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This Washington, DC barbershop drew on decades of history

Black barbershops have long been an impressive part of black life. Not just a place to get a haircut, they’ve served as meeting places and business hubs for neighborhoods across the country for decades.

[Photo: Michael Grant/Manifest]

Now a new barbershop in Washington, DC is channeling that story and elevating it. The manifesto, launched last autumn, takes the multifaceted nature of the traditional barbershop seriously: there will also be a boutique, a café and a cocktail bar. “We chose Manifest as the barbershop name because when you manifest yourself in these new spaces, these new ideas, you always think of better places and everything great starts with a haircut,” says Brian Merritt, co-founder of Manifest. who also co-founded the Chicago clothing label Sir & Madame.

[Photo: Karston Tannis/Manifest]

The four-in-one concept was created by KJ Hughes, a longtime sports and entertainment entrepreneur, who teamed up with Merritt and Susan Morgan, a vice president of Team Epiphany, a New York-based marketing and creative agency . “I think all those years of going to the hairdresser influenced this particular innovation,” says Hughes. His mother was a hairstylist at Shelton’s Hair Gallery in Washington, DC in the 80’s and 90’s. “Then the bag lady walked in, the polo guy who walked in [with] Polo shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies,” says Hughes. “The hair salon was no different. They had the hustle man coming in with CDs, computers and laundry detergent. People thronged and sold things because the barbershop was a captive audience. That definitely fed into the business model we created at Manifest.”

[Photo: Karston Tannis/Manifest]

This mixed-use history of hair salons underscores the pivotal role they have played in black communities. “The black barbershop can be a social and even political anchor for a rapidly changing community,” says Quincy Mills, associate professor of history at the University of Maryland and author of Cut along the color line. “Once they have a hairdresser or a beautician, [Black consumers] are quite attuned to this person. Even if they move, they’ll probably come back to that barber shop in their old neighborhood, so I think a barbershop that way can serve as a kind of anchor, even if things change.” A membership program at Manifest offers even more community -Engagement with discounts, events and exclusive products.

[Photo: Karston Tannis/Manifest]

When it came to Manifest, the partners commissioned New York design firm Snarkitecture to design the space. Fluorescent lighting, sculpted archways and mixed materials create a cohesive experience between the four companies. “We designed it to feel like one room, but when you’re in the hair salon, it doesn’t feel like you’re in the coffee shop; or when you’re in the coffee shop, it doesn’t feel like you’re in the hair salon, so the sightlines were really important,” says Hughes, adding that the archways represent ritual throughout. “Getting haircuts, being blinded, shopping, and drinking coffee are ritualistic types of activities.”

[Photo: Karston Tannis/Manifest]

Although barbershops are traditionally considered “boys clubs”, Manifest’s offerings are aimed at everyone. “We get people from all walks of life — athletes, politicians, ordinary people on the street, neighborhood boys, women, everyone comes,” says Merritt. “That’s what we wanted it to be, a nice place for community and discovery.”

[Photo: Karston Tannis/Manifest]

Alongside the lavish barbershop experience is a well-curated retail selection. Brands featured include Acne Studios, Engineered Garments, Rick Owens, Craig Green and Issey Miyake. “You come across all walks of life in a hair salon, so why not offer all kinds of clothes? So we have luxe, modern Japanese things for you to explore here,” says Merritt.

[Photo: Karston Tannis/Manifest]

Again, this is an extension of the role black barbershops have played for decades. “In the past, hair salons and beauty salons were used in different ways,” says Mills. “They were the spaces that black people either owned or controlled, which allowed them to be used for other purposes. It allowed cross-selling to other types of businesses within the same space.”

[Photo: Karston Tannis/Manifest]

Behind the first floor room there is a dimly lit hidden stairway leading to Out Of Office, a 30 seater Speakeasy with reservations. The bar mimics the design elements of the hair salon with tiling and mood lighting. Later this spring, Manifest will expand its offering even further by opening a fourth floor townhouse available for rent. “DC is one of the few remaining black cities,” says Merritt. “So we must do something nice for our people, something higher for our people. It is not just for us, but it is for us.”

https://www.fastcompany.com/90734483/this-d-c-barbershop-drew-on-decades-of-black-history-to-create-a-luxury-experience?partner=feedburner&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feedburner+fastcompany&utm_content=feedburner This Washington, DC barbershop drew on decades of history

JACLYN DIAZ

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