‘This is not a brothel’: Mwende Frey defends her viral all-female staff barbershop

Running a barbershop used to be the preserve of men. It was an unwritten rule; nobody cast it in stone, it was just the way things were.

Barbershops were men’s private spaces. We didn’t just go there to get cool cuts, we also went there to banter about life and politics and football and complain about our wives’ cooking.

And if you're a man who grew up during the days when barbershops actually used to be barbershops, then you will remember the peculiarities; banal haircut posters plastered across the walls, ubiquitous clean-shaven heads of U.S Hip-Hop stars Ludacris and Nelly, roots reggae music throbbing from amateur tin-speakers, an oversized Bob Marley poster adorning the door, rasta colors dotting the soffit and random blokes idling around, chewing khat away.

Now, barbershops have assumed a whole new aura, air and ambiance and, as times change, so has the gender that has not only traditionally owned but also worked in these hair shops.

Today, barbershops have the feel and touch of the inside of a Maybach 62 Landaulet limousine; preened leather seats, celestial ambiance, soft, jazzy music, sheeny equipment, glossy, full-length mirrors, lacquered walls, white, fluffy towels, endless rows of well-arranged creams, moisturisers and oils, GQ magazines meticulously arranged on oak coffee tables and an assorted staff team of pure jaw-droppers and heartthrobs.

Sometimes, there's even a fully-stocked mini-bar at the far corner where strobe lights and cushy, sunken seats await you.

The names, too have changed and we now have names peppered with elegance, grace and pomp ; Man's Cave, Fade Zone, King's Palace, The Men's Mane, Barber Bandits, After Shave, The Comb Over, Fade O'clock, Gold Comb and more.

In Nairobi, young women have been increasingly taking up barbershop duties and some have even gone ahead to open up their own barbershops complete with an all-female staff.

Citizen Digital caught up with Mwende Frey, a 27-year old single mother who has set the internet ablaze with her budding barbershop and who has employed quite a number of unconventional methods to sell her business and attract clients.

A rabid bohemian, Mwende came under intense fire on Twitter after she seemed to use her body - her derriere, in particular - to advertise her outlet and catch the attention of potential clients.

She has posed risquely, blown kisses, made kinky faces, twerked and splashed Twitter with her little, kinky antics to hit the news.

But Mwende, whose business is now two weeks old, denies that she is sexualizing the business.

"When you say I'm sexualizing the business by twerking, what do you mean? Women twerk in clubs every day and they don't get paid. I get paid to do this, so why not," she confidently says. 

"I'm sexy, I'm fabulous, I'm confident in my body, I'm a beautiful woman, kwa nini tufiche.... It has worked for this business, men love seeing nice things, hakuna mtu anataka kwenda kunyolewa alafu ashikwe na mikono ngumu, here you meet soft hands, soft voices and beautiful girls."

Mwende, whose barbershop, aptly named 'Man's Chamber', has received some serious flak online and been compared to a brothel, insists that she's only out there to groom men and make them look the best, and nothing could be further from the truth.

"This is not a brothel, it's a grooming den for kings where they are served by African maidens. If you don't want your man to come here, wash his feet when he comes home, give him a massage, make him look pretty otherwise he will come here. Actually you should be thanking us for doing the work you're not," she yawps.

Mwende's shop is a buzzing buffet of gorgeous, zippy girls prancing around in their lacquered hair, tight outfits, scarlet-red lips, perky busts and pleasant scents.

They swagger around the place, inviting clients, wiping stuff around, peeking into the mirrors, talking animatedly and doing cheeky, little shakes of their behinds as they take orders from Mwende who just can't stop blathering.

‘Man's Chamber’ even has full-time 'Twerk Queens' whose job is to dance suggestively to besotted male clients while they have their hair cut.

"I've got a lot of beautiful women here who twerk for our customers all day long, from morning to evening. It's part of what we offer here and we see absolutely nothing wrong with that," Mwende says.

But Mwende and her cabal are only probably using their luscious bodies as their shtick.

Ruth Wanjiku, yet another female barber, has been running her shop for the last ten years and sees no correlation between being a 'hot' mamacita with having what it takes to run a kinyozi, adding that male clients can sure be a headache. 

"That sort of behavior depends with someone's principles. Ukitaka kutumia mwili yako, well, it's all yours. But if you have principles, then you know what brought you to this business,” she says.

“Some men can really trouble you, some come for various reasons other than getting a haircut, some are a nuisance but you learn to cope along the way.”

Mwende's gimmick may be paying off but this does not mean we have seen the last of the madness that female-run barbershops are about to introduce to this godforsaken city.


Barbershop Mwende Frey Man's Chamber Ruth Wanjiku

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