Ask most hair stylists if they’ve ever witnessed a client performing a happy dance after receiving a haircut, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that says yes. Ask Venice salon owner and cofounder Andrea Nobile the same question, and she’ll tell you that’s the most rewarding part about her job.
The thing is, Nobile’s clients aren’t doing the happy dance because they love the way they look. They’re doing it because they love the way they feel, which isn’t surprising considering that her salon, called Beach Beauty Culture, isn’t like any other salon out there.
Located on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, Beach Beauty Culture is the world’s first — and only — set-your-own-price beauty salon. Defying the notion that high-quality beauty services are only reserved for those with deep pockets, Nobile and cofounder Jillian Rey, who met at Vidal Sassoon’s renowned Sassoon Academy, allow anyone to get a premium haircut without the premium prices. Whether a homeless man asking for a free cut and shave before a job interview or a recovering drug addict who can only pay $10 for highlights because she’s trying to clean up her life, Nobile says “yes” to every client.
“The premise behind the set-your-price [model] is faith,” says Nobile. “You have to have faith. And you can't judge; you have to treat everyone equally. You have to sit in this place of 'I know there is this higher divine power, and I'm going to be taken care of at any moment. And the fact that I'm doing something good, I'm going to receive good as well.’”
Alongside traditional hair services like haircuts, updos and highlights, Beach Beauty Culture also offers a variety of other services promoting inner health, healing and overall wellness. From nutritional plans and customized juice cleanses to motivational coaching and even astrology readings all donation-only, mind you Beach Beauty Culture’s raison d’être is that true beauty isn’t just about external appearances, and truly feeling beautiful is a right, not a privilege.
If it sounds like an unconventional strategy for a beauty salon, that’s because it is. Unlike any other salon, her business model isn’t driven by monetary gain. Instead, it’s driven by a genuine desire to help people. Feeling discouraged by the fact that, while working at other salons, she was forced to turn clients away simply because they couldn’t afford the salon’s standard rate for a haircut, Nobile decided to eliminate the rates and open her own salon. She believes the value of internal and external beauty shouldn’t come with a price tag.
And that altruistic vision has paid off — literally. While much of Beach Beauty Culture’s initial clientele included those who could only pay in quarters and dollar bills, it didn’t take long for the more affluent folks of Venice to buy into the salon’s philosophy, donating either the same as, or more than, what other salons would charge. The reason? They believed in what Beach Beauty Culture stood for, often telling Nobile to “keep doing what you’re doing.”
“One thing lead to another, which lead to another, and I felt like because we were giving back to the community so much, we received so much in return,” says Nobile. “There were numerous times where we helped out a lot of unfortunate people, and then someone would donate $5,000 worth of hair color.”
As the donations continued to roll in, so did the clients. The pay-what-you-can system has not only opened the door to a wider range of clients everyone from Venice’s well-known Treeman to a businessman who donated $80 for a 5-minute buzz cut it has allowed Beach Beauty Culture to grow. At the end of the day, Nobile and her team’s earnings always average out to more than what they would have charged other salons.
“I believe in karma,” says Nobile. “I think [Beach Beauty Culture] was fueling my karma, and I was in turn getting blessed tenfold. I wasn't saying no; I was excited. I was helping people out, and karmically, I was being given so much more than just the money. And that's the thing; money is a form of energy exchange, and if it's not going to come from that person’s hand into my hand in the form of money, it’s going to come somewhere else. Because I’ve given it, I’m going to receive it.”
Turns out she was right. What started as free haircuts under a canopy on the boardwalk three years ago is now a commercial space in the heart of the strip, thanks in large part to the generosity of others who supported Beach Beauty Culture’s cause. Since its inception in 2011, the salon has had three different locations. Initially posted up in a tiny space between a trashcan and water fountain at the tail end of Venice Beach’s boardwalk, the salon moved its location indoors after an entrepreneur who owned the building offered the space rent-free until they had a full clientele. Two years later, the owner decided to sell the building, and when Nobile found out the news, the landlord of the salon’s current location happened to be sitting in her chair getting a haircut.
“That was another divine intervention,” says Nobile, adding that she doesn’t believe Beach Beauty Culture would be where it is today if karma didn’t play a hand.
And to honor the karma code, Nobile continues to pay it forward. Supporting the community that has supported her, she has outfitted the current location where she’s been for three months with locally made art and goods. Photo coasters made by a local artist lie on the kitchen table in the juice bar area. Just behind the kitchen are two Airbnb bedrooms the landlord rents out to travelers. One of the bedrooms, called the Venice Hopper room, is themed after local artist Venice Hopper. The Jim Morrison room includes a locally made mural-turned-door depicting the room’s namesake. Nobile’s own hand-painted mandalas decorate the salon walls. A type of sacred art, her mandalas are for sale at a donation-only price, of course.
Unpretentious and welcoming and just steps from where it all began, the space, just like it’s business model, has stayed close to its bonhomous roots. While the happy dances are what Nobile finds most rewarding about Beach Beauty Culture, the evolution of it is what surprises her the most.
“[To know] that we went from just a canopy, to this,” she muses, as she spreads her arms and looks around the salon. “And it’s not just this space; it’s what this space entails. It’s the community. It’s the feeling that comes with this experience.”
Beach Beauty Culture // 1909 Ocean Front Walk #1 Venice CA 90291 // (424) 268-4928
Open 7 days a week 10 am to 8pm // Walk-Ins Welcome