Southern Comfort is an unassuming place. It’s in a nondescript shopping center on a nondescript intersection with a nondescript convenience store as its anchor. It’s the very definition of “hole in the wall”; a place all but hidden in plain sight. If it weren’t for the wonderful magic of Google Maps, I would probably have missed my appointment with June.
June da Barber is my reason for visiting Southern Comfort, a barber shop located off of Fuqua in the Southside of Houston. I approach the front, exchanging a quick handshake with owner Berto. It’s after closing time at the shop, but as I open the door I’m blasted with the heavy bass of hip hop. Inside, behind the wall of sound, sit clients who’ve become part of an exclusive VIP club of sorts. Loyal to their barber shop, loyal to their barber, they’re willing to pay top dollar for an after hours cut. And they, like myself, are all here to see June.
“I come down twice a week” one client tells me. “I come down from Dickinson, like 25 minutes away. There’s a lot of barbers around, but I come here for a reason.” The sentiment is echoed by the other guys in the shop. Some make this a weekly errand, one comes only once a year, but they always go to the same guy. And they’re in good company. June has begun his conquest of the hip hop world, but he isn’t doing it with a record label. He’s collaborated with stars like Trey Songz and Chamillionaire, but his studio is a chair and a mirror. He works not with a mic, but with a set of clippers.
And he’s damn good with them.
It’s one thing to be on tour or in a music video, but June has plans to shine some of that spotlight on the barbers themselves. “I want to take barbers to another level, elevate the game” he says with determination. “I want to put barbers on the map.”
His ambition comes from experience, hard work, and excess talent. He began cutting hair in high school, in his school’s gym, and word of his art quickly spread. An entrepreneur at the age of 14, he grew his clientele with students from Milby High School to Yates High School, and everywhere in between. Never one to rest on his laurels, June took up cutting all over the city, posting wherever the scene allowed. It was his stop at Southern Comfort, though, that ultimately established a base with which he could build his empire.
“Coming up is all about the grind. I had to hustle to get where I am.” No stranger to putting in incredibly long hours and going where the work is, June is ensuring that his success has nothing to do with luck. Beyond artistic vision and talent, he’s begun to develop all new ways to make sure people know his name. With an upcoming clothing line and involvement with the Houston hip hop community, June’s star has begun to expand shine.
“I came from the ‘hood. People were judging, people would question me why I wanted to be a barber. Now I’m more successful, pulling in clients from everywhere. I balance where I came from to where I’m going, where I want to be.”
Based on my time with June da Barber, I’d guess that where he wants to be is everywhere. And he can do it.
“It’s more than just cutting hair. When I was coming up, I would go to the scenes, go to where things were happening. People would be wondering ‘who is this Mexican kid?’ Now, they know June.” ~June da Barber
MHL: There’s a difference between going and getting your haircut and going to see your barber. Why is the barber such a big draw to so many people?
When you go to Southern Comfort you don’t just get the hair cut, you get the whole modern barber shop experience; the conversations, simple life lessons, the music, the “dvd man and a good vibe,” and the one on one attention from the barber. We keep it as a hundred as we can, keeping it real. You get that Southern flavor.
MHL: Barbers are known as craftsmen, and for a tradition of taking someone under their wing and teaching them how it’s done. Who do you consider your most influential teachers?
I got introduced to the barber game when I was 14 by a close friend of my brother, Jay “Jay Clipper”. In 2008, I was introduced to a group of guys who I consider my second family. I was taken under the wing of all the veteran OGs of Southern Comfort. I was exposed to the game by some of the realest barbers out of the southside of Houston. One person in particular, Berto Banda, showed me the ropes and how grinding in this career could take me to more places, and [helped] perfect my barber game. Most importantly, [he taught me] to never forget where I came from. Shout out to Southern Comfort barber shop: Berto, Hugo, T.J., and Trae.
This is all I know; I took the hustle and ran with it knowing that I had love for it.
MHL: What is your life like outside the barber shop? When you meet people from all across the country, where do you take them?
You can catch me trying to hunt down the rarest sneakers and caps, hanging with my big ass family. I don’t do the club/bar scene or drink, so the night life doesn’t really exist for me as it would any other 23 year old. You can catch me catching up with my Pops on the latest stories and goals we have, or hanging out with my inner circle which includes my older brother, Gabriel “Punna,” who is a role-model to me in all kinds of ways.
This is what I tell [visitors] from the get go; don’t mess with Texas. Then I take them to the hole in the wall restaurants and grub. I take them to the barber shop and to Break Free, a dance center where they host battles and jams with some of the youngest, hungriest b-boys and b-girls in Houston.
MHL: Houston is well known for its hip hop community. How does this influence your work? How do you plan on using that to develop your brand?
The hip-hop scene has a big influence on the barber scene and vice-versa. This is why; barbers cut rappers, rappers set trends, the public eye sees these trends, and come into the shop asking for them. For example, the legendary Schooly D and Doug E Fresh developed some of the early hi-top fades. In the late 80s, everyone was caught sporting a hi-top fade. Now, when we turn to BET or MTV, we see artists with designs in their hair, like Roscoe Dash in his video “All The Way Turnt Up.” This is why it’s important to stay on top of the game 100 percent.
Barbers in Houston get overlooked. I feel as if we are a lost element in a lot of scenes. It’s up to a youngster like me and my fellow partners to put us barbers on map as other cities [have]. We need to host more events, bring other hair designers here to Houston, and share the skills. I plan on organizing my own barber team, and in the future host my own events like battle designs, or specific haircuts. I’m in the process of launching my own barber clothing line as well as starting my own blog, giving a one on one experience on how to cut in a Southern Comfort style. I have a lot of plans in mind for this year and just have to wait and see where I go with them.
MHL: You have cut hair for some of the hip hop world’s biggest stars. How do you go from humble beginnings to getting your way into some of the world’s most private circles?
I never changed. The only thing that’s changed is the face on the dollar bills due to the private circles I’ve been invited into. EZ–Access introduced me to local artist Trae THA-Truth, and ever since then so many other doors have been opening, such as Chamillionaire and Trey Songz. Just being myself, treating everyone equal, makes it easy to maintain a relationship with the public and the private circle. I owe my credit to my regular clientele, the private circle of celebrities that I’ve come into contact with have just been an extra blessing. I keep in mind always to remember where I come from.
MHL: You said before that this field isn’t for everybody. What advice do you have for those just coming up?
Of course you have to have love for the art. Long hours and standing on your feet determines your hustle and your grind. People want to get into hair now a days because they want to make quick money, but you got to like cutting hair in order to get [to] your full potential. Some people see it as quick vocational trait they can pull, but it takes skills and practice to keep your wrist game up. Get up and get it by any means necessary. If anybody tells me in 2012 that they are broke, get out my face with that nonsense. My grandpas always used to say “El que quiere, puede” which means “He who wants, can.” There are too many ways to make money out here legally. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something because at the end of the day it all comes down to you. So figure it out, “lace up,” in the words of Machine Gun Kelly, and get to it. I found my passion and ran with it.