Popularly known as The Hairbender, celebrity barber and owner of Team Hairbenders, a New Orleans unisex salon, Darrl (Dee) Robert Jr. is making a powerful impact on his community and his profession.
Working with celebrities like Russell Wilson, Keyshia Cole and Bryshere Grey, to name a few, Darrl is known for cutting with precision, giving clients a distinct style and look unlike any other. Since launching his brand in 2011, his career as a barber has skyrocketed in ways he never imagined. Although grateful for his success, Darrl’s journey has not been an easy one.
Growing up in a two-parent home, his dream was to become a veterinarian, however, it quickly dwindled as he became mesmerized by the fast money that drug dealing could bring. His actions landed him in prison, where he learned a new hustle- cutting hair. Due to the time constraints of the inmates, he was forced to speed cut–a lesson that has paid off handsomely as a celebrity barber. Once he was released, he began to cut hair as a way to consistently provide for himself and his family.
Now, he maintains his connection with the community by offering free services to the needy and giving motivational speeches that inspire the next generation.
In an exclusive interview with Right On! Digital’s CEO Cynthia Horner we learned how he became a cut above the rest of so many barbers in this competitive industry!
Q: How do you decide what look works best for the clients? Is it a collaborative effort?
A: It’s definitely a collaborative effort. My client’s input is extremely important. During consultation, I listen very carefully to what they like and dislike. From there I make suggestions and inform them of what hair styles and colors that will fit them and or give them that extra pop. After we reach an agreement I begin working my magic.
Q: What have been some of your favorite looks and which have been the most talked about?
A: Pyro-Unleash Your Inner Fire and Issa Wave -Ocean Forces are my two favorite looks. Both went viral on social media and Issa Wave made the Mary J. Blige issue of Essence. Issa Wave was a co-creation. Proud moment!
Q: How difficult was it breaking into working with celebrities?
A: I wouldn’t say difficult but more so cause and effect plus timing. I have a motto, “chase your craft and your craft will begin to chase you.” In other words; perfect it to the point that it attracts anyone it comes in contact with. My first celebrity client came on the heels of a friend of mine who wasn’t a celebrity. They were in the gym and he asked who cut his hair. The next week I was in his living room fading him up.
Q: What are the necessary skills to be a good barber and do you ever take refresher courses or attend conferences?
A: Basically you need to learn how to fade, blend, edge. It’s easier said than done, but that’s your foundation. Get those right and you can begin to build your skillset up. Communication is another big key necessary to being a good barber. If you miss this one it’s going to be very hard trying to elevate in the hair and beauty industry. I strongly believe in continuing education. It keeps you relevant and in demand because you’re no longer a one trick pony. I’m a regular at hair shows searching for new products and tools. I take a lot of private classes. I’ve spent a couple thousand on learning new techniques with no regrets. Every penny has been worth it.
Q: What are some of the lessons that you learned while you were incarcerated? We understand that you perfected your craft while you were incarcerated but in addition to learning to cut hair, did you have to learn to be patient and attentive with clients?
A: The biggest life lesson I learned in jail is patience. I never fully understood the definition of this word until I had to totally embody it. It changed my whole being because I was coming out of a culture that moved really fast. Sitting still for 2 1/2 years, unable to be or do what you want is a powerful teacher. It taught me that sometimes you have to let things come to you. Listening to a client is extremely important because if you miss something, that could be the cause of you never seeing that client again. I had to learn in my career it’s about what the client likes, not the stylist or barber. We may suggest certain things, but ultimately, it’s all about the client’s preference. And patience is just as important. Babies, for example…you may have a one-year-old coming in for his first haircut. And more than likely, he’s going to cry and kick the entire session. So, a 20-minute appointment can easily turn into 45-60 minutes. These little gents require not only your patience but your anticipation. I learned that with experience. The toddler could sit still through the haircut and decide to jump when the edging begins. And if you are not careful, you can take his lining or eyebrows off. So, patience and being attentive are definitely lessons that I mastered in prison which now help me to be the barber that I am today.
Q: Did you ever think that you would be known as a celebrity barber when you first started cutting hair?
A: In the beginning…not at all! Wasn’t a thought. Didn’t even think it was possible. I was just trying to stay afloat. It emerged out of my circumstances- I simply wanted a better way to provide for myself and my family.
Q: Do you cut your own hair and take care of your own grooming or do you have another barber handle those duties for you?
A: To be honest; I’m not into cutting my hair like that. I just keep it trimmed really low. I do that myself. But if I’m going somewhere special I’ll get a real haircut by my barber mentor Cedric Kent. He gave me the sickest fade for my wedding!
Q: If you are allowed to express your creativity on a celebrity’s head, where do you get your inspiration?
A: I have a catalog in my phone that has different looks, styles, and color that I pull inspiration from. I follow a lot of hair repost pages; so I’m always snapshotting creative looks. This is where I would pull from if one of my celebrity clients say, “Do you, Dee. I’m trusting you today!”
Q: What life lessons would you like to offer to our Right On! Digital readers
A: Don’t waste your talent. Use it to make a difference in your life and in this world. It’s that POWERFUL!!!
For more information on Dee, visit www.teamhairbenders.com or @thehairbender.