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Senior stylist Mariah Riplinger cuts the hair of Kristina Everett (right) during Welcome Wednesday, where haircuts are offered for $5-10, and free for youth and elders, on the last Wednesday of every month at Big Joy Barber and Salon in Vancouver, B.C., on Sept. 27, 2023.Jennifer Gauthier/The Globe and Mail

The organizer: Shaunn Watt

The pitch: Starting Welcome Wednesdays

The reason: To offer discount haircuts to people in need

After nine years of cutting hair at a barber shop in Vancouver, Shaunn Watt decided to open his own salon and make it as inclusive as possible.

He launched the Big Joy Barber and Salon shop in 2015 and billed it as a “non-gendered alternative to the average barber experience.”

“We’re really invested in making this a safe place to come and be served in a way, and be treated in a way, that really speaks to who you are and how you want to be seen and move through the world,” Mr. Watt, who is 36, explained in a recent interview.

The business quickly found a niche market and it has grown to 11 employees. A couple of years ago Mr. Watt moved Big Joy to a larger location on East Hastings Street.

As well as building a clientele, Mr. Watt wanted to do something to help people who couldn’t afford regular haircuts. So in 2017 he started Welcome Wednesdays.

On the last Wednesday of every month, from 3 to 7 p.m., Big Joy offers haircuts on a pay-what-you-can basis, and no one is turned away if they can’t pay.

Mr. Watt said there’s a line down the street on Welcome Wednesdays and around 60 people are served each time. They come from all walks of life, from seniors and young families to students and people living in care homes. “It’s a pretty broad cross section of Vancouver,” he said.

Big Joy has also started a Community Care Fund. Every quarter, the shop loads a portion of its sales on to gift cards and distributes them to various social organizations for clients to use for haircuts.

Mr. Watt’s goal is to encourage other barber shops in the neighbourhood to join Welcome Wednesdays or offer something similar. “We would have a bit more availability for people in different neighbourhoods,” he said. “That would be really awesome.”

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