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Elle Interviews Justin King at Rooks Traditional Barbershop (HouseInk)



Owner, and Master Barber Justin King stands tall, his slender, heavily tattooed frame a quietly confident presence in the shop. The forty-year-old former combat veteran knows the history, politics and ethics of barbering, and King speaks succinctly, taking time to illuminate anyone on the nuances of the trade.

Rooks Traditional Barbershop stands in two locations in Portland; the NE location smiles at your from the corner of 29th and Broadway, it’s likeness of actor Christopher "Walkens Welcome" sign delights many a passer-by.

Owner, and Master Barber Justin King stands tall, his slender, heavily tattooed frame a quietly confident presence in the shop. The forty-year-old former combat veteran knows the history, politics and ethics of barbering, and King speaks succinctly, taking time to illuminate anyone on the nuances of the trade.

When asked about the differences between hair salons and barber shops, King explains, "Before the 1950’s, it was only barbers who did people’s hair. Prohibition-era Barbershops are trendy right now. Stylists specialize more in chemical services, manipulating the hair, like with hot irons, but barbers use the natural flow of the hair to achieve whatever result is desired. It’s a different approach, different training and skill set." And he feels strongly about the ethics involved in barbering, adding, "That seems to be the trend in shops lately, as if you stick a moose on the wall and wear some suspenders, you’re a Barber shop." Shaking his head slightly, he adds, ""I don’t feel like you should need a gimmick to sell your stuff."

Justin King

In 2009, King opened in a small building on Broadway, with only one chair, in the hopes that he’d be busy enough. "Within that year, I was turning people away, so I added a chair, and then I opened this space with three chairs. In 2012 I opened the Division shop. "

King was just eighteen when he enlisted in the Army, and saw combat in Operation Desert Storm. "I cut hair in my barracks room, anybody who didn’t want a high-and-tight, I cut their hair. When I went to college, I studied philosophy. Laughing, he admits, "I wasn’t going do much with that, except be a barber, and talk to people."

Being well versed in history, it seems ironic that the former army medic now cuts hair. Outside of both Rooks, a striped barber pole stands auspiciously; anyone familiar with history of barbering knows that for centuries barbers did double duty as surgeons and dentists, often performing amputations. Modern, red striped poles are homage to the bloodied bandages formerly hung out to dry. But King keeps his aesthetic minimalist and classic. ""What sets us apart is quality. I put my hires through a rigorous process." What makes him so qualified? King trained in New York under classic barbers, "I was trained by elderly Italian men, I received traditional training, which doesn’t exist in Oregon. Only three states currently offer it, New York, Florida and Oklahoma." King also travels the country guest-teaching classic barbering techniques at beauty schools.

Besides knowing the history of the trade, King looks to shaping the future of his industry. "Traditionally, barbers focused more on men’s hair. There’s quite a bit of discrimination in the barber industry, there’s discrimination against women everywhere, and that translates to any industry." And King has a no-nonsense approach toward bigots and sexists. "I’ve booted people from my chair for making racist, sexist comments. I don’t tolerate any hate speech from my employees or my customers. I’ve kicked people out, mid haircut."

Rooks exhibits the honest, tough-yet ethical stance of its owner, and King stands confidently as an ethical entrepreneur. "I started from the ground up, and I built a clientele. "Nobody is coming to me for my shining personality", he says, smiling, dryly. "They come back to me because I know how to cut their hair."

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