An out-of-this-world space: The Space Salon's fusion of inclusivity, sustainability & good hair

After years of planning and seven months of searching for the perfect location, dreams are becoming a reality for Fort Wayne-based hair stylist Olive.

Olive the Hairapist, owner of The Space SalonOriginally from Syracuse, Indiana, a small town about an hour northwest of Fort Wayne, Olive moved to Fort Wayne four and a half years ago, seeking a place where they could feel more like themself.

“What I wanted to do from the beginning was create a safe place for myself to do hair,” they explain. “So what I did was just show up authentically as myself online that way people knew when they came in– it wasn't a surprise.”

It was a method that proved to be successful for Olive and they found it enabled clients to act authentically too.

“When I started showing up authentically as myself, more and more clients were coming and feeling safe to be authentically themselves as well which has been really amazing,” Olive says.

For the last two years, they’ve rented a studio at Sola Salons, intending to eventually open their own salon. In the meantime, Olive sought out business mentors and training programs and meticulously planned the space they would one day create. 

“It’s intentionality,” Olive says. “This has been a dream of mine for so long that I really thought through what I wanted. I had a plan. I knew what products I wanted to carry and I knew what I wanted for the salon before I was able to create it.”

Now, putting that plan into action, Olive the Hairapist is the 26-year-old, mastermind behind Calhoun Street’s newest business– The Space Salon. Olive says the biggest struggle came from finding the right location. As a young entrepreneur, with a limited loan amount, their leasing options were somewhat limited. 

“I had a low budget for opening compared to what people normally take out loan-wise,” they explain. “I was only approved for a loan so large, so I was like, ‘Okay, what can I open with the amount that I have?’”

Eventually, they found 1932 South Calhoun. Although it wasn’t officially listed as available, Olive was able to contact the owner of the building and work out a lease agreement. The space had previously been a salon, which cut out a lot of the cost associated with opening a salon, like the plumbing and electrical work, which Olive says they were grateful for.

Olive enters the front door of The Space Salon on South Calhoun Street.“I was really lucky because the space that we’re at was open as a salon prior,” says Olive. “That has helped us tremendously. It already had a large amount of electricity and plumbing for a salon, so I was able to come in and focus on the stuff we needed, like the chairs and the mirrors. I know that SEED Fort Wayne was part of that and they helped in that original salon, so that’s been a huge help to us as well. I’m happy that it didn’t go to waste and it's being continued on.”

Not only was the building set up to house a salon, but Olive says being located in the Hoagland Masterson neighborhood is a bonus. 

“There’s definitely some businesses close by that I’m excited to have close by,” Olive says. “I’m excited to be part of Open Streets next year too.” 

Inside 1932 South Calhoun Street is a welcoming and colorful salon, decked out in what Olive describes as “space disco” and thoughtfully designed to welcome everyone.

“I wanted to create kind of an all-in-one space that I felt welcome, that the staff felt welcomed, and that the clients felt welcomed in,” Olive says. “Not only that they feel welcomed and seen but they saw, that we created the space specifically with everyone in mind, and we do that in many ways.”

The Space Salon owner Olive refers to the salon's decor style as "space disco."From chairs to services offered, each detail of The Space Salon has been decided upon with intentionality. Olive explains that salon chairs often have a weight limit of 250 pounds.

“We make sure the chairs are the widest dimensions that they come,” they say. “We paid extra for the bases that will lift 500 pounds and we’re really going out of the way to make sure everyone feels seen and like the space was created for them– size-wise, texture of hair-wise, gender.”  

As they started designing The Space Salon, Olive says they continued to show up authentically through the decor in hopes of making the space fun and welcoming enough that people’s nerves might be eased when they visit.

“It’s creating a fun place for people to come, ease their anxiety a little bit,” Olive explains. “It's really nerve-wracking to go to a new place and trust them with such a big part of your identity, so creating a fun place to come to.”

On top of that, Olive says they wanted it to be an inspiring work environment, a place where the stylists could feel like artists and feel excited to come to each day. Currently, the staff includes three stylists plus Olive.

At The Space Salon, you won’t find a typical salon listing of “men's cuts” or “women's cuts.” Instead, hair services are priced out based on the amount of time they take to complete. As Olive puts it, it’s for a simple reason, “Anyone can have long hair and anyone can have short hair.”

Haircuts can be transformative for people, and Olive says they recognize that a haircut might be one of the first steps people take to feel more like themselves, so it was important for them to create an environment where people could show up authentically.

