ’07 would have done almost anything for short hair in elementary school, but their mother insisted that they keep it past the tops of their ears. The result was an awkward-looking bowl cut that they were, nonetheless, enamored with. As they got older, social pressures pushed them to abandon the beloved bowl cut and grow their hair out long. 

When it came to their freshman year at Stanford, they finally decided to cut it all off. 

This haircut sparked Andrews’s journey in navigating their own identity. Now, they serves as co-founder and chief operating officer of Barb, a haircare startup for short hair. Co-founded in 2021, Barb takes a gender-neutral approach to its product branding, providing products for short-haired women, transgender people and non-binary people who feel unseen by traditionally-branded hair care. The Daily spoke with Andrews about Barb’s mission and story.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

The Stanford Daily [TSD]: How did Barb start?

Megan Andrews [MA]: Barb has always been here — I like to think it just now has a name. My co-founder Sheena came up with the concept. It was interesting because she had been tossing this idea around for a number of years after having an awkward experience of keeping short hair. Do I go to a barbershop? Do I go to a salon? Where’s my home for my hair? She actually started to develop this whole concept and was looking at different branding agencies to bring the company to life. As it became more real and she realized she was going to start a company, she realized she might need some help. It was a no-brainer [for me] to jump in.

TSD: How does Barb affirm short hair as an identity for non binary, transgender and other people who could not find haircare products that catered to them before now? 

MA: It’s that feeling of belonging as soon as you enter a room or look at our Instagram feed or see someone like me on a TikTok channel. I think there are a lot of other ways you can dissect it, but if we can make people feel welcomed and like they belong, then we’re doing our job right.

TSD: What tactics and ideas have you used to bring your products to an already saturated beauty marketplace?

MA: We need to come up with new, more authentic ways of thinking about beauty. That comes from being really confident in who you are. That’s our angle, and we hope that resonates with people in the industry: that they find that in our brand and they see it, and that [the message] just keeps getting to more and more people. 

TSD: How did your experience at Stanford help inspire you to create Barb? 

MA: My degree gave me a chance to explore and understand the way other people think, the way I think and what’s exciting to me. You can never underestimate the freedom to have lots of different experiences that you can draw from to build the best version of what you’re focused on at the moment.

TSD: What are some of the biggest struggles you encountered while co-founding Barb? What are some of your fondest memories?

MA: I’ve never started a business, so there are a lot of things. You don’t know what you don’t know, and having the confidence to stay the course when things aren’t clear or make you anxious is the hardest part for me. 

You know, in terms of memories, it’s pretty cool. We’ve done a couple of these ‘Barb’ haircuts. It’s this idea of sponsoring someone’s experience or paying for their haircut, getting the stylist and allowing someone to go through that transformational cut from long to short. It’s a huge experience for people and it’s amazing how they walk into the haircut looking one way and having this demeanor and then after the haircut, they can look like a very different person. And that alone has been amazing to witness. 

TSD: Out of your 3,600+ customers, you said most are aged 25 to 45. How are you looking to widen your customer demographic? 

MA: In the last three months, 18 to 24 year-olds have been producing 20% of our revenue. I think it’s because I finally got on TikTok. I actually feel like I have more in common with Gen Z than a lot of other generations, because I think Gen Z understands that we don’t have time to waste on what other people think. We really need to live our lives in a way that’s authentic to us and tear down all the problematic ways that things have been done. Somehow, we’re resonating with a younger generation and we also have seventy-year-olds saying, ‘I can’t believe you have this hair product and can’t wait to use it.’ So it’s pretty cool to see that run the gamut.

TSD: What other hair care products have you observed to have gendered marketing, besides pomade?

MA: With the vast majority of products out there you still see this very gendered idea of who should have what kinds of hair, what it should smell like [and] what it should look like. And not just gendered — there’s homophobia, racism and all these cis, heteronormative ways of looking at products. And while right now we’re focused on centering women, nonbinary and trans people, I think it’s also important to always keep in mind that no product actually has a gender. We are not exclusionary toward anybody using our products, but we think it’s really important to provide those different visions of what it looks like to have short hair. That’s our start, and we look forward to seeing a lot of other companies joining us.

TSD: How do you plan to make your products more accessible?

MA: Ultimately, we want to be everywhere. We have over 50 different shops and salons across the U.S. now. We just signed a national partnership with Bishops Barbershop chain in June. They have 50 locations, and they’re slowly coming online and ordering the pomade into their shops. 

TSD: What feedback have you received?

MA: People started finding us and DMing us. I would read a DM that just said, “Thank you so much for existing, I can’t believe I found my people. It means so much to see you and your brand” — things that were clearly very life-changing for people on the other end of the computer. That immediate impact struck us and continues to inspire us. 

TSD: What kind of impact would you like to make on the queer community and the haircare industry going forward?

MA: I want queer kids to feel safe. I want them to feel valued, handsome, beautiful and everything in between. That’s the most lasting impact. I think it all comes down to individual humans feeling like they have a place in the world and that they’re seen and loved.

TSD: How do you hope your brand will set a precedent for other haircare and beauty brands to create more inclusive products and advertising?

MA: We want to be the game changers. We want everyone to say, “We should have been doing this all along and Barb is finally doing it.” Come, join us all. It’ll be a huge change in how things are done.

TSD: Where do you see Barb 10 or 20 years in the future? What are your ultimate hopes and goals for the company?

MA: Ten years from now, Barb will be internationally distributed. We’ll have huge success within each of our markets, but ultimately will change the face of the hair and beauty industries at large. We will have started a conversation and evolved people’s thinking in that space. I think the impact is the most important part. If we can make enough money along the way to sustain it, that’s even better.

This article has been updated to accurately reflect that Andrews uses she/they pronouns. The Daily regrets this error.

Sonia Verma is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.comMadeline Magielnicki is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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