It’s been so long since I sat down with the guys at Kings Club to record this thing that I don’t really remember much of what we talked about. I do recall that it was a great time, but it was also completely unfiltered, so you might wanna skip it if you’re offended easily. Either way, they are a great group of guys (and barbers) that you should hit up if you’re in the Dana Point area and need a cut. Beautiful shop too. I’ve known them since way back when I first started shooting for this project in 2012-ish and they’ve been in both books. The shop has been through a lot since then, including a fire that completely destroyed the place, so it was cool to catch up with them to talk about everything that has happened since we first met.
I’ve lost track of what number Q&A this is, but that’s probably irrelevant. This go round is with Justin King of Rooks Barbershop in Portland, Oregon. We met a bit of over a year ago when I made these images. The thing that stands out to me about Justin is that he’s every bit a business man as he is a barber. Maybe even more so a business man, which isn’t common to see in the barbershop world. He’s got a lot of irons in a lot of fires. Good dude and I appreciate his willingness to say what he feels regardless of the outcome.
Follow him on Instagram @hellandgrace and the shops @rooksbarbershop
“In the Army, I’d bring dudes into the barracks and fade them out for a few bucks here and there”
1) Where are you from and what did you do before barbering?
I was born in NY and grew up in Miami. Before becoming a barber, I was a paratrooper in the US Army.
Did any of your experience as a paratrooper carry over into the barber world? Where did you get your business sense from?
I think my military experience definitely gave me a good foundation to work off of. It imbued in me a very strong work ethic; an ability to just “get it done”, no matter what. Pair that with an aggressive east coast mentality and you’ve got a recipe for success.
2) What put you into this profession?
Ever since high school, I wanted to cut hair. Growing up as a punk rock kid in the ‘80s, I was always the one cutting and coloring everyone’s hair. I’ve always been good with a pair of clippers.
In the Army, I’d bring dudes into the barracks and fade them out for a few bucks here and there, and when I got out, I decided to take it to a professional level.
3) You're very political with your thoughts and posts on IG, which is something you don't see a lot of barbers doing. Talk about that a bit...
I believe in using whatever resources are at your disposal to affect change in the world. My business is my primary resource and, in this day and age, it’s important that we speak our against injustice, bigotry, racism, etc. They always told me when I became a barber, “never talk politics or religion on the floor”, but fuck that. I’ve never been one to not speak my mind and if customers don’t like it, there are a lot of shops out there adhere to that ‘rule’. Personally, I believe Rooks built its reputation by being real, and I encourage my barbers to be who they are.
What have been the positive/negative outcomes of your public opinions?
I’ve lost customers over my public political opinions. I guess you could say that’s a negative. I don’t think it is. I’ve had people “boycott” my bar and other businesses of mine, but I just think they’re funny. You can’t boycott somewhere you’re not welcome.
4) When did the first Rooks open? How were you able to take Rooks from one shop in Portland to having 3 there as well as another in Hood River?
The first Rooks opened at the beginning of 2009 as a one-chair shop in a little shed attached to a pizza joint. I had worked as a barber for a few years at another shop in town and had built up a large clientele. I took a big chance, opening up Rooks a half hour away and was fortunate enough to have a lot of clients follow me. The barbering scene hadn’t really hit yet, so nothing like this was happening in Portland. I was the first shop to offer straight razor shaves and booze, and my shop gained recognition pretty quickly. After a couple years at that one-chair shop, I moved a few blocks up the road and opened a three-chair, bringing a couple quality barbers onboard from out of town. I had to hire barbers from California because there were hardly any in Portland. A year later, I added two more chairs. By then, our little shop was constantly busy and we had some really solid barbers. So, a year after that, I decided to try a second shop across town to cater to a larger clientele. A third one went in right in the heart of downtown Portland a couple years after that and the rest is history. We had become a Portland institution and a nationally-known name. The fourth shop opened up a couple years later but, unfortunately, was lost in a building fire. We quickly recovered and expanded to Hood River, Oregon just a year and a half ago, and that’s now our busiest location.
