SpotlightSpotlight: Filthy Rich Barber Shop (Part 2)
After speaking with Rich, we talked with the rest of the crew to pick their brains on what life is at the barbershop. Kazz had already been listening in with her brother, and was eager to share her experiences as well.How was Rich influential in you learning how to cut hair? Kazz: Richie let me cut his hair. (Demonstrates with her head, pointing at each area.) Line, line, line, curve. He said, "Don't touch anything else!" Rich: It's true. But also, I really wish in the future we get to see more Filipino barbers around. Kazz: I overheard you guys talking earlier about breaking down stereotypes and, how I always felt like was, for customers, you're getting the same shit. The technique might be different, but you're still getting quality results from Filipino barbers. Rich mentioned earlier what having to distinguish hairstyles for different people is like... Kazz: I've heard people say stuff like, "I need to go somewhere where they can cut Asian hair." And it's true. For instance, 360 had no idea how to cut Asian people's hair, then Richie taught him. Asian react reacts so much different. Latin hair, Black hair, they have different qualities. Asian hair can be hard because when you cut it, it sticks straight out. Rich: It's all about molding, it's almost like a sculpture. And the designs that we come up with are from first learning about hair. I did things then that no one was doing yet design-wise. Talk a bit about dealing with what the person wants versus what your professional opinion would be when you're working with them. Rich: It's ultimately all about what the client wants. But mostly my clients just say "Rich, hook me up! Give me something dope." Kazz: I feel like this shop has a great name, people who walk in here, when we ask what do you want, they say "Do whatever you want, I trust you." Like, we've never met this person, they've never been in this hole in the wall, comes in here and tells me, "I trust you." It's the biggest difference between a stylist and a barber. A stylist can look at a person, their shape, take consideration of what's on their face then give them a cut. Barbers are just like, 'what do you want,' and then they do it. I think we really take consideration of style. It's really more of an art form for you guys... Kazz: Yeah, totally. We don't just cut hair. Rich: The past five years, I've been doing a lot of men's styles, but five, ten years prior to that, I was doing straight up street cuts. Now, it's different, I've gone into more of a designing mode in style. It's a fun art. What are some pet peeves you guys have when working? Rich: I don't like (overtly) picky people. That's just gonna kill me because it messes up the vision you have for the hair. Kazz: Yeah, it's when, they've told you what they want, and you start it, and then they go, "You're not gonna go shorter?" And we're like, "Dude, I just started." They have no idea what I'm about to do, like when you go 4-3-2, fade. Rich: Exactly! They go, "Yo, that's it?" And I'm like, "Listen, be quiet." (Laughs.) I'm gonna hook you up, don't worry. Kazz: Oh! Richie's pet peeve is, he'll have a client for years, and they still say at the end, "How much?" (Laughs.) Rich: Yeah, I hate that. That pisses the shit out of me. Kazz: Like, you're still asking after all these years how much the haircut is? Or, another one -- see now I'm getting a whole bunch -- someone comes in and says, "I just want a regular haircut." Then I ask what's a regular haircut? Rich: A big thing I really don't like about some Filipinos is they go, "Discount? Discount?" (Shakes his head laughing.) They go like, "Yeah? Filipino?" (Room laughs.) I'm trying to put a roof over my head, man! You know, the one thing I noticed is that the prices at restaurants for Filipino food is going up. Right? Because right now, we're becoming more noticed. So, I feel like we deserve as hair artists to mark up our rates as defined by the market. So I was asking Rich earlier about his start into the business. How did you start getting into hair styling? What have been some of the challenges you've had to go through as a female barber entering a man's world, essentially? Kazz: My daughter's father was in the military, and I was gonna move with him. But my college credits didn't work out and I needed to find a trade. Growing up with (the family business), I figured I just needed the license. When I started school, out of my peers, I knew I was the best in class. I found I was good at it, and soon I actually got sponsored to go to Pennsylvania to compete with like 110 other schools, and I competed for men's trend. The other day, I just worked on my first celebrity (Brendon Urie from Panic at the Disco.) It's cool because being a stylist, and being a barber at the same time, I combine these skills. Like, with Brendon Urie the other day, he's never had a razor, and he's never had lines so clean. His fade was shot (before the haircut), and he was happy, he hasn't had an experience like that before. Even with using the flat iron to style him, he never experienced that. I was working in the city the year before doing women's hair. I didn't want to get stuck with just barbering. I felt like with women, you