Across from the Waterview Rec Center, on McMahon Street, sits a hidden space that allows people to let their hair down and then get it cut. Odabu is a queer and trans-affirming space that offers barbering and a botanical product line. The space provides a one-of-a-kind experience to its patrons and sets up a space that lets people be vulnerable. It’s a space that allows queer people to exist outside of their safe-havens.
The owner, Billy Green, previously housed their shop in a studio in Chinatown. After being there for years, COVID-19 hit them with the brutal reality of having to move. But, Germantown provided Green with a new opportunity for their space after purchasing a home with their partner this year. Green says that Germantown has felt very welcoming and is different from other places they have lived in Philadelphia.
“I’m just loving how intentional the community feels. It’s how intentional [community members] are about urban farming, organizing, and many other things. I’ve never felt so connected with my community,” says the Odabu owner.
In Green’s backyard, there is a path that leads to an island centering a fire pit. There is a piece of wood burning, which they use to keep away the bugs. It is very green with pops with luminant colors from the garden that borders the rock-covered island. There are tables, chairs, and benches. Surrounding the entire structure is a tall wood fence that keeps the backyard private. Under the backyard porch deck is the barber station that displays the products Green makes.
The plants are strategically situated to create a small ecosystem in the backyard. These plants help produce a collection of products like candles, balms, and oils that Green uses on their clients. Green began manufacturing products to connect with their consumers during a nine-month closure due to COVID-19. Green wants to give folks part of the experience that helps them identify which ingredients they use when using the products. It eliminates the uncertainties of what harmful ingredients traditional hair & skin products may contain.
Everything in the space was put there by Green, who designed and constructed the entire landscape. Customers are seen one at a time, and Green only permits the current client’s guests to be in the area with them. “It’s about building that comfortability and that trust,” Green says about the peaceful experience. They feel that clients shouldn’t feel the usual Barbershop standards
The barber says that there are gender binaries placed on hair that aren’t necessary. They say traditional salons & barbershops don’t allow for an intimate setting and dialogue. Some dialogues in traditional barbershops can be harmful as they restrict queer people from being heard, which doesn’t allow them to be seen or feel respected. Odabu instills the agency within people to make choices for themselves. Green works with young people at the Attic Youth Center and knows from their experiences that people grow up not making their own hair choices.
Odabu offers haircuts on a sliding scale that helps the space’s mission to decenter gender. Green offers a unique perspective on the service saying, “I don’t offer men or women’s haircuts, I offer haircuts.”
At the moment, Green is working to build a space on the inside for the colder months. They want to further immerse themselves within the Germantown community, hoping to create more dialogue around binary-centered spaces. You can check out all of Green’s products and some of their portfolios on their website, where you can also make an appointment. The website is easy to find on search engines as the name “Odabu” is a random selection of letters picked by Green to maximize search optimization, meaning it is the only thing you’ll see when you search for it.
The Germantown Info Hub is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.