What went through your head when the fire hit?
My first concern was relocating my barbers so that they’d still have work. I can deal with a little financial blow like that but I didn’t want my barbers to feel that burden. I also immediately began thinking of the way forward. A couple barbers wanted to start a Go Fund Me campaign to help me recoup some of the financial loss but I wasn’t having it. It was my problem to deal with, not everyone else’s. I had to view the experience as an opportunity to grow in a different direction and, ultimately, it enabled me to put time and energy into opening up Hood River.
5) How do you manage all those shops/barbers?
No, but seriously...I put a lot of stock in my barbers and give them ownership in their shops. My barbers are free to be who they are, manage their own clients, handle their own money, schedule their own breaks, etc. I think the key to a successful shop is keeping your barbers happy. I refuse to treat mine like children. They didn’t pay $20k for barber school to be bossed around and make shit pay.
6) What do you get into outside the shop? Hobbies, obsessions, etc.
Business IS my hobby/obsession. I love creating something, building a brand, getting my hands dirty with the buildout process, etc. Outside of Rooks, I also own a pomade brand, a bar and a motorcycle shop. I create businesses based on my hobbies, so I’m never really working; just doing stuff I like.
7) Notable life fuck-up that ended up being a great learning tool?
Hmmm....I think all fuck-ups should be used as learning tools.
I tried many businesses over the years before opening Rooks, to no avail. Each time was a valuable lesson; how not to waste money, who not to partner with, etc.
I fucked up a lot in my life, but I wouldn’t have been in the exact place I am if I hadn’t.
8) Advice for someone who wants to take that first step from being a barber to opening their own shop?
Every endeavor requires risk. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and take those risks. It’s scary. Putting money down on a lease, going in without really knowing what the outcome will be..it’s serious, and it’ll fuck with your head. Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly. Your business has to be your entire identity, at least in the beginning. Brands don’t build themselves. Don’t be in too much of a rush. Wait until you’ve got several years of experience and a large customer base. Try not to take a loan out, even if it’s from family. You don’t want to start up already in a bunch of debt. Choose your partners wisely and, if possible, don’t have one. Certainly don’t have more than one or you’ll never make money.Make sure you know your brand, but be willing to adapt and progress. Rooks isn’t the same brand that it was when I started and we’re better for it.
Always be true to yourself and don’t compromise.
Respect your barbers. They’re your most valuable commodity.
And DON’T BE COMPETITIVE. Support other shops and keep open communication with them.
9) Random thoughts on what you do....
I love what I do. Opening Rooks has been the best thing I’ve done for myself and my children.
That doesn’t mean starting a business is the best move for everyone. Some people won’t function in that position, others will flourish.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just as honorable to put in an honest days work as it is to be an entrepreneur.
Good luck in whatever you do!
Is the barbering community in Portland supportive?
If I’m being honest...no, I don’t believe it is.
It’s getting there, for sure. But, there are still a lot of shop owners who view each other as competition, and that’s absolutely the wrong mindset to be in.
Portland is saturated with barbershops and could benefit from a stronger sense of community.
This is the first in what I hope is a long line of Q&A's with barbers from my book. I'm naturally curious about people and the way they live, so I thought this would be a fun thing to do. Adam Byrd cuts at Syndicate Barbershop in Long Beach, CA and is a great example of what I love about the "next generation" of barbers. So many of them are covered in tattoos, which could be very intimidating to people who aren't used to that culture. Once you get past that and talk to them though, you'll see they are just good people who happen to have a lot of ink on their skin. I enjoyed talking with Adam during the shoot because of his candid style, and figured he would be a good interview to kick this off with. I also think it's a good way for barbers to learn about other barbers and to be inspired by their stories. You can follow him on Instagram @bakoscum19 and the shop @syndicatebarbershop .
1) Where are you from and how did you make a living prior to becoming a barber?
Bakersfield, CA. Prior to becoming a barber I worked random construction jobs.