make so much more money. But I didn't like having a boss, someone telling you when to eat, you gotta ask to use the bathroom... All that was too much for me. So when I came in here (at the barbershop), I didn't make shit. Nothing. That was such a big pull-back for me because I was doing well, and then now I'm here. I just had to persevere, you know. And, the other hard part is, being a girl, other barbers can respect me being a female stepping into a man's world, but then everybody else (customers, primarily) ask, "You're not gonna zeke me, right?" Sometimes, I think to myself, I should just because you asked me that. That's a freaking pet peeve of mine. This one guy one time (was surprised when I said I was a barber), and he said, I'll come back so you can practice. I was like, "Really, bro? What?" I tell my brother that, and he rolled his eyes saying, "Practice? What's he talking about?" And then some guys say, "Oh, so since they hired you, I assume you're gonna be good." Or they say because I'm Richie's sister, I'm good. It's all preference, man, like, they look at me (with all that prejudice) so sometimes being a girl sucks in this field. They look and they'll go, "Nah, I'm gonna wait for one of these other guys" (instead of getting in my chair). But it's all good. I recently got a sponsorship from this company, Oster, they sell microwaves, too. They sent me their machine, so what I get to do is take pictures using the machine they pay me for that. So all these regular joes that come in, they don't really have an idea who I am and what I do for a living, really. (That makes it easier to handle the negatives) and I'm just like, whatever, I get mine. Has all that waned down, at least? No, not at all. Hell no. But that shit makes me wanna go harder, for sure. I've really only been a barber for eight months. But I've gotten to where I've gotten because I have talent, and with my background as a hair stylist. When I started, I was still just a groomer, and with grooming they don't teach you how to use a razor. But now I can incorporate styling for men and women, and that's really cool. It's something that I can use, to put it together. Are there any plans for you to go solo eventually? No, not really. This is a family shop, these guys are my brothers, my mom's in the back. I wouldn't wanna drift away. It would be awesome to have my own name, but I still think having a good support system is important. I represent Filthy Rich all the way. That was another reason I got picked for Oster, because they needed a female that represented something. Has your work translated to gaining a following of younger fans? Yeah, for sure. People look at my lifestyle on Instagram, and they see my work there. There is this one girl who's reached out (Lina), she's pretty dope. She's all tatted up, she can cut. In beauty school, they don't teach you how to cut men, so I've had girls reach out, and I do my best to reach out to them, too. Us girls gotta stand up for each other. I tell them, "Yo, show up at the shop, we'll hang out." I do feel like there are also some girls that get into the profession for the wrong reasons. Like, if you're gonna get into it to get attention from guys, then you're an idiot. I believe that if you have love and passion for something, then you should pursue it. Being interested and being passionate are two different things - being passionate is where you're gonna see the most success. By the way, you seen the snake? (She motions at her pet snake in one of the clear display cases.) Yeah. What's that all about? There's really no significance, I've always wanted a snake. But back then I was too young to understand how to take care of it. Long story short, my best friend found it, I ended up taking it, and I'm afraid of rats, so that means I don't feed my snake. So I had this kid that comes in every two weeks, he brings a rat, I give him a hair cut and he feeds it! (Laughs.) True story. The kid buys the rat for 8 bucks, and I give him a $25 haircut. Good deal, right? Why not! There has to be a metaphor in there somewhere. Haha. Yeah, I dunno. As you might tell, I'm not that big of a girly-girl. I just think it's dope. It was two feet when I got it, now it's taller than me. I mentioned to Rich how the shop feels very warm and homey. Was this by design or did that just organically happen? We had the other shop on 69th, and it was exactly like this: a barber shop and the skin clinic. My mom has her profession as well, so in this big space, it just worked. My sister was working in the city, too, like I was, so it was pretty much mom and my sister, two individuals who had a certain passion came together, and now we're under the same roof. We all just came together, and we were blessed to have Rhyan, and then once we got this shop (on 63rd) Jigga came through, and it was just a good feel. We interviewed for a new barber last week, and he was just not what we were feeling, like, you can feel vibes, and we have a very home-family vibe here, like no drugs around, just music, we're calm, chill, we'll make you look good, we care about you, we love what we do. We're always trying to give back to the community as well, everyone here is a people-person. Other places I've seen act like