Mark-Jason Solofa, Men’s Grooming
A GENTLEMAN’S GROOMING & SHAVE PARLOR
2211 San Pablo Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94702
Here is the interview with Mr. Mark-Jason Solofa, a man among men. Dedication, pride and looking towards the future have placed him where he is. Family first, education and passion will take him where he happily ends up.
Voted “2014 Best Men’s Barber” in the East Bay Northern California area by the East Bay Express New Paper, his passion for honoring the trade and traditions of Barbering and Tonsorial Artistry is evident in all he does both for his customers and for the Industry at large.
-AT THE MOMENT IT LOOKS LIKE IT’S JUST YOU AND TWO OTHER GENTLEMAN BARBERS CORRECT? (MR. AL GUERRERO @papabearguerrero AND MR. NOE CASARES @noe.casares)
When I first opened for business, I worked as a one-chair shop for two years and at the time I could never have foreseen business growing the way that it has, so much so that I now have four chairs. At present there are only three of us working together in the Parlor and I am enjoying the chemistry of three Barbers right now, as it’s the best chemistry that I’ve had in the five years of being in business. While I’m always keeping an eye out for potential new talent to join us, it has to be the right person with the right core values as a Barber and as a person to ensure the chemistry and working environment stays fluid and positive for the benefit of our customers.
-HAS THE SHOP ALWAYS BEEN IN THE SAME AREA AND ARE THERE ANY IDEAS OF EXPANDING OR STAYING PUT?
Yes the Parlor has always been located in Berkeley, CA since I opened for business a little more than five years ago. My hope is to keep this location as the flagship shop, with the goal of possibly expanding by year-end to a second location else where in the Bay Area if the opportunity presents itself. I am all about organic growth, it has to make sense financially and logistically in order for me to put forth the resources to open up another location, and if it doesn't make sense, then its not worth doing because I don’t want to find myself spreading my resources too thin and sacrificing the quality of the product and service that we are known for.
-HAS THE JUMP FROM BANKER TO BARBER BEEN WORTH IT FOR THE MOST PART?
-WHAT IS ONE THING YOU LEARNED AT YOUR PREVIOUS JOB THAT HAS HELPED YOU IN YOUR CURRENT ONE?
After working seventeen years in the corporate sector, leaving Banking to be a Barber was the single best career and life changing decision I could have made. From my years in college to the many years after it, I always measured success in dollars and cents,…aspiring to make a six-figure income while sitting in a corner office, drive a nice car, and maybe one day own a nice home. But the transition to being a Barber taught me over the years that there is greater success to be found in having more time available in one’s days to spend doing what they enjoy most, to spend with the people they care about most, and ultimately as a Barber having the luxury of working for yourself. That being said, the one thing I learned from previous jobs that has served me well over the last 10 years as a Barber is that if you apply as much hard work and sacrifice as you did for your last boss or the last company you worked for (especially when trying to get that promotion or raise), then applying that same amount of work ethic and effort to your own business will ensure a greater probability of growth and success working for yourself.
-YOU DID COSMETOLOGY AND BARBER SCHOOL? YET I DON’T SEE ANY LADIES WALKING IN. WHAT ARE THE AREAS THAT YOUR COSMETOLOGY KNOWLEDGE HELPS YOU IN YOUR EVERYDAY WORK? WOULD YOU ADVISE PROSPECTIVE BARBERS TO TAKE BOTH?
Yes I have both a Cosmetology and Barber license, and I am also certified as a Barber Instructor after completing those course hours as well. But the only reason I have a cosmetology license is because in my haste to start a new career as a Barber, I didn't do the due diligence to see what the different licenses entailed, and the cosmetology school essentially told me that it was all one in the same and that they would teach me the Barbering. It wasn't until I was well into the program that I realized that I had been misinformed, but by then I felt I had invested too much time and effort to simply stop and switch so my plan was to finish the course with the hopes that it would make me a more well-rounded and skilled Barber at the end of the day. The cosmetology background certainly has helped me from a technical standpoint as it came to styling hair, using shears and razors to cut hair, and understanding much of the cause and effect of cutting different hair lengths and textures. But while this has helped me, I often don’t recommend that other Barber’s follow that same path, because the reality when it comes to cutting hair of any style, texture, or length, is that the more you do of anything, the better you get. The money would be better invested in taking continuing education classes which actually teach specific techniques for the changing men looks, instead of being spent learning how to do women’s hair specifically (unless that was something the Barber truly wanted to learn to do).
-HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET A CUSTOMER THAT POSITIVELY CHANGES YOUR POINT OF VIEW?
As corny as it may sound, the humbling truth is that every customer positively changes my point of view. The greatest joy I get from being a Barber is being able to connect with people, to the extent that I am always looking to make a personal connection from the time they sit in my chair to the time the leave it. Whether its the exchange of fatherly advice, business advice, relationship advice, spiritual advice, or merely listening to them open up about their life in general, I am always a better person after a day of serving clients that I was before because not only have I learned from them, but they have learned from me too. And it doesn't hurt that in the process of it all, I’ve made a little more money at the end of the day than when I started it, so in that regard each of these clients reminds me to stay humble and thankful for their business.
AT THE PAUL MITCHELL SCHOOL YOU GRADUATED WITH CUTTING HONORS, COLOR HONORS, AND WAS AN INAUGURAL MEMBER OF THE SCHOOL’S “PHASE 2” PROGRAM (AN HONORS’ PROGRAM FOR THE SCHOOL’S MOST OUTSTANDING STUDENTS.) THOSE TYPES OF HONORS ARE NOT GIVING TO THOSE WHO WAIT. WHAT ARE SOME MAJOR TIPS YOU WOULD GIVE TO A STUDENT. WHICH WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MOST ESSENTIAL?
I was very fortunate to be selected to the school’s Phase 2 program, as it was reserved to students who had accumulated more hours in the program and who were considered senior students. But my mindset from the beginning of my first day at school was to go after every opportunity that was presented to me and learn as much as I could and get as much experience and exposure that I could, and to earn every bit of it rather than have it simply handed to me. In a school of a few hundred students at any given time, I set out to show that while I might not know anything about cosmetology in the beginning, the one thing I did know was how to work hard, and so you could always find me doing things that other students weren’t doing like sweeping the floors of the school after hours, cleaning the shampoo area, doing the laundry and folding the towels. If I was asked to do something, I always said “yes”, even if I didn't know how to do it. I never missed a day of school in the 9 plus months that I went to school, and was never late either. I joined as many groups as I could, and always expressed an interest in projects that I thought would be cool to be part of. This was a new journey and career for me, at the age of 38, and I wanted to make sure I left nothing to chance and tried to make the most of this new beginning. It has been that same mindset and focus that I’ve had over the last 10 years in this career, and one that continues to serve me well and benefit me beyond measure still today because I am grounded enough to sweep the shop floor, do the shop towels, and clean the shop from head to toe even though I now have people working for me.
-HOW DOES FATHERHOOD PLAY OUT AS A BARBER. YOU HAVE A BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER, WIFE, AND HANDSOME YOUNG SON? ARE THERE UPS AND DOWNS IN THIS TRADE?
Thank you for the kind words about my family, I truly appreciate it. The main reason I became a Barber 10 years ago was really to be able to spend more time with my daughter, who at the time was only 5 years old. I was a divorced single Dad back then, without any family here in California to help me raise her, so I wanted a career that eventually would allow me to be more available to her in the formidable years of her life,…I wanted her to know that her Dad was always there and present in her life. Barbering definitely afforded me that luxury, and I am blessed that over the last 5 years since opening the Parlor, my work schedule hasn't changed and still revolves around my days with her. Now with a new son, the same luxury is also afforded to him. When I talk to my Barber’s, I remind them that their schedules are for them to make, but to make them around their time with their families. We can make as much or as little money we want to as Barbers, but it shouldn't come at the expense of compromising time away from our loved ones. So I feel blessed that my family keep me rooted and focused on putting them before my career, because at the end of the day money comes and goes, and you can always find ways to recover financially, but without one’s family, there is not much else in the world that can fill that void.
-WE HEARD YOU LOVE DOING FLAT TOPS?
