beauty collective toronto

Black business owner describes racist encounters running beauty salon in Toronto

The Black female owner of a beauty salon in Toronto has shared an open letter through a local BIA's social media that describes her experiences with racism in the locale of her business.

The Leslieville BIA is currently highlighting businesses in their BIPOC community in an effort to strive to continue to become more inclusive as a neighbourhood, using the hashtag #InclusiveLeslieville.

As a BIA part of our role is to promote our businesses and help maintain a vibrant, welcoming commercial main street, giving visitors an authentic "shop local" experience. In light of events around the world, marking solidarity with persons of colour who face oppression, we take this opportunity to highlight and elevate our members of the BIPOC community. We have always strived to be an inclusive neighbourhood and continue to do so. In the coming days we will be featuring some of those businesses to tell their story, and give them a platform to be seen and recognized within the community. We also have a list currently being put together on our Google Maps COVID Directory. We encourage all who desire to support the BIPOC community to check this list as well as continue your support for all local small businesses. These are challenging times and we all need to stand together as a community. #InclusiveLeslieville . . . Mural by @handdrawndmitry

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"For the coming days we will be featuring some of those businesses to tell their story, and give them a platform to be seen and recognized within the community," reads a post on the BIA's social accounts.

Asha Allen-Silverstein, who identifies as a Black woman of colour and half Jewish, is the owner of The Beauty Collective, and was one of the first to share her stores and perspective, also on the Leslieville BIA's socials.

She tells of how she opened her business in November 2019 in a location that had been a barbershop for 50 years, in what she considered to be an amazing location in an area with a strong sense of community.

However, she says while operating her business in Leslieville she has suffered micro-aggressions such as clients refusing to believe she could possibly be the owner of the salon, assuming it was one of her white coworkers, white women often approaching other white staff with questions even when specifically directed to ask Allen-Silverstein.

"I opened The Beauty Collective in Leslieville in November of the 2019. I thought the location was amazing - in a business sense but also because of the strong sense of community in the area. I’m a sucker for historical buildings and anything vintage - and my shop location had both! It’s been a barbershop for over fifty years and still evokes memories of its former history to this day. I never gave any thought to the fact that I was a black woman opening a business in the area. Maybe because of my own experience navigating through the world as a black and jewish individual - I’m used to be other. Nonetheless, I simply wanted to create a niche that didn’t currently exist - a Collective of Beauty practitioners offering unique and curated services to the community and beyond. While I would say that the general reception of the Leslieville community has been mostly positive, welcoming and friendly BUT I have dealt with Micro- aggressions quite frequently. Leslieville as a community is not immune from racism, unconscious bias and prejudice. For example one time a man came into my store and asked to speak to the owner. I responded that I was the owner actually and he could direct his inquiry to me. He laughed and said “you’re funny guess you have to aim for the job you want!” - to Which I replied “I’m still the owner what exactly is it you’re selling?” His sales pitch was unsurprisingly not well received. Other times when white women come into the space, they often gravitate to a white member of the collective, even when they are repeatedly directed to ask me the questions they seek answers to. I am also often met with incredulousness over the fact that I own the business. With the recent awareness being brought to the plight of the black community it is important to recognize that these issues are alive and well in Leslieville. The community must do the work in terms of education, confronting unconscious bias and implementing anti - racist behaviour. It’s 2020 and black people deserve to feel safe, included and valued in this world... » Asha - @beautyco.to (read full caption via our Facebook Page) #InclusiveLeslieville

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"Although I am the main face of the store and there most often they always have to assume that one of the White members of the collective is the owner and I'm always just the employee," says Allen-Silverstein. 

"Even when I make comments about 'starting the brand' and working there and things that would lead one to believe that I'm the founder, they still cannot put two into together and default to 'Black women can't own this.'"

Despite issues of race, it's already stressful enough being a salon owner in Toronto right now, as those types of businesses are still not allowed to open to clients.

"What's different for me as a Black-identified woman of colour (I'm half Jewish) is that I have to deal with the invisible issue of racism on top of the daily tasks of running a business," says Allen-Silverstein.

"Just when I feel like I’ve accomplished something - I am reminded yet again in subtle and not subtle ways that I am seen as black, other and it's often microagressions that add up to a lot to carry emotionally."

Allen-Silverstein is able to draw strength from her supportive coworkers, though she wishes others in the community would put more effort into inclusivity.

"I have been incredibly lucky that with the women I've welcomed into the collective, there has never been an issue and we actively talk about some of the issues I'm facing. In fact, they are all great allies often realizing what is going on and actively seeking to overcome it with me."

She doesn't live in Leslieville, but says her neighbourhood is not much better for seeing other faces that look like hers, and that she mainly feels safe because people mostly keep to themselves.

"I have lived downtown Toronto in the Harbourfront and King West area for the last decade. I'm one of few black women for sure, I notice when someone else moves into the area, it's that small," she says. "It's not that friendly of an area in my opinion, people are kind of quiet and keep to their cliques so I haven't really had that many issues there."

Allen-Silverstein feels everyone in the neighbourhood, from its residents to its business owners, could use further self-examination when it comes to diversity and racism.

"Leslieville needs to examine their own privilege and unconscious bias," she says. "Consciously or not they participate in exclusionary and racist behaviour frequently. Other business owners need to invest in their staff by way of diversity and inclusion training programs, not just posting a black square on Instagram. It doesn't help anyone."

Here is the full text of the letter written by Asha Allen-Silverstein

I opened The Beauty Collective in Leslieville in November of the 2019. I thought the location was amazing - in a business sense but also because of the strong sense of community in the area.

I’m a sucker for historical buildings and anything vintage - and my shop location had both! It’s been a barbershop for over fifty years and still evokes memories of its former history to this day.

I never gave any thought to the fact that I was a black woman opening a business in the area. Maybe because of my own experience navigating through the world as a black and jewish individual - I’m used to be other.

Nonetheless, I simply wanted to create a niche that didn’t currently exist - a Collective of Beauty practitioners offering unique and curated services to the community and beyond.

While I would say that the general reception of the Leslieville community has been mostly positive, welcoming and friendly BUT I have dealt with Micro- aggressions quite frequently. Leslieville as a community is not immune from racism, unconscious bias and prejudice.

For example one time a man came into my store and asked to speak to the owner. I responded that I was the owner actually and he could direct his inquiry to me.

He laughed and said “you’re funny guess you have to aim for the job you want!” - to Which I replied “I’m still the owner what exactly is it you’re selling?” His sales pitch was unsurprisingly not well received.

Other times when white women come into the space, they often gravitate to a white member of the collective, even when they are repeatedly directed to ask me the questions they seek answers to. I am also often met with incredulousness over the fact that I own the business.

With the recent awareness being brought to the plight of the black community it is important to recognize that these issues are alive and well in Leslieville.

The community must do the work in terms of education, confronting unconscious bias and implementing anti - racist behaviour. It’s 2020 and black people deserve to feel safe, included and valued in this world.

Myself and all the Collective members look forward to beautifying you all when we can reopen! I can’t wait to tame all the post COVID - 19 eyebrows!

Lead photo by

The Beauty Collective


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