real jerks, but we work this place out. Message for younger girls out there? For younger girls in general: Stop thinking about what guys think. Do you. Girls get sized up a lot. You know how many girls are so insecure? It's like giving props to a straight man doing hair. Off the bat, they're gonna think he's gay. But that makes him more of a man because he has good craft and he still steps fearlessly into a female's world. As far as my profession, if there's a female who really wants to take it to the next level, who wants to become a barber, then my advice to be just follow your dreams and work at your skills. Do what you love, don't care what people think. But see, I wanna hear Jason's story. How did you become a barber, Jay? (Laughs.) Where did you get the name "Jigga?" J-Nice: No, you have to call me "Barber." (Room laughs.) Actually, Rich gave me the name J-Nice, so it's special to me. How did you get your start? J-Nice: I was about 13, my uncle used to cut my hair. And he got sick, so I thought, "Damn, who's gonna cut my hair now?" So I used to go to the Russians... I tried every barber out there, really. I went to different ones for a good two months, but I always got a fucked up cut. So I told my dad, can you buy me my first shape-up machine? It was my birthday that week, too, and he said, "Sure." Thirteen years old, and I was giving shape-ups to my dad and my little brother. They were the only people I cut. And since then, I've been cutting hair. I used to play handball in the streets, and my friends would ask, "Yo, who cuts your little brother's hair? Those are good shape-ups." And my little brother would (point at me and) be like, "him." (Grins.) People didn't really believe him, so I'd tell them, "How about you let me try it on you." I didn't even have a real razor, I used the eyebrow razors. I used to hold that shit down. Then my boy asked if he could get a shape-up, and he said, "You should turn this into a business, make some money out of it." And I agreed. I didn't wanna sell drugs like my older cousins. So I thought, this might be a way to get my hustle. A year later I started fading. But, mind you, I'd follow my uncle's way of cutting hair. He has an old school way of doing it. The way I cut is pretty unique. And that's how it all started. I was pretty popular in my area, so I had a base of people coming to me. They see my artwork, they liked it. With me, it's like, you either like it or you don't. But my clients trust me. Rich mentioned you guys would teach each other techniques and stuff. Yeah, it's pretty dope. For example, teaching Cassandra as a new barber, giving her tips, look at her now, killing the game. We're all supportive of each other. How do you respond to Rich saying you're one of the four notable Filipino barbers in the East Coast? I do feel like we're setting a trend out here. Especially in New York, knowing that you're one of the better Filipino barbers around. I believe we're the best barbers in New York, representing New York. The neighborhood knows that we're humble people. They're like, these Filipinos, they're cool. Like, 360, we think he's Filipino now. He's like us. We're all family here. Anything to say to the young kids out there who wanna be as nice as Jigga? Man, just go for it. That's it. Don't slack! And don't do drugs, ha?! (In tagalog accent, laughs.) By this time, 360 had just finished with a client and his own beard, and was ready to talk. You probably get this a lot... How did you get the name 360? I had waves since I was 12 going all around my head. My first AOL screen name was 'wavesspinnin360' because everybody used to say 'your waves are spinnin' yo!' So Rich said you supposedly came in here with a suit and tie on. What was that day like in your recollection? Yeah, that was definitely a hell of a day. (Motions to Rich) Did you call me, or did I call you up? "You called me," Rich replied. Right. So I called to say I was coming by, and I had the suit and tie on because I was coming from court. We sat down, chatted up, and I ended up cutting this guy with a skin fade as a first interview. And we just hit it off from there, we was at the old location. Rich was like, "When we open up the new spot, I'ma start you off, grand opening style at the new shop on 63rd." And that was it, me and him just clicked on a person-to-person level. I felt like we could relate with each other, from the most basic stuff -- both from Queens, we like the Mets, we listen to rap, I rap, he used to DJ, so it was like all tied together. From a skill set perspective, did you know early on you could be a barber? What was your start like? I started giving myself shape-ups in between my cuts when I went to my old barber back in LeFrak. It was a way for me to save money and stop asking my mom or dippin' into my own stash every week just to get a cut. I said to myself, I'm just gonna give myself a shape-up, and I only did the front so my back would be torn up! But, as long as the front was good, I could get through that extra week before it was time to get a cut again. I upgraded my clipper because I had the worst shape-up clipper ever. It was a rechargeable one, and the battery was weak. I'm pretty sure it cost me less that $30, it definitely wasn't top