Hahaha, yes, my old nemesis the Flat Top! In the early years of my career, that was the one haircut that I would cringe at when it reared its ugly head, and my mentor (Barber Dan Pell) was pretty critical of the less than stellar results that my Flat Tops back then would look like. But like I mentioned earlier, the more you do of anything and the better you will get, and I was determined back then to one day do a decent Flat Top. I am thankful for that tough mentoring I got early in my career because many of today’s generation of Barbers don't have the Flat Top haircut in their arsenal, let alone many of the core traditional haircuts that Barber’s were known for. I am glad to say that I have that haircut in my wheelhouse now…thank you Barber Dan! Haha!
-HOW WOULD YOU GO ABOUT A PARTON WHO IS IN YOUR CHAIR, WANTS A DIFFERENT LOOK, BUT DOESN’T KNOW WHERE TO START? WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING TO LEARN FOR YOU?
With every client consultation that I have with a new patron, I usually will ask them the same essential questions which are pertinent to those who want to try a completely new or different hair style. I ask them what their current level of commitment is to styling their hair each day, how much time and effort do they put into it, and whether they use any product or not. I ask them what they do for work, and I look at what they are wearing that day to start formulating an opinion of their sense of style. And then I ask them how willing they are to deviate from their current styling regimen if it means the new look will put them out of their comfort zone as far as management, product usage, styling time and effort, and the use of styling tools. That conversation usually determines how big of change they are really willing to commit to that day, and often times it means that we ease into the style change over a few haircuts, rather than do a drastic change right away.
The hardest thing for me to learn was understanding the harsh reality that you will never be able to make every customer happy. Clients will come and go, others will stay and support you for as long as you’re a Barber, but the fact remains that the odds are against us as Barbers to try and please everyone that sits in our chairs. I have realized that it is no longer important focusing on whether you're giving a client the best haircut that they've ever had, but rather focusing more on whether it’s the best haircut that I can give them with the best service that I can give them. As long as I know that I gave it my best overtime, then I’m always content to let the cards fall where they may.
-THE TOOLS YOU USE?
I try to be a minimalist when it comes to the tools I use, so at any point in time I only have three clippers, a pair of shears, and my razor. For the past 5 years my clipper set up has been the Andis BGRC detachable blade clipper which I use primarily for bulk removal and clipper over comb technique, I use the Oster Fastfeed adjustable clipper for fading, and the Wahl Detailer liner for trimming and detailing work. For shears I typically use a 7.5” shear for cutting, a tapering shear only as needed, and I use a Dovo Shavette Razor for any straight razor work. I do believe that as Barbers it is important to find the right combination of tools that work best for us, and often times it takes a while to figure that out, but the setup I have now allows me to work the most efficiently while producing the best results for my clientele.
-WHAT WORDS WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEAVE FOR THE BARBER COMMUNITY?
In today’s new age of Barbering, one that is highly influenced by social media, it is easy for new and aspiring Barbers to lose their way. Staying in one’s own lane can be deterred or often misguided by the lure of being something (or someone) else, solely by what we may see to be “trending” or popular with some of the industry’s more prominent figures. There is an allure about wanting to be a big fish in a small pond, to work for a reputable brand, to educate on stage at a hair show, or even to be recognized as one of the industry’s elite by a group of your peers. Face it, it’s always easier to follow someone else’s path than to forge your own. But my philosophy and preference has always been to remain a small fish in a big pond, because at least I’m still swimming in the same pond as the big fish, enjoying and appreciating the space I’ve carved out for myself in a corner of the pond that isn’t highly populated or popular. Things that aren’t trending, promoted or reposted on social media are things like offering good customer service, because it’s not sexy and it doesn’t sell a lot of tickets....BUT yet it is the foundation and heart and soul of being a Barber, where the relationship between the person in the chair and the one standing behind it defines what’s kept this trade alive for centuries. So to any Barber out there that is discouraged or lost in your journey, feeling conflicted about what they’re supposed to be, dont lose sight of what we are at the core as Barbers solely because it’s being defined differently by others that you see. My advice for the Barbering community at large is to remember that customer service comes first, everything else after that is what you’ll make if it.
“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.” - Dale Carnegie
----------------------THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME SIR, ALOHA--------------------