The Therapeutic Touch of Symbolica Salon

Austin hair stylists center queer clientele

(l-r) Gina Ruggirello, Annie Coles, Renee, Jasmine Kokoszka, and Michael Gonzalez (front) (Courtesy of Symbolica Salon)

Over the last two years, finding a place that felt safe outside of one’s home was a challenge. Little beyond survival seemed to matter.

So yeah: It makes sense that a haircut was the last thing on people’s minds. The early COVID lockdown caused many of us to put a hold on rituals like haircuts – instead DIY cutting and styling our own hair in our bathrooms – riding on the insistence that “hair is just hair.” But it isn’t. Two individuals that feel this sentiment are Gina Ruggirello and Jasmine Kokoszka, co-owners of Symbolica Salon. As mentioned on their website, Symbolica Salon’s mission is “to promote body positivity and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community by creating an environment that allows for subversive expression.” Like in the beginning, the salon continues to provide a place of comfort and safety, especially for historically excluded and marginalized groups.

Six months after becoming acquainted with one another, the two stylists decided to open the salon in 2019 because of their shared vision. Ruggirello, originally from Michigan, says that their approach to building clientele began by offering free haircuts to folks at bars and through Instagram. Native Austinite Kokoszka shares that she established part of her clientele during her teenage years. For the two, their success continues to grow by word of mouth and their yearbook-esque Instagram profile.

“I feel honored to have people feeling super f*cking cute when they leave.” – Jasmine Kokoszka

Ruggirello credits Kokoszka for holding it down at the salon the first year of COVID, as Ruggirello couldn’t work because they are immunocompromised. The pair has since maintained a strict mask mandate with their clientele. Ruggirello mentions that their policy, beyond personal safety, stems from their efforts to ensure other immunocompromised folks feel safe coming through.

Along with their masking policy, they also offer some sliding-scale haircuts and gender-neutral pricing, which means when booking an online appointment, folks will find options on the site such as: 120-minute haircut; 60-minute haircut; shape ups; hair color; and a request for a bit of personal information like pronouns, any allergies one might have, etc. “I’ve heard that it’s a very common experience for a lot of our guests," Ruggirello shares. “They say, ‘I want a more gender affirming haircut and I went to a salon and they gave me a haircut that looks like XYZ,’ or the identity that they’re not trying to project into the world, and it’s unfortunate that this is still a thing.”

Kokoszka, as mentioned on the salon’s site, is driven by the queer and the strange. She stretches her imagination to incorporate avant-garde techniques and creative cutting in her craft like that of Sassoon, whose work is geometrically oriented. Ruggirello also believes in the importance of doing work that honors subversive styling and expression. Both stylists prioritize the clients’ visions and needs, especially in relation to their identities. In addition to being very open-minded and explorative with the styling they provide, they maintain their dedication to inclusivity by offering tips and products, which are hand-selected and personally recommended by the stylists. Symbolica uses an array of specialty, cruelty-free, and sustainable products. You can find these items directly on their shelves and purchase them before you head out the door, feeling all sorts of good.

When choosing where to start up Symbolica, Kokoszka explains that the pair drew inspiration from Ruggirello’s prior experience in Michigan, where they worked for a similar independent salon model. Ruggirello says it was much more attainable to share a building with other stylists (within My Salon Suite, which neighbors Easy Tiger at the Linc and AFS Cinema) rather than trying to open up a storefront. The atmosphere grants them opportunities to connect with fellow stylists as well as work out of a smaller, controlled space where everything is exactly as they want it to be.

“I find that this space is a little bit more comfortable for someone who might feel overstimulated in a bigger salon environment,” Ruggirello adds. “Sometimes it’s easier to talk about the experience you’re hoping to have without feeling like you have an audience.”

Visiting Symbolica is a solace, evoking necessary calm amidst the anxiety produced by the current state of the world. “Our business is unique because we do offer a sort of therapeutic touch service in relation to self-care and hygiene,” Kokoszka gushes. “It feels special to offer a calming touch, and I feel honored to have people feeling super f*cking cute when they leave.” Visit this warm and inviting Scorpio/Cancer-owned establishment and you’ll find the cool, the eclectic, and the occult, like in Kokoszka’s nods to Sassoon and Rosemary’s Baby or Ruggirello’s loving search for the deeper meanings behind the signs offered by daily life. A customer can even book a tarot reading at Symbolica. Beyond getting the identity-affirming hairstyle you’ve only ever dreamt of, you’ll find a wall display of bimonthly rotating local art to look at, serene energy, and friendly faces that care to know you.

To learn more about the Gina, Jasmine, and Symbolica Salon, check out their Instagram and website.

Symbolica Salon
6406 N. I-35 #105

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LGBTQ, Symbolica Salon, Gina Ruggirello, Jasmine Kokoszka, queer hair

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