of the line. But it got the job done. I developed with that until I bought an Andis and started to get myself way cleaner shape-ups, and I started looking better than after going to my barber. Then I started cutting my little nephew... How old were you then? ... Probably 19. I started doing that, and before you know it, I got my own set. I became an unofficial barber in LeFrak, so my boys would call when they didn't have money to go to a barber. They were like, "Yo can you hook me up," and I said no problem. During that time I was working for FedEx, and I wasn't taking the whole barber thing too seriously. I had a conventional job, conventional benefits, not so conventional hours. I thought, I'm just gonna ride this job out the safe way than learning a trade. But one thing I realized was, when you work for a company, they don't really care about you as a person, they care about what you can give them. That meant they'll burn you out, it was a numbers game. So I thought, if it was gonna be like that, why not work for myself? Why not hustle hard for Me? When I was around 24, I went to barber school, and I ended up going to the same one Rich did. I went and finished my hours, knocked that out, worked at a couple of rinky-dink places and then I ended up calling the school back and said, "Listen guys, work is stressing me, I've worked at a place on the weekends, it sucks, do you guys have a good shop that I can go to?" Good thing I made a decent name at the barber school, because they said, "Rhyan Woods, you're a pretty good barber, a lot of kids are coming to you for help," and it was great that I did that because they referred me to Rich. The lady over there, before I even went to Rich said, "Look, this isn't your ordinary shop, this is an upper-level shop." I said, "Really? Where is it?" She said Woodside, and I said, oh, that's 63rd street on the 7? I'm hella close there, that's cool! I'm in! I didn't have to leave the borough to go to work? That was crazy! I lived on the same side of town anyway, so it was an ideal situation. This IS the best work situation for me because I had the talent, I knew my craft, I take pride in what I do. I didn't take pride in delivering a package that didn't care about me. When I see a client look at the mirror smiling, feeling the cut, I'm like, that makes me feel good, I made him look fresh, he's ready to go out into the world and do something positive. It was a lot more gratifying, and you can't really put money on that. I love my job, the money potential is always there, I'm good at it and it doesn't feel like work. I feel like we're never gonna go out of work because hair's not gonna stop growing, the world one day isn't gonna wake up bald, you know what I'm saying? (Laughs). I can't get fired from doing hair. What are some key principles you try to apply in terms of your own work ethic? For one, you must pay attention to what a client wants -- if they know what they want, you have to pay attention to that. If you don't, you become the barber that I hated growing up. The guy that does what he wants to do on somebody that's giving him directions. If you can't work with somebody, work with people properly or listen to directions, then you're not gonna make it in this business. It's really about the customer. So before anything else, you gotta make sure he looks good, he feels he gets his money's worth, you chat it up with him a little bit. The person has to feel good leaving your chair - that's my whole thing. Early on in your barber career, how did you market yourself? It was a lot of word-of-mouth publicity, no one really knew about my barber skills apart from the few people I cut for back then. I never had a strong online presence via barbering, my music outstood that. But, when I got in here, it leveled out, I put in the same time with marketing as a barber the same way I did as a rapper. I learned a lot from Filthy, he's a beast on social media, and because he's a beast, I became a monster myself just absorbing how he does it, incorporating that into my own branding with music and as a barber. [See: For 360's music, go to FCFMedia.com and click here for 360's latest mixtape, "Till Death".] So, you've become an honorary Filipino, too, huh? Yes, I have! I think it happened early on in my career at Filthy Rich. I've never felt more welcome in any workplace than here. I dunno if it's just the Filipino way, or if this is just a special family that we're working with. But either way, I'm embracing it. These guys opened their doors to me and they haven't treated me any different like an outsider, ever. I've never been to a place where the mom, the aunt or the sister or brother would offer me food, to eat with them, you know? Like, at my own shop, I'd get my own lunch, I'd be like, hey guys, I'm going to the store, get my sandwich, and I'd go eat by myself. Here, they go, "Yo, we're ordering, what do you want?" I get on it and we have a big feast, so that was a clear difference, the acceptance. It's real, and I feel like an honorary Filipino. Coming in, did you see any hurdles with the brand being rooted as an Asian or Filipino shop? No, not at all. The reason being is that the location is such a melted pot, and we've made it a point to be as