Vivek Shraya Pantene

Meet Pantene’s New Canadian Ambassador, Vivek Shraya

The Edmonton-born trans artist stars in a new film as part of Pantene’s Hair Has No Gender project.

Vivek Shraya has the kind of long, lustrous hair that looks like it belongs in a shampoo commercial. It’s fitting then, that the Edmonton-born creative force (and former FASHION cover star) can now add Pantene ambassador to her already enviable bio that includes author, professor, musician and visual artist. “I see my hair as an extension of my art,” says Shraya. “It’s always been an essential part of how I express myself.”

Today, Pantene Canada has released a new film featuring Shraya’s hair story as part of the global Hair Has No Gender Project, with the goal of bringing attention to the power of hair — especially in a trans or gender non-binary person’s transition and identity — and the importance of support from loved ones.

As Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s monologue in Fleabag astutely points out, hair is everything. (There’s even a Yale University study to prove it.) But for trans and non-binary people, hair can be life changing. “Something as simple as growing out your hair, or getting the right hair cut can be such an empowering moment,” says Toronto-based hairstylist and owner of Fox & Jane salon, Kristin Rankin. “This is especially true for transgender people as they make the transition to finally look the way they have felt most of their life.”

One of the first hairstylists in Canada to eliminate gendered pricing and offer cuts based on hair length in their salon, Rankin is the founder of the Dresscode Project (DCP), a global alliance of salons and barbershops championing inclusivity and positive, gender-affirming services for LGBTQ2S+ clients. In 2019, Pantene U.K. partnered with Rankin to raise awareness and expand the DCP’s reach.

As the new face of the brand, Shraya joins four transgender and non-binary activists including Travis Alabanza and Ángela Ponce, the first transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. Both shared their stories as part of Pantene’s Hair Has No Gender project that kicked off in Europe. This year, the global initiative brings its message of inclusivity to Canada.

The project’s new film features a conversation between Shraya and her father, Mohan Bilgi. “It explores the power of hair to express identity, and the power of support from those around you to gain self-confidence [and] enable self-expression,” says Lisa Reid, Senior Brand Director, Pantene Canada.

As they look through old family photographs, the father and daughter go back to one of Shraya’s earliest childhood hair memories: When she was three, during a trip to India, her parents had her head shaved, a tradition among Hindus. “Before then, she had a big ponytail, which she liked, and everyone thought she was a baby girl,” says Bilgi, adding that his daughter loved having her hair combed, and having oil put in it.

“Because of cultural differences, I have had to broaden my ideas of acceptance,” says Shraya. Her parents don’t use her pronouns, but they often bring her back bindis and bangles from India. “This is how they show me love.” While Bilgi says he wishes he’d been around more when Vivek was growing up to help her through the tough times she had in school, “I’m so glad she can be confident in who she is, and that I can be there for her now.”

In addition to the film debut, Pantene will also donate funds to facilitate inclusivity training for hairstylists across the country in partnership with Dresscode Project. “Hair is such a big part of my story and art, so I’m so excited to be working with Pantene on this,” says Shraya. “I love that this project tells diverse stories from five trans and non-binary people, showing that there’s more than one way to be trans or non-binary, and also that there is more than one way to show love and support.”