It has been almost an impossible task for businesses like barbershops, salons and more to thrive during these past couple of months. All of them have closed down due to COVID-19 as this particular industry is among some of the ones that have been hit the hardest since the pandemic took over our world earlier this year.
Yet, for the team behind Barba Men’s Grooming Boutique in NYC, it has been a lesson in getting creative when the times get tough. Xavier Cruz and JP Gomez run this popular hotspot in the heart of Chelsea where their celebrity clientele alone includes Tony winners, television stars, and so many more.
They flipped the script on Coronavirus by taking things virtual so that tons of people, not just ones living in The Big Apple, can keep themselves looking sexy as hell during their time in self-isolation.
There’s so much more to what these men do that is inspiring. In our exclusive interview below they talk about how they met, how the brand came to be, the myriad of amazing charities they work with, how they’ve gone above and beyond in a COVID-19 world and what’s next for them.
How did Barba Men’s Grooming Boutique come to be?
“Barba Men’s Grooming Boutique was born from the need to offer something unique. When it comes to men’s hair and other male-oriented services, there are not many choices. There’s the classic barbershop with limited quick-in-and out services or the high-end salons that require memberships with cigar smokers and whiskey drinkers. Then there are the unisex salons that focus on mainly women. Very few fit into those categories. So Barba was born.”
“Barba was created for the modern man, from haircuts, shaves & beard grooming to SMP (scalp micro pigmentation) beard and hair color. Yes. You can go from brunette to blonde or any other color in between. We also offer microblading for brows and our newly offered Butt facials.”
“Clients are greeted with beach house music, a drink, and of course, exceptional service. Our style is contemporary and lounge-esque. We’ve designed a place where guys want to stay and hang out even after their service has ended.”
Who plays what role in the business?
Xavier Cruz – Master Stylist. JP Gomez – Creative Director.
“We met when I came as a client and got a haircut just over 6 years ago,” JP reveals. “I was like, ‘damn he is HOT’. While getting a cut from another stylist, Xavier and I kept locking eyes through the mirror. Months would pass before he and I had an actual conversation.”
“Fast forward to 5 years later, we were married and became partners in business,” Xavier says. “We have an adorable puppy named Basil, a wire-haired dachshund. He’s now Barba’s mascot. He’s gotta earn his stay somehow! We love working together. We make a great team. We both share the same passion for the business.”
What have you both been able to accomplish with Barba as it continued to grow?
“I’ve been able to bring a unique angle to the table and use Barba as a symbol for change,” JP, who has a big background in advertising, says. “Our first campaign was for Testicular Cancer awareness for the month of November (Movember) titled “Pay with your Balls”. We educated men of all ages of the importance of self-screenings with the help of a physician.
“Then we came up with “Strands for Trans”, the first global registry of Trans-friendly salons and barbershops with more than 1,200 sign-ups,” he continued. “Now, if you’re trans, you can find a place to get a haircut without fear. Last pride we created “What About Us” to support the LGBTQ homeless youth of NYC. We donated 25% of every haircut to the non-profit New Alternatives. We offer a free makeover to all their clients who are going on a job interview.”
“It’s great to see all our clients come together for such important causes,” Xavier exclaims. “There’s a sense of community and belonging. We’re in the business of making people feel beautiful/handsome and everyone deserves that simple right. We hope to continue our campaigns.”
Did you have to deal with any negativity about opening your business given that it is gay-owned?
“Barba Men’s Grooming Boutique has an incredibly diverse clientele,” JP says. “From the Wall Street guys to go go dancers and bartenders, from firefighters to doctors and actors. We have straight, gay, trans, and all in between. Everyone is welcome here without judgment. Our clients love us and accept us for who we are. We’re located in the heart of Chelsea which helps attract those who are open-minded individuals.”
Xavier added an interesting fact. “Straight men also love the attention from the gay boys. If a gay man thinks you look good then, trust that you do. They like hearing they look handsome.”
Have you guys had any major celebrities stop by your doors? If so, what were they like and how did it happen?
“Last year, Neil Patrick Harris showed up to book an appointment. He said he was in the area and decided he needed a cut and read all the great Yelp reviews. He’s been a client ever since. The category is FIERCE with our dear friends Billy Porter and his husband Adam-Porter Smith who comes in for a fresh cut every time they’re in town.”
“Marc Jacobs came for color that was inspired by the trans flag in support of our campaign, Strands For Trans. Zeke Thomas (MTV host), Mathew Morrison (Glee) William Ivy-Long (Broadway costume designer) and many character actors have at one time or another used our services.”
What has COVID-19 done to your boutique? Is the damage from it being closed so long permanently?
“It’s been 3 months since our doors closed but that doesn’t mean our mission to make guys feel handsome should stop. We launched Quarancuts Virtual Hair School. A complimentary one-on-one video session with Xavier Cruz, master stylist, and headmaster of Quarancuts. He walked individuals and their quarantine partners through whatever trim, cut, or buzz they so desperately needed. The first graduate was Billy Porter himself! Tony & Emmy award winner and now barber.”
“We hosted over 175 haircuts through Zoom and Instagram Live. The campaign garnered national attention and was the highlight segment on Live with Kelly & Ryan. Kelly Ripa would attempt to cut her son’s hair while Ryan put clippers to his own head. Quarancuts continued its virtual tour and landed spots on Good Morning America, Access Hollywood, Good Day LA, and was featured in People Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Page Six, Daily News, and more.”
“As phase 2 starts to open next week, we’ve been prepping the salon to follow all the guidelines. We’ve installed dividers between each station, we are going through disinfectant procedures, and we’re sprucing up the place with fresh paint and some other touches. We want our staff and our clients to feel safe. We’ll be following all the CDC & Barbacide recommendations. If you’re a stylist or barber looking for a new home for your clients, we are hiring (DM us on Instagram @barbamgb).”
What are you most hopeful about as you and similar establishments start to reopen?
“Our main concern is the safety of our staff and New Yorkers in general. Our hope is that the curve continues to flatten and we reach zero deaths from COVID going forward. As we enter phase 2, the hope is that there are no spikes and we may go on and rebuild our business.”