welcoming to all cultures as possible. Anybody's gonna walk through here. The ground roots are of course Filipino, but it's not really something that has dictated the clientele. Weapons of choice? Honestly, I feel like a Spartan. I go in there with one spear and one shield, I've been using the same Andis Masters clippers that I had since starting here, and occasionally I might use my Oster. They've very limited but very effective. I use my ears as much as I use my eyes, too. I know the difference with the Andis - it's a lot more quiet compared to the Oster which is really loud. You can hear when they're cutting. If I'm doing a lot of fading, I like the Masters, because I can tell if I hear them cutting. If I don't, that means the clippers are too big. Any upcoming projects? On the music side, I try to stay as busy as possible. My music team is taking direct input from our fans, and we're gonna make sure that's shouted out on the new mixtape, and it'll be an incentive for fans to have a connection with us. Like, there's a difference between friends and fans - real fans, no matter what, will, rain sleet snow will come support you, pay the extra dime, and that person, I wanna make a friend. I love my friends, but I want to be able to make friends with my fans, get in touch with them. Finally, any advice you'd like to share to young aspiring barbers out there? I like to restrict this for the ones that are from the inner city, where there's limited diversity. You must learn as much as you can. Cutting coarse hair is not gonna cut it. If you really wanna be a good barber, you have to branch out -- you gotta learn how to cut long hair, straight hair, different ethnicities' hair, do different styles. It's more than just afros and comb-out mohawks and stuff like that. There's so much more out there, and that's what I learned here. Great barbers are well-rounded. They do anything and everything. And the greatest barbers, they elevated from just barbering, they took it to styling, to sculpting. It's really a reflection of creativity, and if you don't know how to do that, you're not on different canvasses, you won't be a great artist. Finally, we cap it off with a quick sit-down with Rich and Kazz' eldest sister, Vanessa, who had been busy coming in and out of the shop. She welcomes me into the back, smiling. "I'm the back burner," she says, relaxed in her chair while wearing a black robe. So Rich and Kazz mentioned your family's history and how the business has been in your blood - can you give us a bit of a timeline with how this all started, stemming from your own career? I always wanted to be a hair dresser. So I would play with my Barbie dolls and pretend. Both my grandparents - my grandfather having to be entrepreneurial, business ettiquette-sy and my grandmother being a hairdresser to to the socialites back home in the Philippines meant a great deal. Our roots were in Ilocos (Norte) where Marcos' town is, and that was the start. To cut to the chase, I went to beauty school in LIBS in Astoria by Steinway (it's now called Empire Beauty), got my beauty school license, and what they do is they set you up with interviews. The first one was with Peter Michelle in Manhattan, but then I ventured on with higher-end salons. My big break was really with Oscar Blandi, which was in the Plaza Hotel back in 2003, 2004. I worked in a lot of exclusive salons and I had to build credibility. It's like going to college, and then you finish your masters, so for me, I became an apprentice, and worked my way to the top. They promote you from being either a hair stylist or a hair colorist. That was how I got promoted. Being a Filipina, it was a bit competitive back then. Being born here, I guess it's that drive of a New Yorker, you need to want it, just like in any other profession. I have to say, I'm glad I pounded the pavement, because my brother saw me grow, and he saw that his sister could do that well. I guess he took it to the next level. It was baby steps, you work your way up to the point where, you see work for what it is. You see time and gauge how you want to be a year, five, ten years from now. Do you see yourself growing? By 2004, I stopped going to work in the city. (I'm really giving my age now! Laughs) I was working there from 1995 to '04. I really worked (my ass off). I worked with a lot of celebrities, and one of the high points was with Jennifer Lopez. It was intriguing, to have to humble yourself. When you rub elbows or talk with, or service these important people, it can be intimidating. But all you have to do is be yourself. In the fashion industry, it's hit-or-miss. So to get to the top, you need to make connections. But ultimately, I ventured out here anyway, leaving Manhattan. I saw my mom and my aunt working with skin, and they went into business together. And then when I saw my mom get really ill, I (weighed my options)... I was financially well off, but to look into the future and see a possibility of retiring comfortably, I could have stayed in the city. But I needed to take care of my mom, and from that point we had to rebuild. This was where my brother's barbering skills came in handy. We worked in another salon, and the business grew from there. It was from his hustle, promoting