Beyond the Barber’s Chair: How Local Brand Groom Guy is Reimagining Community + Activism
February 1, 2022 @ 8:00am
In Black communities, barbershops are sacred.
As a Black youth, I recognized them as spaces where fathers and sons and grandmothers and granddaughters found community and where impressionable young people gained street smarts.
It’s in this spirit that Groom Guy, the modern 275-foot dual barbershop and lifestyle pop-up nestled inside of Yours Truly DC, one of the West End’s premier hotels, was born.
Groom Guy is a vehicle for honoring the past by recapturing something lost more than a century ago: Black barbers’ influence on society.
We sat down with the man and mind behind the concept, the stylish Brooklyn-born Darius “Sunny” Davie, to explore the brand’s beginnings and its greater purpose as a pillar of the community.
“In the early 1900s, Black barbers were a pinnacle part of the American economic system,” Davie explains. “They had a powerful position to play. I took that piece of history, put some sauce on it and here we are.”
Dig even deeper and you uncover the legacy of Color Line Barbers, where the seeds of barbershops as civic institutions first bloomed. These Black barbers were only permitted to cut the hair of white counterparts, earning money they then used to buy slaves’ freedom — and homes where they apprenticed other aspiring Black barbers.
In the ’50s and ’60s, at the height of the civil rights movement, barbershops were hubs for social activism and organizing where men and women came for a fresh cut, clean shave, hot towel and even to register to vote.
Groom Guy is the modern manifestation of this virtuous mission.
Creating New Levels of Access
The foundation for creating the brand four years ago — first launched as an online platform offering self-care advice to men — disrupted a stagnant industry by prioritizing fellowship (even with competing barbers) and sparking poignant questions.
“How do we create chairs in unconventional spaces to let people raise questions?” Davie asks, a question he and his business partners investigated. “How do we give people a new level of access?”
The former hotel pantry turned barbershop is replete with a carefully curated (and rotating) collection of Black art (currently exhibiting works by Philadelphia artist and D.C. resident Maurice James), Black-owned grooming essentials, independent magazines and snake plants. It showcases Davie’s keen eye for design and hints at Groom Guy’s loftier desire to elevate the profile of Black self-care brands, while being a place where skin color is never the price of admission.
More agency than shop, Groom Guy also provides wedding services, design expertise for aspiring salons and barbershops, collaboration opportunities for gyms, editorial content for lifestyle magazines, one-on-one virtual sessions for those in need of grooming trips and aspires to produce a “Queer-Eye”-esque barbershop docudrama.
Davie’s thirst for connecting with the community also spurred the decision to partner with Yours Truly DC, a disruptive player in the local hospitality industry. During your visit, you can order a curated cocktail from the gorgeous, South American-inspired Mercy Me restaurant bar only feet away to enjoy later or buy vinyl across the hall at El Donut Shoppe.
Primming People, Not Just Hair
For Davie, Groom Guy is a conduit for primming people, not just hair follicles.
“[We ask], how are we helping reshape not just men but people? You sit in the chair to have a good conversation with someone and [stimulate] reflective questions that ultimately you carry with you.”
Men of all ages are invited to reflect on the world and leave feeling good, looking good and more equipped to understand their ever-evolving place in it — much like the Groom Guy brand.
Davie describes the burgeoning concept as “a service brand that is in the lifestyle industry of both products, design and now hospitality.”
Still, beyond driving Groom Guy’s more enterprising goals, Davie is an astute businessman who never loses sight of the weight of history.
“When I start to look back at the history of Black barbers in America, I realize this is me: I’m an embodiment of what those before me have instituted and put in,” he says. “It’s my job now to cultivate pieces and elements of what some of the famous, most unheard unnamed barbers have helped build. [I want to] refine it, give it some luxury, elegance, a system and shape. It’s going back to know how to go forward.”
Putting Soul Into It
Davie is eager for the brand, his achievements and his growth within his craft to be judged equitably alongside others in the industry.
“I want to stand on my own like anybody else, not because of what you see but because of what I stand on in my work. I know who I am when I walk out of here. I’m reminded of that everywhere I go.”
Scissors, razors and the barber chair don’t discriminate. The concept’s very existence is a commentary about how we cultivate welcoming spaces that transcend race, class and identity: Powerful businessmen, college students, aspiring barbers and even a cute puppy or two have all graced the chair at Groom Guy.
As we close our conversation, I prod Davie for the songs that best embody his persona. He reels off a collection of house and soul icons: “Sure Thing,” by St. Germaine and anything by James Brown or Miles Davis. He also confesses he’s a lover and lover of ’80s pop and that in another life, he aspires to be Tubbs from “Miami Vice.”
“What you’ll learn about me personally is what I describe as hair: Hair is jazz and I’m just a musician. You gotta put your heart into it, you gotta put soul into it, you gotta feel it when you’re doing hair.”
Groom Guy (Inside Yours Truly DC): 1143 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; 202-427-2887; groomguy.com // @groomguy
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