ClipDart barber company tailors diversity to dark hair experiences

Mesa Barber School students Manny Mares, left, and Zachary Embrey cut the hair of two young boys during ClipDart’s Day of Duty. ClipDart, a new company that combines a good haircut or style with mental health, hosted a free event for customers in downtown Phoenix on February 16. (Photo by Marlee Smith / Cronkite News)

Lawnmowers and shears sit on the table during ClipDart’s Day of Duty on February 16 in downtown Phoenix. Event organizers say these tools boost self-esteem while ensuring a clean cut. (Photo by Marlee Smith / Cronkite News)

Blanca Ramirez cuts a young girl’s hair during ClipDart’s Day of Duty on February 16 in downtown Phoenix. (Photo by Marlee Smith / Cronkite News)

Mesa Barber School student Zachary Embrey cuts a young boy’s hair on ClipDart’s Day of Duty this spring. (Photo by Marlee Smith / Cronkite News)

Kyle Parker recalls two separate experiences that led him to launch ClipDart, a network of hairdressers where hair – especially textured hair – community and mental well-being intersect.

The first came during his years to visit the barbershops of South Chicago, where he grew up. For 18 years he took haircuts for granted.

“Growing up in South Chicago as an African American, we really go to our barber every two and a half weeks, so you really develop a relationship with that barber,” Parker said. Barbers “become a mentor, they become a therapist in a way, and they really become pillars of your community – especially in the city where I lived, there is a real haven of peace.”

The second experience came years later, as a student-athlete at Grinnell College in central Iowa from 2013 to 2016. Same need for a cut, but a different place and a new difficulty. There was no barber in town who could cut a black man’s hair well.

“It was then that I really realized how (important) barbers and hairdressers are for mental health -” You look good, you feel good, “Parker said. . “I had the impression that for three years, I had never really been at my best…. It really cost me a lot, knowing that my white counterparts at school could just walk across the street and get a haircut that they felt comfortable with or that they felt at home with.

The problem is common, as expressed in a 2018 Reddit thread in which a poster laments the difficulties in their pursuit of quality service, and a master barber advises on how to avoid common mistakes.

Parker’s journey to entrepreneurship has taken him from Chicago to Iowa to Arizona, a website-to-app-based business, ClipDart, which he plans to launch by the end of this year. autumn. As with any business, ClipDart faces competition and odds – less than 2 in 10 U.S. businesses were minority-owned in 2018, according to census data.

Hairstylist Emmanuel Morales disinfects scissors between haircuts during ClipDart’s Day of Duty, a free haircut and style event on February 16 in downtown Phoenix. (Photo by Marlee Smith / Cronkite News)

Cut the way to the property

The founding of Parker’s business took root in Grinnell, home to about 9,000 people, 3.7 percent of whom were black, according to the census.

“The three ways I was going to get my hair cut,” he recalls, “either I went to the Caucasian lady in town who was doing her best, but every time I went to the hairdresser I could tell she didn’t want me there, didn’t know what to do.

The second way was to have a basketball teammate make the cut, the third was to travel 90 miles west to Des Moines, the nearest large city.

After interviewing black and Latino freshman students who confirmed a need for barbers and hairdressers, Parker had an idea: he brought his barber from Des Moines on weekends to cut students’ hair at college.

“He ended up making between $ 2,000 and $ 3,000 in two months,” Parker said.

ClipDart is based on this earlier model – a network of barbers and hairdressers who can come to the client. This approach is particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“In a time like this, with the coronavirus outbreak, now is a good time for barbers to keep doing what they love – outside of the store, if their store is closed or something thing besides the coronavirus is coming to the store, ”Parker said. “It’s a great way for them to keep doing what they love and not take on other occupations that don’t really interest them.

ClipDart is approaching hairstyles and haircuts as a window to mental health and is partnering with colleges and other organizations to offer free or reduced rate cuts.

One Saturday this spring in downtown Phoenix, half a dozen people had their hair cut for free outside Nourish Phoenix, which provides emergency food and essential services to those in need. need.

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“We care enough about providing the same quality and service whether we get paid or not, because at the end of the day without a village you can’t have community and without community you can’t be successful.” , said Andrés Perez. , a hairdresser and co-founder of ClipDart, as he watched the scene.

Alma Leal, a retired social worker, said it was wonderful to get a haircut after being locked up during the pandemic.

“I feel blessed,” she said.

Perez said helping others feel good is at the center of his business.

“We care about our community, whether we give free hairstyles or give hairstyles that (others) pay for,” he said, adding that customers can come from anywhere. any demographic group.

“Like any business, everyone is welcome, but we have a target minority simply because of the number of hairs that are part of our culture,” said Perez.

The ClipDart team is focused on the Phoenix and Tucson area, although they want to offer the service across the country through the app.

“If another market thrives with ClipDart other than Arizona, our team is flexible where we focus our attention,” Parker said.

The company is implementing feedback from a pre-launch of the app and expects it to be available in the coming months.

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