A Cut AboveFeb 01, 2022 ● By Lisa Sciortino
If you haven’t ventured inside your neighborhood barbershop in a while (or possibly ever), the place may not look the way it used to – or how you expect that it would.
An increased interest in grooming and a higher priority placed on self-care among men has helped make barbering a booming industry. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2020-2030, the employment of barbers (as well as hairstylists and cosmetologists) will grow by 19 percent – faster than the average for all occupations.
Barbershops – and barbers themselves – have undergone significant transformations over the years. Shops that harken back to yesteryear – staffed by grandfatherly barbers wearing crisp white jackets – are fewer and farther between these days (although there are still highly experienced barbers working hard to provide quality cuts along with the type of top-notch “old-school”-style customer service that never falls out of fashion.)
Enter the so-called “hipster barbershops” offering higher-end experiences and services (think beard shaping, hot-lather head shaves and waxing) at shops filled with edgy, industrial-style or urban-inspired décor. High-energy tunes bump as young, tattooed barbers create flawless fades and etch detailed designs onto scalps. Some serve craft beers and other libations to clients who watch professional sports on large flatscreen TVs during appointments.
Frisco STYLE reached out to barbers at locally owned shops throughout Frisco and asked them to share why they chose barbering as a career, what they enjoy most about their work and their thoughts on the changing face of the industry.
Rodregius “Brooklyn” Smith
Owner/Barber, Brooklyn’s Cuts and Designs
6927 Main St., Frisco
214-449-8647 | instagram.com/1cleancut
A year ago this month, Rodregius “Brooklyn” Smith watched his business go underwater – literally – when his Frisco barbershop, called Da Nu U, fell victim to the deep freeze that enveloped North Texas for days. The shop, which was located on Main Street, experienced significant flooding after more than a dozen of the building’s pipes burst and the ceiling collapsed.
Although Smith was unable to reopen the barbershop in that location, he calls the episode “a blessing in disguise.” Within months, he secured a larger storefront on Main Street, near 4th Street, and rebranded under the name Brooklyn’s Cuts and Designs. “I don’t want to be known as an urban barbershop. I’m a barbershop for the community, for the people,” he explains of his business philosophy. “Everyone is welcome.”
A native of Brooklyn, New York (hence his nickname), Smith says he began cutting hair as a preteen after being inspired and mentored by a barber named Mr. Cunningham. Smith took an interest in Mr. Cunningham’s work, and the man later gifted him a shoebox containing his old, trusty hair clippers, which he still keeps tucked away at Brooklyn’s.
Smith began cutting hair even before he had his barber license. “That’s how good I was. … I was cutting (the hair of) everybody in the neighborhood. … At the time, I was charging three bucks” per haircut.
He went on to try out and play professional basketball for several years with teams in the U.S. and abroad before relocating his family to North Texas. Smith owned a pair of Dallas barbershops prior to moving to Frisco, where he opened Da Nu U in 2012. “Basketball can come and go, but (barbering) was something I could do when the ball stopped bouncing,” he says. “This is creative, and I’m thankful for that.”
Over the years, he says his clients have included college and professional athletes and coaches, among others. He credits his success and longevity in the industry to “the authenticity of what I bring” to the work. “The barber is … important. You don’t say the (name of the) shop, you say the barber’s name. I’m coming to see him.’”
Also, “I’m the type of person that likes to build relationships with people,” he says, calling his shop “a sanctuary for men. … If you don’t have a good relationship with your barber, you’re pretty much in trouble because who (else) do you tell the things you’re going through? Who do you share your stress with? … If someone tells me something, if they confide in me, I don’t share that information. It’s between you and me.”
He is also dedicated to assisting others. Once monthly, on a day that Brooklyn’s Cuts and Designs is closed to the public, he invites cancer survivors to sit in his chair and receive free makeovers. As with all of his clients, Smith says, “My goal is to make you feel good about yourself. … When you walk out and somebody tells you, `Hey, that’s a great haircut,’ then I’ve done my job.”
Owner/Barber, 717 Barber Studio
279 Main St., Suite 104, Frisco
214-400-8003 | 717barberstudio.com
Tony Leon has called Frisco home for a decade, but a piece of his heart remains in the Keystone State of Pennsylvania. Need proof? Look no further than the sign outside of his 717 Barber Studio, on Main Street near FM 423. Its name nods to the area code of Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country where he previously owned and operated a barbershop.
Philadelphia born-and-bred Leon began barbering as a teen when his family vacationed in the small Mexico village where his father was raised. “I would take my clippers and I would grab all of the kids (who lived there) and I would cut their hair” for a few bucks. (Also an avid boxing fan, he followed each trim by teaching the youngsters how to spar for self-defense purposes.) Back in Philly, at age 16, he began barbering at night and on weekends as an apprentice.
As a young father, following a stint working in the landscaping industry, Leon decided to make barbering his career. He went to school, earned his license and eventually opened a small shop of his own – a move that he says “changed my whole life for the better.”
In 2012, after visiting his parents who resided in Frisco, Leon relocated to North Texas. He cut hair and managed a couple of area barbershops prior to opening his own small shop (and later another) in the same retail center where 717 Barber Studio opened its doors more than two years ago.
Like most hair-industry professionals, the business was crippled during the months-long pandemic-related shutdown of 2020. Leon says loyal clients came to the rescue, sending him the funds they would have paid him and his staff of barbers for the haircuts and shaves they would have received had the shop not been forced to temporarily close. “That kept me going,” he explains, adding that “the loyalty and the love that I feel from my clients” is the most rewarding aspect of his job. “That’s priceless.”
Barbering has changed during the two decades that Leon (who calls himself an “old-school barber”) has been in the business, especially the demographics of the barbers themselves. Back when he was a barbershop client, “It was full of old guys. … There were no young barbers.” These days, most up-and-comers are trained to achieve highly detailed, symmetrical cuts with clippers as well as shears. “They force us old barbers to be better.”
