The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put a damper on many Long Island barbershops and hair salons causing them to close for business. However, for Giovaughni Goulbourne, commonly known as, “Gio the barber,” thrived during these unpredictable times, turning the global setback into a career opportunity.
Currently working for Qs Quality Cuts/Craft Kingz Barbershop in Baldwin, Goulbourne has embarked on a career path advocating for self-expression among young men on Long Island, one haircut at a time.
What influence in your life inspired you to become a barber?
It all started back in high school. “Back in the day, 360 hair waves were a big thing. Once I got my waves and I was like, “Oh snap, I’m nice!” Then senior pictures started to come, and I had to cut my hair. I had this one piece of hair that was standing up, and I decided to cut it myself. But, I ended up creating a patch on the outside of my head just for senior pictures. And from there, I was like, “I can’t do my hair again.” But, once I graduated from high school going to college, I had to figure out how to cut my hair. It’s not like I didn’t have the money, it was something that I just needed to do for myself.
On your Instagram page, you post various pictures and videos of your work with clients, paired with a tagline, “More than just a cut,” what is the meaning behind this catchphrase?
People say in the barber industry, it is a 30 percent cut, 70 percent customer service. Although you are cutting someone’s hair, you’re here to create an experience for the customer or client, and you’re here to let them have a break for a day.
As you stated, a barber is 30 percent cut, 70 percent customer service. Does the 70 percent customer service involve counseling clients that come to your chair?
There are things we talk about in the barbershop that people don’t talk about outside the barbershop. So, it’s an amazing feeling when people can kind of get something off their chest they’ve been holding onto for a little while. And you could say it’s like free therapy at a barbershop. It’s a two-for-one special.
As a barber, in some cases, you are a confidant to your clients. How do you get your clients to open up to you?
Honestly, it’s crazy to say this, but every client I have or every client that comes in, sits in my chair, we have something in common. I don’t know what it is. I just talk to them. Then we figure it out. We talk about everything, from school, talking about cars, barbering, their careers, and about my beliefs, just in terms of where we want to go in life. It’s just crazy to say that I always have something in common with all my clients. There’s always something to talk about.
What would you say is your biggest strength when communicating with people coming to your chair?
I listen, like really listened to my clients. I have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Just hearing other people’s stories and listening matters to anyone coming to my chair.
The topic of mental health has remained a societal issue that has garnered numerous studies. How do you tackle such conversations and topics about mental health with your clients?
What I recommend to all my clients is just really taking a break and making a mental assessment for their health. I always recommend meditation to them. I think meditation is probably the best approach because you have all the distractions, which cause worry.
Scrolling through your social media, one would say you attract a large crowd of young men to sit in your seat. How do you encourage the youth that come to your barber seat?
They encouraged me a lot. It’s like having a “little brother.” You don’t want to see your little brother struggle. So, you try to give them tips and life advice here and there. But I also want to be better. Show them that it is possible to be better and do better. and to have the strength and consistency to keep pushing for their dreams.
What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I get people from all walks of life coming in and sitting in my chair. I love hearing stories, people telling me stories, me telling them my story, you know, just learning about people. It’s an amazing feeling. One question I do get a lot is, “How long have I been cutting hair?” They get a little antsy because I tell them that I have only been working at this barbershop for about seven or eight months. So, in a sense to have them trust me, is rewarding.
What advice would you give to the youth on Long Island, seeking to venture into the hair industry?
Probably going to be two things, “Be yourself and start.” You have to be yourself so that people can gravitate towards you and help you because they know your energy. They know how you act. They can trust you. Now you need to start. For me, it was hard to start in this job. I never thought of myself working in a barbershop at all. For me, I was just cutting my hair. Just figuring it out. “How to do the hair fades,” or “How to do the lineups,” and stuff like that. I was able to have the opportunity to work in a barbershop because of the pandemic. I was laid off from my job. And then I got the opportunity to work in a barbershop. And I started and I really blossomed.
What can we expect from Gio in the next five years, whether it’s being a barber or pursuing another career?
I see myself being a barber. I’m owning a shop. I feel like I connect a little bit with the youth, and eventually when they get older, they will recognize me as the one who cut their hair. I’m going to be more involved in the community and the high school.