By Srijan Sen
Gaulin Smith has been a barber for 25 years and believes his purpose, as a barber, extends beyond making people look good.
Smith is the owner of Gee’s Clippers and Beauty Salon in Milwaukee.
The overwhelming success of the original salon, located on 4327 Fond Du Lac Ave., prompted the opening of a second location on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and North Ave., but Smith attributes his success as a local businessman to something more than his proficiency in hair styling.
“Gee’s Clippers is not a typical barbershop,” said Smith. “I like to be impactful in the community, whichever community my shop is in.”
The impact of Gee’s Clippers has drawn high profile athletes from the Milwaukee Brewers and the Milwaukee Bucks to become clients of Smith.
Gee’s Clippers boasts regular patrons such as C.C. Sebathia, Prince Fielder, Ricky Weeks, Brandon Knight and Kendal Marshal.
Smith claims that he has cut hair for Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen and Darren Sharper among other major league players who choose Gee’s Clippers when they are in the city Milwaukee.
Smith graduated from IBA College of Cosmetology in 1992, and, after gaining experience in the trade, started Gee’s Clippers in 1995. Being the sixth among seven siblings gave the young boy, Smith, ample time to practice the trade. By the time he was 15-years-old, each haircut would yield $5.
“It was my little hustle,” said Smith.
Apart from cutting hair, Smith takes a deep interest in shaping himself as a role model to the youth of the community.
A breakdown of the large family system in the late 20th century caused many nuclear families in the United States to become fractured households missing one or both parents, especially among lower income families.
“When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, most households had both parents active in the lives of their kids,” said Smith.
“Now we are in 2014, where most households in our community are single parent homes; 9 out of 10 times, run by a single mother trying to raise her little boy or girl.”
The lack of a strong social net upset Smith, who took it upon himself to mentor young adults in the community with a firm belief his business has a larger role to play.
During Christmas and Thanksgiving, Gee’s Clippers conducts toy drives and turkey dinners for less fortunate members of the community.
“I have no problem being looked on as a role model,” said Smith with a radiant smile.
And indeed, Smith sees serves himself to be as an ideal role model for young African-American men and women.
As business flourished, he decided to work on building a community with access to education, social skills and sociopolitical awareness – a community of people with a drive to achieve mental and physiological well being, irrespective of class and gender.
The idea is to get the next generation involved in making rational, independent decisions in order to have a positive impact on their surroundings.
Seven months ago, Smith started a Boy Scout troop from Gee’s Clippers, and within a short period of time he managed to enroll 18 young boys from the community to be part of the troop. The motivation ensued when he realized only four boys enrolled in the troop had a father in their lives.
The salon initiated ‘free haircuts for students’ in an effort to emphasize the importance of formal education among youth in high schools.
Any student with straight A’s on their report card is eligible for a free haircut or styling. Smith takes time out to speak at career planning events organized by MPS hoping to fill part of the parental gap predominant among urban youth.
“We have done numerous free-haircut-days for back-to-school,” said Smith. “I encourage education and never turned anyone down who might be in need of assistance.”
In 19 years of its existence, Gee’s Clippers has hosted politicians, media personalities and athletes among the common folk of the surrounding areas.
Smith added another chapter to the history of the salon by making it a voter registration center. For a couple of elections, buses shuttled voters from the salon to the nearest polling location.
Health and wellness is a big part of the lifestyle followed by Smith and his family.
An active member of the gym and a vegetarian by choice, he aims to integrate an understanding about nutritional eating habits in the urban African-American community by raising awareness. An annual 5K run or walk hosted at Estabrook Park was the outcome of that concern.
Smith organizes the event in memory of his parents who passed away in their early 60’s due to preventable diseases.
“Hypertension is the number one cause of deaths in the African- American community,” said Smith.
“We have to do better than that.”
For the time he has been in business, Smith recalled 14 of his former employees who went on to establish their own salon.
Although several businesses have stemmed from Gee’s Clippers, competition has never bothered Smith.
“People who are jealous of competition stemming from their business must be insecure of their own actions,” said Smith. “If you’re doing the best you could possibly do, who cares?”
Victor Zorate started off as an apprentice at Gee’s Salon a decade ago. Under the mentorship of Gaulin Smith, Zorate went on to earn his degree in cosmetology from MATC and became a licensed instructor for the industry. He now teaches regular courses at the same school, and works at Gee’s Clippers simultaneously.
Many such stories of success are scattered throughout the history of Gee’s Clippers.
The future of the salon holds an original brand of hair maintenance products.
Smith is also investing in a sports bar called Our Sports Bar – due to open in October.
The bar will be adjacent to the location on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.
In the distant future, Smith plans to organize an academic institution committed to teaching the art of hair styling.
In the distant future, an academic institution committed to teaching the art of hair styling is also on the cards.
“In this world, everybody just wants to live in their personal space, but that ain’t me,” said Smith. “I want to make it cool to be a barber.”