2) When we shot at Syndicate you mentioned moving to Long Beach because you were partying too much. Talk about that and what has changed since you moved to LB.
Partying too much, for me, means black tar heroin...crack cocaine...pills....and vodka. I was using heroin everyday, I was in and out of jail and prison...lived in shit bag hotel rooms. I was strung out and I had to quit doin' drugs. Since moving to Long Beach, I 've been off drugs for 5 years. I graduated barbering school, got married, and became a full time barber at Syndicate Barber Shop.
** Would you mind expanding on that?
So when I was a young Punk Rocker everyone that I looked up to was a heroin addict and most of them died very young. It was just a natural progression for me. I was 16 years old the first time I tried heroin. The first time I became strung out on that particular drug I was 19 years old. That was pretty much my life for a whole lot of years. Back then they weren’t so lenient with drug users so I eventually went to prison for 10 dollars worth of dope and with parole the way it was back then I was in and out- couldn’t clean up because really I didn’t want to. Eventually I got off parole but not off drugs and almost every bad thing that can happen to an addict short of dying or catching a terminal disease happened to me. I had girlfriends who were prostitutes, I was shot once in a drive by (in my foot haha), dropped off for dead in my mother’s driveway, woke up in the hospital handcuffed to a wheelchair. All kinds of crazy shit some people probably only think is in the movies. Then one day at age 35 I looked at myself in the mirror and was like ,”Well- you fucked off dying young, maybe it’s time.” December 12th, 2013 I did hard drugs for the last time in the restroom at Union Station downtown Los Angeles. At about 4 months sober I enrolled in Barberschool and the rest is history. This trade has literally helped me save my life because it has given me a life worth living. I met a kid who became one of my best friends, Anthony Champion, Rest In Peace, in barber school. He pushed me when I wanted to quit. My wife pushed me when I wanted to quit. My family pushed me when I wanted to quit. And Tim hired me when I was ready to just go to work in a sober living home haha. I don’t know where I’m going with this but I’ll tell you one thing I’m not falling asleep in a 30 dollar motel room tonight. And for that I’m grateful.
3) What was the final factor that lead you to start barber college?
To be honest, there really weren't a lot of options for a guy like me. The wreckage created from my past life makes me almost completely unemployable. Except for Tim. Tim doesn't give a fuck.
4) What is life like as a barber at Syndicate?
I've met some of my best friends working at Syndicate. I get to listen to music I love all day. I meet people from all over the United States and the world. I make cash daily and I get to make people feel better.
5) What are your favorite/least favorite parts about being a barber?
Least favorite: Rollercoaster income, man buns, picky metro-sexuals
Favorite: Get to hang out with my friends all day, get to make people feel better walking out then they did when they walked in, nobody seems to mind the fact that I am heavily tattooed or what my past has been.
6) Opinions on where the industry is now compared to when you were getting cut as a kid?
Hipsterville. Its saturated with hipsters...when I was a kid you went a got a fucking haircut, they did an alright job, and barbers didn't have egos..they didn't have Instagram. They didn't have this cool-guy bullshit. It's oversaturated with corny people. I like the old timers.
7) What is your greatest strength as a barber?
My greatest strength as a barber is my gift of gab. Cutting hair has helped me immensely go from being sort of introverted to getting outside of myself talking to people making them feel comfortable. I look a little intimidating so I always make it a priority to let a new clients know that I'm just a poo-butt teddy bear. And the way I do this is through a handshake, a conversation, and doing my best to make sure that time in my chair is enjoyable for the client. Like I’m not a dick or some too cool for school barber stuck up his own asshole.
8) What does is take to be a great barber?
I’m still learning what it takes to be a good barber haha but I’d say taking it seriously and doing your best haircut and remembering that even if you have an asshole in your chair that asshole is paying for your dinner that night. Be nice.
9) Advice for someone wanting to become a barber?
Try to join a union first.
10) Where do you see yourself in ten years?