Meet Georgette Watje, the owner of The Barber Collective in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood and a firm believer that hair is genderless and a form of self expression.⁠ Georgette started The Barber Collective in 2020 after being a social worker for 12 years. She’s always loved the experience of going to the barbershop, but as a more masculine-presenting female, it was hard for her find places where she didn’t feel judged. At The Barber Collective, there are no men’s or women’s haircuts — just short cuts and long cuts. 

“Your hair is kind of like your one natural accessory that you have, and it says a lot about you. You shouldn’t have to walk through the door and have someone judge you based on your hair or what you want.” — Georgette Watje⁠

Get to know more about Georgette and The Barber Collective in this week’s Business Spotlight Q&A!

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s something your customers may not know about you or your business?
Probably what some don’t know about me is that I was a social worker for 12 years. That was my first career. Barbering is actually my third and hopefully final career. My first job out of college was at a 24-hour residential school facility for kids and young adults with behavioral disorders. So yeah, I came a long way from there. 

As a business owner, what’s the strangest or craziest idea you’ve ever tried?
Oh, that’s easy peasy — opening up a barber shop in [my] garage during a pandemic. Looking back when the pandemic first started, I was working at a different barbershop in Hilltop until the shutdown came. And I don’t know why, but I had this feeling that it was going to last longer than the initial two-week shutdown. So I thought, “I’m just going to pack up my tools, pack up my chair, take them home, and kind of reassess the situation when we’re ready to do so.” Our garage at the time was a mess, so I had a couple of my friends come over and they helped me clean it out. I put my chair in there, and I just kind of turned off the light and shut the door. A couple days later, I opened the door and saw my barber chair just sitting there and had that kind of click moment. 

What are some of your favorite local businesses and what do you love about them?
Probably my favorite business in Tacoma is Campfire Coffee. They’ve been gaining momentum throughout the pandemic as well. Quincy and his wife [Whitni Henry] opened it up and they’re big into the outdoors. So, they give back to youth by having this Campfire Explorers Club and they want to get youth outdoors. They’re doing really great things — not to mention their coffee is amazing. It’s been awesome to see the community rally around them. Red Elm Cafe is another one. Three sisters own it, and they’re in Hilltop. Something I think is really cool is they have this space that’s almost like a conference room in their cafe and they let people use it and charge them nothing — which is huge. They’ve got amazing waffles, their corn dogs are my favorite. I want to give some love to The Tshirt Men in Hilltop. They screen print, they do T-shirts, they did masks throughout the pandemic. They are always giving back. They give back by basically printing T-shirts at cost and then donating money to small organizations, predominantly Black organizations [and] LGBT organizations. Those guys have done really, really awesome things.

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