through Myspace and Facebook. He went to clubs handing out flyers, always getting the name out. I, on the other hand, am really old school. If I had the social media back then, my portfolio would be all up on the internet. Now, I'm working on my "Masters Degree" learning about skin from my mom as a dermatologist, Tita Franco - she worked in the Philippines with a lot of plastic surgeons. My mother's side of the family is more on hair dressing, and they are very business-minded, and I think that's where Rich gets that from. His father's side is also very artistic - he can draw and paint. My father's side - we have different fathers - is more college-minded. They are very intelligent. Everyone has to be a doctor, nurse or lawyer. With me, I'm just with the hair and the skin. I look back now, all that hard work, an I don't regret anything. To now have an established platform and to serve as the business back burner, I just try to oversee everything and give guidelines. Was this a perfect storm where, you were presented with a need to rebuild and Rich having the skills to go and say, let's just set up shop again? Yeah. What he planned to do, first and foremost was build his team. But I thought, this might be a bit difficult with me being a woman. Women can be intimidating. My mom's credibility has everything to do with our business savvy, our own work ethic and dedication to our crafts... Our personal skills with one-on-one customer service, (that comes from her). Making customers feel comfortable is vital in the service industry, and we all share that belief. That's also tied to our credibility. It's a reflection on how people see us. The warmth in this place, my brother brought that. It was important to him -- you come in and he'll ask... he has "five services" -- would you like anything to drink, are you okay, how is your day going? That's how it should be. So that was how we set this up. With the next venture, hopefully we cater more for women. I'd like to push more for the skin and for my sister's skills. We're still looking to hire more hair dressers, a bigger team. It's important. The more, the better. How would you say the shop has challenged stereotypes against Asian barbershops? I think my brother gets the credit for pounding the pavement in terms of attracting people to come in here. He's worked hard with his own skills, with networking and with promoting. You guys seem to be very grounded, despite the number of high-profile clients that you're getting regularly... I'm not all about the hype. In the Philippines, there is that "plastikan ugali" (an attitude of being fake), and from an American-born person, this is where it comes from: I believe that if you never go to reach out and live there for at least a year or two, just to feel at home and be one with the culture, you won't understand humility. I think you need to absorb that, and you learn to approach why you have to be humble in this world. You learn to appreciate the benefits of living here in the US, and that should make you appreciate what you have. As a Filipino, I humble myself, because when you work in the city, it's predominantly white, European. So when people look at me, they distinguish that I am not Japanese or Chinese, Korean. But that's when the confidence of being yourself should kick in, that, yes, I am Filipino, and when people prejudge they are surprised when they can easily communicate you you and they realize you're a smart person, too. Right now, the shop is contributing to what I would like to think as the Renaissance of the Filipino. How do you foresee being able to further the promotion of Filipino culture with a global perspective? I think it starts with knowledge within our own people (before we even tackle how to strongly promote Filipino culture). I've found that people who are born here who happen to be Filipino tend to neglect their heritage. There's no balance, and they're dismissive of the culture and tradition. Balance is necessary (where you have to make the effort, because you have that heritage no matter what). I've also noticed the narrow-mindedness of people, both from those born here and those born in the Philippines. Those who come from back home, they're too eager to be Americanized, and at the same time they can be critical (of Filipino-Americans who simply lack the knowledge of their own heritage). It's almost like brain-washing, because they're (trading in) their own culture, and it's almost hypocritical. We're all segregated because we keep bashing each other. And it's sad because that keeps us from growing. We need to fix that. We're always in the business of proving ourselves. My brother was bashed down, had to prove himself, and opened up his own shop to show people. Any advice for the younger generation who is looking up to you guys here? Have patience. A lot of patience. Grow and ensure your financial stability, and take your time in doing so. Be nice to people. It's good business. --- Filthy Rich Barbershop is on 63-12 Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside, New York. Phone: (917)468-4725 Hours: Mon through Sat - 11am to 7 pm | Closed on Sundays For more info, click here to go to their website.
Rich on Twitter: Twitter.com/richthebarber