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For Pro Athletes, the Haircut Struggle is Very Real While Under Quarantine

As the sports world remains paralyzed, celebrity barbers look forward to normalcy and getting back to the bag.

Image Credit: Vince "The Barber" Garcia

Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca was on to something when he said: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” 

Like what happened in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals between the Spurs and Heat — with that clutch Ray Allen three-pointer that sent that pivotal game to overtime and kept Miami’s championship hopes alive; or what transpired during a Wild Card playoff game between the Titans and Bills that became known as “the Music City Miracle”; or … Derek Jeter during the month of October. 

Also like Vince Garcia, a Toronto native who — at just 23 — felt he’d reached his zenith as a barber in his hometown and felt a yearning to do bigger things, far away from the comforts of home. 

“I had gotten to the point in Toronto where I had reached my plateau,” said Garcia, who — to that point — had built one of the more well-known barbershops in the industry (former Raptor Chris Bosh was his first athlete client). “I was kinda bored … and [relocating] to New York was way too close to home for me — and I was always kinda intrigued by LA.”

Eight years prior to this itch, one of Garcia’s boyhood friends — who’d made the move to LA — told him that the barbering scene there was dull, and screaming with opportunity. “At that time barber shops in LA weren’t crackin’, and I wanted something different; I wanted to cut celebrities — be on movie sets, all of that. Initially my plan was to come out to LA, get my barbers license and go back home to open up a barber’s academy. But I just fell in love with the city and saw opportunity.”

As luck — and preparation — would have it, Garcia’s “big play” moment came quicker than he even imagined. “I’m not one to get super star struck,” Garcia explained, but “two weeks after I arrived in LA, I cut my first Laker client — Metta World Peace, Ron Artest — and then I started cutting a couple of R&B singers, and I quickly realized my own worth — that I’m more than just a barber.”

                     Vince Garcia and Philadelphia Sixers star Ben Simmons

 

Today Garcia’s barbershop-salon — he is the co-founder and CEO of Grey Matter — has a steady stream of professional athletes and celebrity clients, making his shop one of the more sought-after lifestyle salons in LA specializing in straight-razor shaves, tapers, designs and lines-ups that are Jalen Rose-crispy. 

A stylist for almost two decades now, Garcia has traveled the world — to Japan, the U.K., Europe, and Southeast Asia, among other stops — teaching and growing the barber culture worldwide, and has worked onset for a number of TV shows, including Wild’n’Out, America’s Got Talent and HBO’s The Shop.

                                           Vince Garcia and rapper Drake

His client list — Kyrie Irvin, James Harden, Drake, Ludacris, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, Ben Simmons, to name a few — continues to grow. 

                  Vince ‘The Barber’ Garcia cuts NBA MVP James Harden’s hair

Preparation meeting opportunity — just like the now 33-year-old father of two drew it up.

“I grew up in the barbering thing”

Growing up in May Pen, the capital and largest town in the parish of Clarendon in Middlesex County in Jamaica, Sheldon Edwards dreamed of living in the U.K. Life would be so much richer, he thought, and opportunities to succeed seemed limitless. 

But when he arrived at 17 in 1998 — traveling across the Pond with his mother’s uncle — he soon saw that the UK in his head was far from the one his mother, Doreen Patterson, was navigating. 

“I settled in Battersea, South London and I joined my mom who was already there,” Edwards recalls. “It was crazy … my perception was that things were great for mom but when I came here I realized that things were a little bit tough. She was just living in a 1-room [apartment] with my aunt [and] staying in the front room; this is how life was.  And I thought, you know what, I have to really make something of my situation.”

Like any Jamaican mom, she wanted more for Edwards, which meant college. “I enrolled at South Chelsea College in Brixton, one of them little small colleges — but I realized I had to put some work in,” Edwards explained. “My mom didn’t really too agree with me so I went to college but decided to work at the same time,” he said, his Jamaican accent coming through. 

Edwards knew his destiny was to carry on a tradition that had been part of his family for two generations. His great-grandfather, Glenford Edwards Sr., had established two of the biggest barbershops in May Pen; after he died, his father, Glenford Edwards Jr., took them over. Barbering was in his blood.

“I grew up in the barbering thing,” explained Edwards, 38. “Growing up in Jamaica I was forced as a 9- or 10-year-old to go and oversee my granddads’ business — making sure people weren’t stealing from the till; making sure people were being honest with clients coming in and out. Just by watching the barbers operate I ended up taking a little bit from each of them, and it’s helped me to do what I do today.”

Today the self-taught barber is the face behind HD Cutz (HD stands for High Definition), boasting some of the top soccer players in all of Europe — among them are Raheem Sterling, Mousa Dembele, and Gabriel Jesus — as clients; he’s also the personal barber to the artist formerly known as the world’s fastest man — fellow Yardie Usain Bolt. 

“I’ve never ever worked at anything else — I’ve only always cut hair,” the father of 14-year-old twin girls, Shenai and Shanoi, said. “I don’t know any other job.” 

COVID-19 put barbers — and barbershops — on lockdown

Barbershops and hair salons are among the establishments that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced to close their doors worldwide. Combined, Edwards and Garcia employ 19 barbers; none are able to work — and house calls, even for A-list celebrities, are a no-can-do.

“It’s a bit crazy … nothing going on at the moment,” said Edwards, who closed his shop on March 23 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs, clubs and restaurants across the UK to close. “We’re just following government guidelines … and ride it out and see.”

Garcia immediately thought of his 11 barbers. 

“For most of us, this is our only source of income,” said Garcia, whose shop is located in the heart of Los Angeles, off North La Brea Avenue. “We’re independent contractors; if we’re not working, we’re not making money. If we take vacations, there’s no vacation pay; if we’re sick, there’s no sick pay — so it’s definitely hurting our community and our industry. There are some [non-celebrity] clients who are out of work who don’t have the money to get a cut once things are back up to running, and we’ve even thought about cutting back on our costs for maybe the first month after we get everything back to normal — just something to help people.”

As barbers on LeBron James’ HBO show The Shop, Lionel “Brownie Blendz” Harris and Garcia struck up a quick friendship. Harris, who cuts several Warriors and L.A. Raiders players — he’s also Draymond Green’s personal barber — said the routine of the barbershop experience is more important than people know, particularly for black men. 

“When the governor talks about ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ people — and I know we’re not police officers and nurses and doctors on the front lines saving lives — but there is a mental health aspect to this,” explained Harris, who has a chair at the Warriors practice facility and cuts players there twice a week. “The barbershop is a release for a lot of people — something that’s been in people’s routines for a lot of years. We’ve always felt that we were an essential part of the community.

“The barbershop is like church.”

One might say that getting a fresh cut is like being touched by the hands of God. These disciples of the fade want to go back to doing the Lord’s work.

Amen to that. 

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