“I think that a haircut is really transformative and for a lot of trans people, it can be one of the first accessible items to make them feel more like themselves,” they say. “A lot of people, when they think of gender-affirming care, think of surgeries and medicine, but a haircut is a lot of times the first step in that process of helping someone feel more themselves than when they came in and I’m trying to create a safer place for them to come in and guide them in that journey.”

Part of their intentionality in business planning was taking notes from organizations working to change the salon industry. Olive says The Dress Code Program and Strands for Trans both provided important guidance for them, including resources on pricing hair services equally and creating an LGBTQ+ friendly salon.

“There’s definitely a small handful of queer-affirming stylists here in town, but it’s definitely where I feel the most needed and the most fulfilled,” Olive says.

The Space Salon is also partnered with Project.Me, a Fort Wayne-based nonprofit that provides resources for recovery and harm reduction support services. Inside The Space Salon’s bathroom, they provide Narcan, Fetynal test strips, condoms, Plan B, tampons and pads. All for free and available to grab anonymously.

The Space SalonWhen it came to picking a name, they wanted the name to reflect the atmosphere, both fun, funky and meaningful. The name “The Space Salon” has proved to be versatile and a perfect fit. 

“We’re able to do a lot with “The Space Salon,” like The Safer Space or The Inclusive Space or The Sustainable Space,” Olive says. “We really strive for good hair, inclusivity, sustainability, and community. Those are our pillars. We’re able to do a lot with the name to show what we stand for.”

For the sustainability aspect, Olive says they’ve maintained the same intentionality for those choices too by picking products that are considered low-tox, don’t contain silicon and are cruelty-free. They also picked products that had refillable options.

“At home, that’s something you buy maybe twice a year, not a big deal, but at a salon, you’re going through it a lot faster so that plastic is a bigger deal,” they explain. “The beauty industry creates a lot of waste and I wanted to be conscious of that.”

The Space Salon owner Olive refers to the salon's decor style as "space disco."For stylists who use color, The Space Salon carries a low-ammonia color line, which puts fewer chemicals into the air, creating less fumes than traditional hair color.

As a hairstylist who specializes in haircuts, Olive says a lot of their waste at the salon comes from hair clippings, but thanks to local composer Dirt Waine, all hair clippings from The Space Salon are composted.

“They come once a week and pick up our hair clippings and fully compost them so that they are put back into the earth and brought back a nutrient-rich soil,” Olive says. 

Despite the long search for a location and the struggles they've faced as a young business owner, Olive echos that they feel grateful.

“For myself, I feel really lucky to be where I am,” they say. “I also know that for myself, I had a lot of obstacles opening this business– being in my 20s, being an openly queer person, but I still had a lot of privilege in the fact that I’m not POC. Something that I’m excited to do is use that privilege that I have to show up for the community and create more opportunities for people.”

If it isn’t evident by now, Olive’s mission at the Space Salon goes beyond hair service. It’s a personal, profoundly felt mission to curate a space– “The Space,” for people who want to be authentically themselves. It’s arguably, one of the more extensive pillars of Olive’s business– community.

They’re working on offering more Pay What You Can haircuts, a service Olive started offering after finding inspiration from other stylists online. They say it’s a service that could help bridge a gap for many people.

“Not everyone is in a place where they can afford a haircut and everyone deserves those services, so offering a pay-what-you-can haircut day could bridge the gap,” they explain. “Being able to show up and give them a great service can set them up for success in their life and I think that’s really important.”

It’s just one of the ways Olive is showing up for the community that’s supported them for the last several years.

“I feel the most supported I’ve ever felt in Fort Wayne,” Olive says. “I feel like Fort Wayne has such a great community that supports each other.” 

The Space SalonOlive’s goal with The Space Salon is to create a space that people can use for more than just hair appointments. They want it to be a community space people use and value. Be it educational events, art shows, markets or drag shows, Olive intends to make the most of the space itself.

“It’s something that is important to me,” they explain. “A lot of LGBQT+ spaces, in the midwest especially, are primarily bars or 21+ spaces, which are needed spaces, but there's also a need for sober queer spaces. Spaces that teens can come to and see someone who is like them, see people who are showing up for them.”

Leading by example, Olive has organized a Launch Party for The Space Salon. From 7:30-11:30 p.m. on November 11, The Space Salon will celebrate its opening. 

Olive says the first half will function like an open house– people are invited to experience the space, meet the stylists and enjoy art by local creators. Starting at 9:30, the second half will feature local drag performers Andee Znuts, Izzy Omega, Koko Lish, Kylie Aphrodite and Evie Entendre.

You can find more information on The Space Salon and its Launch Party here.
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Read more articles by Brittany Smith.

Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.