Indie Trader of the Month… The Roots Foundation
Written By Stella Nicholls, Photography by Matt Austin and Tempo Media
Walking through town on a mild and, dare I say, partly sunny day, I ventured down to the end of Fore St which joins New Bridge St to find an absolute gem of an establishment. Vibey, trendy, natural, authentic and spacious were the first words that popped into my mind, as I stepped across the threshold.
Space to sit and be. Space to think. A perfect environment to observe and absorb. I sat back with a cup of peppermint tea, giving myself time to soak up the environment, before I officially chatted with PJ and Luke.
The Roots Foundation; an independent barber shop, is run by co-owners, Luke Burgon and PJ Shepherd and as I watched the craftsmen at work, I realised that this space was so much more than just a barber shop.
In fact, The Roots Foundation is the first Vegan Barber Shop to open in the UK; officially opening its doors back in September 2017. Prior to that Luke and PJ could often be seen at various establishments across the city, from art galleries to the library, as Pop Up Barbers.
PJ and Luke are passionate about being part of Exeter’s independent business community and the culture of support that exists within it,so they jumped at the chance when their premises became available in the heart of Exeter’s ‘West Quarter’.
I wondered how the Vegan way of life fitted into the world of cutting hair and PJ was soon explaining that most hair care grooming aids contain animal products. The products that The Root Foundation supply are free from animal products, handmade, sourced from independent producers and the majority are made using all-natural ingredients. The barber chairs are free from animal products and even the hand wash they use is cruelty free. The shop is also run on 100% green energy and the fittings are mostly made from reclaimed wood, having been built by family and friends.
I asked what challenges the guys had faced since opening and Luke mentioned that the red tape of opening a bank account for the business and fitting out the shop; a quirky old building where not much is straight or lines up evenly, were a couple but a surprisingly positive challenge, is how busy they have been since opening. Drawing customers from previous barber shops that they had worked in, and the Pop- Up Barber days, has seen them fully booked and the only advertising that they have done has been digital – through social media and by offering a coupon through ‘Rooted Magazine’ a local Vegan guide. PJ mentioned that they had always believed in themselves but didn’t expect to be so busy from the get-go.
The ethos of the business is that they are truly welcoming to everyone. With an intentionally gender- neutral environment, they wanted to create a place where no one feels intimidated to be there. People are welcome regardless of gender, age, sexuality, background, anything – they have created a time and space where no judgement is passed.
“There is no need for haircuts to be classed according to gender. Inclusivity is very important to us.”
Moving on to the businesses logo, I had wondered about the meaning. Luke explained that there was nothing really ‘deep’ behind it. In American sign language it represents the letter R, which both signifies and strengthens the various meanings of ‘Roots’ upholding the business ethos. They also both connect with the imagery of hands – potential, community, organic growth – which are all sentiments that they want the shop to represent.
As a social space, the shop allows PJ and Luke to collaborate with important local projects. For example, they were recently approached to be part of Art Week Exeter and will be hosting a new art installation called ‘Alright Mate?’ based on discussions around male mental health. This is an audio and photography art project created by local artists, Hugh McCann and Cally Hayes, and will be exhibited at The Roots Foundation later in the year. It aims to encourage conversations around male mental health and Luke and PJ felt that they had the perfect platform to encourage men, or anyone who identifies as male, to talk. They said that they are automatically in a place where people open up to them, talking about things that they might not even talk to friends about. Luke said that sometimes it is easier to talk to someone that isn’t as close to you.
I asked them how they take care of their own mental wellbeing, and Luke said he eats well, and he talks. He said that he and PJ often talk extensively after work about things that are weighing them down. He mentioned that it is not something that he has always done, but he has learned that as soon as it is out of his head, it is dealt with. Both PJ and Luke mentioned that at the barber shop there is a healthy cycle of communication in as much as their customer’s offload to them and they offload to their customers. With a newborn baby and suffering from sleep deprivation, Luke finds it helpful to discuss the challenges as it creates a camaraderie; many having been there before him.
PJ went on to say that the space that they have created at The Roots Foundation, is all about valuing openness, challenging the stereotypes and pushing boundaries. By Hosting ‘Alright Mate?’, The Roots Foundation hope to empower individuals and breakdown the preconceived notions that it is weak for men to open up and talk.
“We proudly want to dismantle those ideas.”
They feel that hair is such a great way of challenging stereotypes and breaking down barriers; it is an important part of self-expression.
Barbering is a way of helping people to be themselves; a way of representing themselves to the world and they see it as the best part of the job.
“It’s an item of clothing that you don’t take off’, remarking that your haircut is the best piece of clothing you have; you wear it every day, so you should make sure it represents the essence of you. People shouldn’t have to censor themselves around other people; if you aren’t being yourself, you aren’t being true.”
PJ and Luke’s Wishlist for the future is for The Roots Foundation to become a community- this will also include an online element, encompassing a YouTube channel and a Podcast for conversations. They would also love to move into barber education, by offering bespoke training courses for people looking to get into the industry or improve their existing skills.
The Roots Foundation social space is open to anyone looking to harness anything creative, inclusive and that generally veers toward the philosophy of sustainability.
“As long as it fits the ethos of positivity, then we would love people to come and approach us if they think that they could use the space, that’s exactly what we would like to use the space for.”
They would also love to launch their own range of ‘The Roots Foundation’ products and even their own coffee blend but just need to find the time to develop all the ideas that they have for the business. Watch this space!
You can follow Luke and PJ on Facebook or Instagram – @therootsfoundationexeter