As the industry has continued to recover from the shutdown, Leon recognized a shortage of trained, licensed barbers available for hire. Hoping to help mitigate that, he recently opened 717 Barber Academy – at 307 Main St., Suite 135 – in the sizeable space previously occupied by 717 Barber Studio, which relocated to another storefront across the parking lot.
“Everyone is struggling to find good barbers and that’s a problem,” he says. From his school’s graduates, “We can handpick the best barbers that we have” to man his shop and send others into the workforce armed with the skills and preparation needed to perhaps open a barbershop of their own in the future.
Arthuro “2Row” Varona
Barber, Lather Lounge Barber Shop
5999 Custer Road, Suite 105, Frisco
214-785-7460 | latherloungebarbershop.com
Arthuro “2Row” Varona recalls the circular “chili bowl”-style haircut he and his brothers sported as kids courtesy of their father, who routinely cut the boys’ hair in the garage of the family’s East Plano home. Once, after receiving yet another “bad” haircut, a then-preteen Varona decided he couldn’t show up to school again with the sad-looking ‘do. So, he fired up his father’s electric clippers and attempted to correct his own haircut. “All I did was just clean up the sides. … It wasn’t good, but it was better than what he had done.”
Before long, Varona’s younger brother began serving as his haircut “guinea pig,” followed by friends and others in the neighborhood who requested his styling services. He cut hair “in hot garages where the light was dim, or anywhere I could set up,” he recalls. “At that time, it wasn’t in my mind that I wanted to be a barber.”
Later, as a young father, he worked at a construction-rental company and cut hair on the side before eventually deciding to pursue barbering full time. After two years spent studying at a Dallas barber school, he became a professional barber in 2017.
Varona has been on staff at Lather Lounge Barber Shop since November 2020. He says being a barber allows him to express the artistic side of his personality. “I can get creative. A haircut is a haircut, but not everybody can do the same haircut the way you do it. I feel that what I do is unique to other barbers.”
That includes forging relationships with his clients. “Sometimes the conversation is good and you run five minutes behind,” he explains. Because “you create a bond with each client, sometimes they’re OK with waiting, or they come in an hour early just to have that conversation and engage with (the shop’s) atmosphere. What I love about it is the freedom that I have.”
Learning proper haircutting and beard-sculpting techniques is “the last thing you need to be good at” as a barber, he says. “The toughest part once you finish school and go into the real world … is (demonstrating) customer service. I think a lot of (young barbers) are missing that.” Varona feels fortunate to have learned that skill through his prior work experience. “I believe when someone comes in here, they want a good haircut but they’re also here for a reason. … It’s the experience you give the client that is either gonna keep them coming back … or they’re gonna go to another shop.”
The key to producing a great haircut, he says, rests in having a thorough consultation with each client. “It’s not about the skills or the years (of experience) you have. You could have started a year ago and be the greatest barber, or you can be doing this for 20 years and your haircuts are still not good. It’s all about … the information you receive from the client. As a professional, you have to give your input, too. … You’ve gotta see the hair, analyze it and say, `OK, I think this (style) is gonna work for you.’”
Co-owner/Barber, Frisco Barber Shop
6201 Technology Drive, Suite 114, Frisco
972-335-9104 | friscobarbershop.com
Phia Vang was an adult the first time he set foot in a barbershop. Growing up with his 10 siblings, haircuts were provided by their father – armed with a set of clippers – in the backyard of the family’s Central California home.
Nevertheless, Vang says he has “always had a passion for cutting hair,” and during his younger years was “the buddy who cut all of the friends’ hair” within his social circle. “That was my responsibility, and everyone got the same haircut.”
A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Vang moved from the West Coast to Frisco in 2005. Two years later, he attended barber school at the urging of his brother-in-law, Blue Fernandez, who co-owned American Barber Concepts in Frisco with another longtime local barber, James Hackbirth. That shop had been in a log-style building on Shoemaker Road before moving in the mid-2000s to Technology Drive.
Hackbirth retired and in 2006 sold the business to Fernandez, who renamed it Frisco Barber Shop. Vang joined its team of barbers in 2008 and, three years ago, he and another brother-in-law, Thomas Lee, bought the shop from Fernandez.
“Being a barber is great,” says Vang, whose brother, Long, also joined the shop’s barber team last year. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything else, especially in a town that’s growing so fast,” like Frisco, which boasts a healthy number of barbershops. “I don’t really call those other places competition – it’s options for our customers. … They could go elsewhere, but people choose to come to us.”
That likely has much to do with the appreciation the shop shows its customers. The staff hosts an annual Veterans Day breakfast at Frisco’s Depot Café for its clients who have served in the military. “It’s a simple gathering,” Vang says. “A lot of them look forward to it every year, and I look forward to it, too. … It’s nothing compared to what those guys have done” in service to the nation.
Many of Frisco Barber Shop’s clients have patronized the place (and American Barber Concepts before that) for years. At one time, Vang was the shop’s sole barber, which meant customers had to book appointments months in advance for the opportunity to sit in his chair. “You’re not just a barber – you’re a therapist; you’re a consultant. … You’ve gotta be a real people-person in this business.”
While some clients enjoy being pampered during visits to the shop, the majority “are on the go, go go,” Vang says. “They come in, they wanna get their cut and out the door they go to work or … to run their wife’s errands.”
Over the years, he’s watched some young clients grow up and have children of their own. He has also bid farewell to others who have passed away. “At the end of the day, you’re building relationships with your customers and I think that’s the best part of this job,” he says. “You become part of their families and they become part of your family.”
Lisa Sciortino is managing editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.