The Founder's Story
Posted on 16 October 2018
My name is Gwen. I'm a single mom. For the past 12 years ,I've raised a son alone. He is now 21 yrs old. I am a first generation immigrant. My parents are from Indonesia (mother and father both part dutch...the dutch colonized Indonesia...) and while they were working for the dutch government in Djakarta, the Japanese captured them (Hitler was going through Europe at the time).
They both were in concentration camps (my oldest sister was with my mother in the camp) for 3 years. In Japan, my father worked in the coal mines and when he passed at age 64 I wondered if a lot of it was attributed to 'Black Lung” a condition related to soot from coal.
Taking the boat here (my mother said boat, it may have been a ship or canoe, you never knew with her lack of ease in the English language,which she learned at 40 yrs old.) we landed in America and were sponsored by my aunt and lived in South El Monte, CA. My memories of those early years are vivid, with the common pastime being fights behind the library after school. I was the recipient many times. I looked a certain ethnicity but when I said I was dutch Indonesian, I was fair game.
We moved to a new city that seemed night and day to me. We moved from So. El Monte to Rosemead CA. Where some of my family still live. I went from creased khakis to Hang Ten cords and Wallaby shoes. Night and day.
My parents insisted on integrating into the American culture at any cost. We were only allowed to speak English in the home and when my parents spoke between themselves it was in Dutch, Portuguese, or Malay .At 6 yrs old I joined my family in taking the oath and becoming a naturalized citizen. During this time, my father worked as a draftsman, a welder, and a pizza maker at a place called Shakeys. I always thought to myself...what does a foreigner that doesn't speak English very well know about pizza? My mother made airplane parts in Pasadena. She loved it. She brought homemade dutch food (pastei, stompot) or Indonesian (satay, kunis, perkadel jagung) to work and shared it with my teachers in elementary and middle school.
I became a hairdresser at age 19. My parents never spoke to me about college. I had no idea it was an option. They were both so busy (I'm the youngest of 5 kids) father 3 jobs (sleeping for a half an hour between jobs) mother exhausted. I attended Dominic's in Whittier CA. I learned so much. We did competitive work in shows that taught us more than basics in a short period of time. My mother called the school frequently and was not happy to learn I'd gone to the beach.
I interviewed initially at Vidal Sasoon in Beverly Hills. I was good at both hair and makeup but when they asked me to choose during the hiring process I froze. I wanted makeup and said so but they informed me after my decision they had an opening in hair. Boooo tricky question, wrong answer.
I landed at a place in Sierra Madre called Victor Sabino. Victor was a true mentor. He expected the best from his stylists and we complied,. I was an accomplished stylist there and stayed for 25 years. During that time, I taught on platform for other stylists and along with my teammates, contributed to many periodicals.
I moved on. Life, in its unpredictability, threw me a curve ball. I let my beautiful custom made salon named Gwen on 2 (upstairs) go. I decided it may be more profitable to have a full clientele and just rent somewhere. My stylists may have been earning 5,000.00 per week, but as the industry has changed, the owner would receive a paltry 250.00 per week for the headache. I rented a down do earth space off the radar. Turned out my clientele dropped off (I still made a great living) and my fortunes rose or not on whether someone showed up or canceled. I couldn't live like that anymore.
When you are a stylist in an area and you need to make a living, the whole thing becomes tired. I was so saturated with the same thing same time,although my enjoyment in my work has remained a steadfast. I needed to stay in the area because as a single person (married twice, do not choose well) I needed to stay in the area. My clients were here after all. We were now family.
I felt I stayed too long at the party. One of the laggards.I felt, I wanted to make myself relevant again. At my peak, I had a 6 week waiting list. How could I do it? Open a salon again? Noooo. What then? I remembered before I opened my salon I was playing with starting a product line. My sister's husband, my brother-in-law Eugene Vandenvrihoef was a brilliant chemist. He developed many personal care products from Max Factor to Pureology (his last line before his death). I learned a lot from him and between what he taught me and my 30+ yrs in the field, I was ready.
I loved the names I've worked with over the years like Bumble and Bumble, Tony and Guy, etc. I was playing with names rolling off my tongue and came up with Brutus and Butch. I loved it. It said strong, different and unapologetic. It said unique. It said life in all it's perfection and imperfection.
Brutus and Butch gives back to the LGBT community. In my years in this business it made sense to give back to a segment of society I've loved and shared many intimacies with. A segment that has given more to my industry than any other industry I know of beside fashion architecture, and any other art. This was clear to me and I will never waiver. I will add over the years but in my mind, the LGBT community has had a huge impact on me and as any other community has a right to live as they feel. To love as the rest of us, to live openly, enjoy parenthood etc without so much of a blink from any of us. We should not see the difference, as in skin color or anything else. I chose the cause because it's insulting we even have to have a discussion about our rights as human beings.
Brutus and Butch uses Indonesian oils I call the 'Gembira' blend. It's a mixture of oils my mother rubbed on my hair and skin from my days as a child. Gembira means happiness and bliss in Indonesian. My chemist is working to fine tune my formulations before I bring it to market completely. It is in it's final stages. So far I'm ecstatic. I was so particular I was walking on thin ice with my chemist and I'm not in the clear yet.
Still working behind the chair 3-4 days a week (single mother lucky enough to have a mortgage) to pay the bills, I work nights and every day available on B&B. I'm using my own money I've saved to fund this and when it's gone I'm hoping something miraculously turns up.
What I know is this. After all this work, research, hand wringing...if these aren't the best products you've used, if you don't tell me you love it because the oils make your hair amazing...I'll be surprised. This is my hard work in a bottle. I hope you enjoy them and know the difference!
Brutus and Butch