LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurs Share Their Pride

Local CT LGBTQ+ identifying entrepreneurs shared their business ventures with us. They offer guidance and advice to others within the queer community looking to follow similar paths, along with personal insights about being open with their identity as business owners.

HBar Salon and Spa

First, we have HBar Salon and Spa. Antonio is the owner and master stylist at HBAR Salon & Spa and has been in the industry for nearly 20 years. As an educator for Goldwell he is proud to solely carry Goldwell and Oribe products in the salon along with Dermalogica for esthetic services.  He has been published in Huda Beauty, CBS, WAG, and others. His specialty is color corrections and blonding services. 

Antonio was born and raised in Stamford and has always wanted to own his own salon and dreamed about opening one in his hometown. Opening during the COVID-19 Pandemic was not a part of his dream, but he not only opened the business but thrived through the pandemic. He values his entire team for making their first few years possible and is excited about the future.

(Photo and information provided by HBAR Salon & Spa) 

Photo Credit: HBar Salon and Spa

What does it mean to you to be open with your identity as a business owner and what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs within the LGBTQ+ community?

Antonio: “My goal for being my authentic self as a business owner is that no matter who you are or where you come from you can do anything. I’m aware that sounds cheesy but it’s the one 100% truth. 

If you believe in yourself and your craft your hard work will pay off. 

My entire life I had a dream of opening up my own salon & spa. Through the help of my family I was able to achieve my dreams and so much more. Starting a business was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, keeping it going and making it successful is the second hardest. I work 10-12 hours a day 7 days a week and I love it. 

They say if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life, that not true at all , but I will say the satisfaction of doing it is worth every moment of it.” 

Shop Will Beauty

Next, we have Will from Shop Will Beauty. Will started Shop Will Beauty in 2017 as an online store to buy styled wigs for drag queens. Over the years they have expanded to include a wide variety of wig-related products and have shifted their focus to be an inclusive human hair wig store for everyone under the LGBTQ umbrella and outside of it. Every human hair wig they sell is custom made to order so they can ensure people of all shapes and sizes find the perfect fit. They believe that beauty is a powerful tool of self affirmation to show the world your truest identity. 

Will got their start in beauty doing theater in college and interned in the Wig & Makeup Shop at The Juilliard School after college. Though it was such an amazing experience, they however realized that doing theater wasn’t their journey. Will always wanted to be self employed and their passion for drag and queer performance art drove them to focus on wigs for drag queens and other LGBTQ performers. They have now grown their business to sell over $30,000 a month in human hair wigs, their own line of wig glued and adhesives, and other accessories.

(Photo and information provided by Shop Will Beauty)

Photo Credit: Shop Will Beauty

What does it mean to you to be open with your identity as a business owner and what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs within the LGBTQ+ community?

Will: “Being an open proud queer person is the foundation of my business. When I started selling wigs specifically marketed towards drag entertainers, I used myself to model my wigs. Social media has been a very strong tool to grow my brand recognition and I’ve always had myself front and center in my content. I think my audience really connects to seeing me present myself fluidly with my gender expression. 

The advice I’d offer to other small LGBTQ businesses is to make sure people can connect your face to your brand. That’s the beauty of a small business. People love to know where their money is going to and who they are supporting. The more authentically you present yourself the more people connect with you and want to support your business.”

Bark & Vine

Lastly, we have Ralph and Luis from Bark & Vine. Bark & Vine started as an Instagram page in 2017 by Ralph and Luis to share their gardening experiences as new plant parents and homeowners. They wanted their adventure to be a journal for all who constantly say “I can’t keep a plant alive” to remind them that green thumbs are earned, not gifted.

With their dog, Coco, playing and barking while they were in the garden gave them the idea for the name, Bark & Vine. Their new home quickly filled with houseplants as they naturally brought their passion and knowledge of outdoor gardening indoors. “Barks and vines? It must be home!” They recently adopted a new dog named Moss. He has definitely joined Coco with the loud barks in the garden and unfortunately enjoys munching on their houseplants.

Fast forward a few years later, Ralph & Luis found themselves at home during the pandemic. Their free time during quarantine was spent in the garden learning how to grow all different types of plants and vegetables while cultivating their passion for indoor and outdoor gardening. One evening, Luis proposed the idea to Ralph of opening a plant shop. Ralph’s background in retail and design and Luis’ handy work and entrepreneur mindset became the perfect combination that jumpstarted Bark & Vine from the pages of Instagram to a full pledged plant business in a matter of months.

The business opened up as an online shop during the height of the pandemic in August 2020 and later moved to a brick and mortar space in New Haven, CT in February 2021. Bark & Vine quickly became a destination spot for plant lovers where they can find easy-care plants to start their plant journey all the way to more unique and uncommon plants for the plant collectors near and far.

(Information and pictures provided by Bark & Vine)

(Picture provided by Bark & Vine)

What does it mean to you to be open with your identity as a businesses owners and what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs within the LGBTQ+ community?

Ralph and Luis: “At Bark & Vine, we strive to set an example of what success can look like for queer people and communities. We take our responsibility to our communities seriously, whether the LGBTQIA+ community or the plant community, and will always strive to create a space that is welcoming, loving, and kind, and without fear of prejudice or hate.

I would tell aspiring entrepreneurs that being vocal about seeking and expecting that same treatment in return will allow you to attract the right customers and team members, without bearing the burden of constantly representing an entire group of people alone. No agenda, no endgame, but simply a group of people who love plants that just happen to be queer and allies.”

Thank you to all of the entrepreneurs for sharing their stories and advice! For more resources centered around entrepreneurship, check out our Innovation and Entrepreneurship Career Community HERE.

By Heidi Pineda
Heidi Pineda Affinity Community Outreach and Programming Intern