Kalamazoo's AllyKat, a body art, lash and brow salon, helps LGBTQIA + feel at home in Vine

Engine House No. 6, the 113-year-old firehouse on the corner of South Westnedge and Wheaton in Vine, has a new tenant — a body art and beautification salon that welcomes LGBTQIA+ clients and others who are marginalized.

AllyKat Studios, LLC is a lash and brow bar, microblading studio, and tattoo parlor. The owners not only welcome LGBTQIA+ folks but actively encourage them to patronize their business — and even to use the facility as a safe space to hang out and even to work remotely.

AllyKat Studios, LLC opened in Vine in April, 2023.“We want people to have a space where they can come and be their most authentic selves," says Perkins.

Owners Ally Depuy, Kat Perkins, and Taylar Donley all formerly worked with each other in the same Portage salon before they decided to start their own business. 

The group began to notice that in Kalamazoo — and anywhere nearby for that matter — there was no dedicated salon space that catered specifically to queer folks. Donley says her “clients have expressed they have felt uncomfortable at some salons in the area,” and the other two AllyKat owners agree. 

The salon area of AllyKat StudiosThe three owners saw that Kalamazoo needed a beauty-centered queer-centric space that would be a safe place not only for LGBTQIA+ folks but for any marginalized group. “AllyKat's goal is to create a safe space for all marginalized communities while offering an array of specialized beauty services," according to its Vagaro website. "We strive to build long-lasting trustworthy relationships with our clients while helping them feel like their most confident selves. With almost two decades of combined experience Ally, Kat, & Taylar look forward to bringing something new to the Kalamazoo community.”

The lounge area of AllyKat StudiosCultivating confidence through authenticity is how the owners of AllyKat approach their business, they say. As all three owners identify openly as queer, they have collectively made an effort to solidify the AllyKat brand philosophy within the queer community of Kalamazoo. Since their business is located in the historic Vine Neighborhood, over the last year, all three owners have gone out of their way to attend the infamous Vine house shows to listen to music and spread the word about their business through word of mouth and flyers. 

AllyKat is also situated just five minutes from Kalamazoo’s downtown business district. In the months leading up to their grand opening, and for some time after, the three owners visited other small businesses in the area. They brought with them invitations to AllyKat’s grand opening in the spring, along with pothos clippings they had propagated from a larger plant. 

AllyKat owner Perkins — the “Kat” in the company’s name — says the pothos clippings were intended to send a message to the other downtown Kalamazoo business owners, which was "We are growing together as businesses."

One of these business partnerships has already blossomed. DRUE Salon located in downtown Kalamazoo on Lovell Street, and AllyKat have an active referral base among their clientele. Since DRUE does not offer eyelash extensions or tattoos, clients are referred to AllyKat. The referrals are reciprocal for haircutting services — AllyKat clients are referred to DRUE. 

“We really ride heavy with DRUE," says Perkins. "They have been a massive help and mentor for us. (We) went to them right in the beginning.”

AllyKat Co-owner Taylar DonelyThe services AllyKat offers mean much more to clients than meets the eye, the owners say. Who doesn't feel amazing after getting their brows done, or getting a new set of lashes? Or who doesn't show off their new tattoo even just days after getting the poke? 

For some members of the transgender and genderqueer community, these cosmetic and aesthetic physical changes can feel lifesaving, say owners. A movement exists to "degender" beauty standards and treatment; the beauty, body, and makeup industry is going through a renaissance, according to an article in LGBT Health.

The owners of AllyKat say since they opened their doors in April of this year, several of their clients have come to the business specifically because they believed they could get help finding a service that would affirm their gender expression. For clients who are currently transitioning genders, a new set of eyelashes, the right brow shape, or even gender-affirming tattoos, the owners share, can help the dysphoria that oftentimes accompanies the transition.

AllyKat Co-owner Ally Dupuy“The beauty industry makes it very difficult to find a place that helps you feel comfortable. It doesn't consider people's feelings as much,” says Donley. 

Donley grew up in Midland absorbing societal trends for beauty standards through being closely associated with the salon industry where Donley's parents worked. Donley learned the trade from a young age. As a popular beautician, Donley has clients that travel from out of town seeking services — some as far as South Haven, and even Chicago.

Referencing an article published by the University of Washington School of Public Health, gender-affirming care — which includes cosmetic changes — has been found to show “reductions in suicidality, depression and anxiety and improvements in mental well-being for trans youth."

With these gender-affirming needs in mind, as well as wanting to be welcoming and inclusive, AllyKat opened in April 2023 with a floor plan that was intentionally designed to be size and capability-inclusive. Large black padded chairs and tables line both sides of the salon service area. The tables were specially designed and ordered to be larger than the average run-of-the-mill salon table, allowing for larger folks to use them, Donley says. They are also wheelchair accessible. This Secondwave reporter clocks in at 6 feet 3 inches and a mere 245 pounds, and when lying on the table, it does not even let out a squeak.

While planned as a salon, owners say they also want the salon to be that "third place" where clients can come to hang out and feel welcomed and known.

Interior view of AllyKat Salons“There are not a lot of community spaces, third spaces, where you don’t have to spend money,” says Donley, referring to the room adjacent to the salon. “We have this room we are in right now, which is designed for that.” 

The room is full of couches, comfy chairs, a couple of arcade games, a pool table, and artwork from local creators. This sort of “third space” mentality, where a local business allows folks to come to hang out without the pressure of spending money, is something owners of AllyKat would like to see grow.

Opened now for half a year, AllyKat would like to eventually open salons in Grand Rapids and Chicago, Perkins says. “We need something like this for young queer people to feel safe,” says Perkins. “Their community is here for them. And if Kalamazoo needs that, there are other (communities) that need that, too.”

AllyKat owners Kat Perkins,and Taylar Donley inside the studio. In addition to salon services, the owners at AllyKat say they want to offer training and instruction, including lashing classes, microblading, and tattooing courses, as well as host community events that are free and open to the public. 

AllyKat owners have a lot of plans for the future, but they say they do not intend to get into anything “too big, too fast." The owners are incredibly thankful for the outpouring of support they have experienced from the community since opening. 

If you want to learn more about AllyKat, their services, pricing, and hours, please visit their website or Instagram. If you just want to check out the space, AllyKat owners encourage people to drop by.
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Read more articles by Casey Grooten.

Casey Grooten is a Kalamazoo native who lived in the Vine and Stuart neighborhoods for over a decade and graduated from WMU with a Bachelors in English. Casey lives in Kalamazoo and spends their free time making artwork and music. Casey is passionate about social justice and equity, transgender rights, community events, and the arts.