In 2017, a friend posted a picture of a bearded man in a mermaid tail to Hasan Hai’s social media page. He laughed at first, but then he got an idea — one that would generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity and see him and about 25 others sprawled across the Newfoundland landscape as (mostly) bearded mermen.
The 2018 MerB’ys calendar was the brainchild of the Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Moustache Club (NLBMC), a social club started by Mr. Hai in early 2017 as a way to meet people after he relocated to St. John’s from Saskatchewan. “I use air quotes when I say founded because [the first meeting] was me and another guy eating fish and chips at a pub,” he jokes.
But the group slowly grew and a few months later Mr. Hai put the call out on social media to see if anyone in the area was interested in doing a fun photoshoot in mermaid tails. The response was “crazy” and the group decided they had enough interest to make a 12-month calendar.
“When I started this, we thought, ‘We’ll sell a few hundred calendars and make a few thousand dollars and it’ll be a wildly successful campaign,’” he says.
Proceeds from the calendar went to Spirit Horse NL, a project that helps people with mental health issues through access to equine therapy. The original goal was to raise enough to feed one of the horses for a year, but it far exceeded anyone’s expectations.
It “blew up,” as Mr. Hai puts it. In fact, in one day, the group sold 1,200 calendars and at the end of the campaign they had raised more than $300,000 for the equine charity.
Today the NLBMC is a registered non-profit and has released the 2019 MerBy’s Calendar, which includes members of the community from different ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and body shapes to represent the inclusivity of the group.
“You don’t have to be able to grow facial hair to be a member,” says Mr. Hai, “because it’s the beard inside that counts.”
These days it’s not unusual to walk down any street in Canada in November and see a man sporting a moustache for 30 days in participation of Movember, a charitable movement that started in Melbourne, Australia, 15 years ago, which raises money for men’s health education and research. Last year, more than 55,000 Canadians participated.
But Canada’s facial hair clubs are proving that philanthropy and facial hair are not exclusive to Movember. In fact, these clubs are showing that beards and ’staches can spark charitable giving all year round. All across the nation the bearded, the mustachioed, the clean shaven, and members of all genders are welcomed into these groups that raise money through themed calendars, toy drives, beard competitions and bowling nights.
The creation story of many of these clubs has a similar theme: social club beginnings that evolve to include charitable works.
“As beards got bigger we realized that our reach was getting bigger and the possibilities were kind of endless in terms of what we could do, and the fundraising took off from there,” says Garrett Resler, founder of the Vancouver Facial Hair Club. “We wear this all the time, so let’s act like it’s Movember every month.”
Almost seven years ago, Mr. Resler decided he wanted to meet some people in his new-ish city of Vancouver. He had a beard and thought he would like to hang out with some people who had “some kind of like, dislike or just a curiosity of facial hair.” He put out an invite to a local pub on social media and the first meeting “was three dudes and me in a bar,” recalls Mr. Resler.
Every year the group chooses a local charity to which to donate the funds from their annual beard competition held in June. Smaller, lesser known charities are usually the focus of the competitions, which raise about $3,000 to $4,000. Past benefactors include Heads Up Guys, a mental health resource for men to help prevent and treat depression, and Working Gear Clothing Society, a non-profit organization that gives low-income workers access to proper work attire and safety gear so they can access employment.
“These competitions don’t raise a ton of money, so we all want to put it somewhere that it can make a huge difference,” says Mr. Resler. “If we give someone a $4,000 cheque, we could be keeping the lights on for a year or give them work boots.”
Originally known as “Moustache John” among some group members for his pronounced and carefully cultivated handlebar moustache (now harder to spot in his equally pronounced beard), John Keinanen joined the Vancouver Facial Hair Club in the early days for its social aspects but is now a passionate promoter of the group’s charity work.
“Our plan isn’t: we give you the cheque, we walk away,” says Mr. Keinanen. “We try to do some additional work with that charity within that calendar year,” whether it is fundraising or volunteering time.”
These clubs are about inclusivity and doing good in their communities, according to members.
The majority of the facial hair club members Mr. Resler and Mr. Keinanen have met from all over the world “love the sport of it, love the entertainment of it and they love raising money,” according to Mr. Resler.