TransFormation Salon in Mumbai’s Prabhadevi area looks like any other salon in the city – spacious, neat and beautifully laid out. That’s until you meet the team running the salon – a bunch of happy, spirited people who also happen to be transgender. TransFormation Salon is Mumbai’s first salon owned and operated by transgender people.
The brain behind the salon is Zainab Patel, a transgender activist who also founded The Trans Café (TTC) in Andheri, Mumbai last year. “The idea of a transgender salon in Mumbai was always in the pipeline. The challenge was finding people to support us financially. People are not willing to directly bridge with us. We need organisations such as The Rotary Club of Mumbai to back us and prove our credentials,” says Patel.
TransFormation Salon has been supported by Deutsche Bank and the Rotary Club of Bombay in hiring and training of personnel. The business will receive initial assistance from them before being administered as a for-profit enterprise by the Pride Business Network Foundation. Back in 2021, trans activists and celebrities Aryan Pasha and Laxmi Narayan Tripathi launched ‘La Beauté & Style’ - India’s first salon run by transgender men in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.
A job with dignity
TransFormation Salon, located in an up-scale locality of Mumbai, has a staff of seven people with experience in the field of aesthetics. They were provided with a refresher training course from L’Oreal Academy. The unisex salon offers beauty and hair services such as haircuts, hair colour, makeup, facials, waxing, threading, nail art, manicure and pedicure. There is also a transmasculine person who specialises in hand and foot spa.
The transgender community, also called kinnars, has often faced the wrath and discrimination of society. They continue to struggle for their existence and equal rights. Some of them, though, are shattering that glass barrier by way of education and skill development.
“I started from the by-lanes of Kamathipura and reached here today. The salon is a space for me to be myself. I want people to realise that trans people can be skilled and trained and be mainstream like everyone else,” says Shyamli Pujari, a beautician at the salon. Aslam S, a transgender makeup artist, dreams of becoming a manager at the salon. “I always wanted a job with dignity and the salon provides me that. Earlier I would do freelance work. I wish to become the manager of the salon someday.”
Patel herself started her career 20 years ago working with an NGO, Humsafar Trust, for Rs 2,000 a month. “My job was to distribute condoms and health materials. Today I have a corporate job with a six-figure salary. I wish opportunities existed in the past. When you are economically well off, a lot of the barriers surrounding you begin to fall down,” says Patel, who is the Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Pernod Ricard India, a French wine and spirit company.
Salon for all
Patel wants TransFormation to be an inclusive and comfortable space for everyone and not just for the LGBTQ+ community alone. “The idea is to make people comfortable and show that a salon can be run in a professional way and at par with other salons that are traditionally run by heterosexual or cis gendered people. But I don’t expect change overnight. Comfort and sensitivity will be built over a period of time,” says Patel.
It’s also an opportunity for people to show their support to the community. “A lot of people want to do something for the community. But they really don’t know how. So they end up giving some money to trans people at the signal. But here is an opportunity to use your money in the right way. We don’t want charity, we want equal opportunity. And it will come when people decide to award us that opportunity,” says Patel.
But ultimately, it all boils down to economics. And Patel understands that. “People may believe in the social good of a product or service. But they are not going to purchase a product or a service just because of the social good it brings. Economics also matter. So we have priced the services at par with other salons. So when people walk out of the salon, they not just feel good about their hair and skin but also about themselves for having done something right.” That we feel is priceless.