Exclusive | Business
Celebrity barber Calvin McFlair is making history as the first Black, openly gay barber to own and operate a mobile barbershop bus in Atlanta. Since the age of 11, his passion for cutting hair has opened many doors for him. But, his creative way of thinking hasn’t always been easy to express.
From landing a job at Vanity Studios on Cleveland Ave to later opening his barbershop shop bus McFlair Quts and cutting hair for rapper Lil Nas X, Ryan Jamaal Swain, and Bobby Lytes, Calvin exclusively shares with Gaye Magazine's LaTesa Lins how growing up in a straight barbershop gave him the courage to manifest his own safe space for himself and others!
LaTesa Lins: Hey Calvin, I’m so excited to speak to you! Happy Belated birthday as well. Calvin McFlair: Hey LaTesa! Yes, I had fun, thank you for having me today.
LaTesa Lins: Now, as the first black gay barber in Atlanta with a mobile bus business, where did this passion for cutting hair start?
McFlair: I was kind of brought up in the industry. My great Auntie, she’s a cosmetologist, and my grandmother, we all used to just stay in the salon. I was on the barber side and they were gossiping on the cosmetology side. We were all just a family getting out. I really didn’t think I was going to be a barber at all.
LaTesa Lins: Really? What do you think your career path would’ve been today if you weren't a barber?
McFlair: Yes, I think it would’ve been between one or two things, a rapper or a choreographer. I’m actually an assistant right now to my best friend who’s a professional hip-hop dancer.
Latesa Lins: I guess that would explain your creative side because your business operates on a mobile bus. Where did that unique idea come from?
McFlair: When I was younger, I used to love buses. I would wake up in the morning just to see my cousins go off to school on the bus and I called it “the cheese”. My dad was also a truck driver at one point and so I was just infatuated with big trucks. In elementary my dad bought me a toy 18-wheeler and I loved it! When I went to Barber school my teacher gave a project to map out what we would want our barbershop to look like. In my head, I’m like 'I wonder if I could put my shop on a truck or a bus', that was always my goal. My end game was to get a bus by 40 but I kept working towards it and now I have it already.
LaTesa Lins: Yes, you’ve definitely manifested that bus from day one. What has been your biggest challenge with it?
McFlair: One challenge I would say is maintenance on the bus. It kind of threw me for a loop because it’s so expensive. An oil change is around $500 because it’s a big bus. I could go to a local place on the corner you know, but I want my maintenance done right so I chose to take my bus to the dealership so that things are done properly & I won’t have any problems in the future.
LaTesa Lins: Well now that you have your own “cheese”, I think the best part is the name Mcflair Quts.
McFlair: Thanks. McFlair actually came from a girl I knew in high school. She didn’t know how to pronounce my real last name, but I like Mcflair. When I first started out, the brand name was “Crucial Cuts". I’m always reinventing myself, so it was just a time for a change and I felt like I graduated from that name. I thought 'what other name could I name myself?' and “McFlair Quts” came to my head. Then I decided to use a Q instead of a C, for the word “cuts” because barbers always have cuts in their names and everything I do is of quality and these are quality cuts. The Q also looked like the scissor symbol so I felt it was Genius!
LaTesa Lins: Speaking of quality, you’ve had years of practice since the age of 13, do you remember your first client?
McFlair: Yes, when I first picked up a pair of clippers, I cut my little brother's hair and he used to get a ball cut every time. The first time I messed up and clipped his ear and it started bleeding.
LaTesa Lins: Wow, I can’t imagine that kind of pain. So as a gay black man how was it getting your hair cut in a straight black barber shop growing up? McFlair: I was always just quiet, sat there, and listened. I hear the stuff they talked about and a lot of times they didn't know that they were offending me but it would make me very uncomfortable.
LaTesa Lins: I can only imagine how you would feel as a gay boy not being able to relate to the black men you’re supposed to confide in.
McFlair: Exactly, they talked about females, sports, and I wasn’t into none of that. As a little boy I was in the band and they didn’t talk about that. I was basically the sweep boy in the shop. I used to work in a barbershop at 11 years old. When they had those conversations I would go to the back office and play basketball on the Xbox. I honestly didn’t even know how to play that game but I felt comfortable in there.
LaTesa Lins: I’m sorry you had to go through that.
McFlair: I remember when I got out of barber school I was working at the Vanity Studio on Cleveland Avenue in Atlanta and this guy was there just bashing gay people real bad and this was my first day on the job. He was saying how gay people were so disloyal & how he can’t trust them etc. and I'm thinking to myself like damn that’s how you feel we definitely not gonna be friends. He made me feel very uncomfortable.
LaTesa Lins: Well, the good news is that you’re older now and you created your own comfort zone. I heard McFlair Quts has a new interior design!
McFlair: Yes, it used to be an old handicapped Marta bus. It was all white so they had to take the logos off. It use to look so raggedy and I didn’t like it so I did get the inside remodeled. Everybody was like, “oh my God look at this, I’m so proud of you.“ I wanted my clients to feel like they were on a Safari somewhere in Miami with trees, and grass... I got the grass in there and I got some real plants in there. It looks really nice. When my clients come in there the AC will be blowing and when the lights are off it just feels like a lounge with the hookah in there, just a comfortable vibe.
LaTesa Lins: I’ll need a tour of the bus pretty soon Ha! Do you think it’ll be challenging to find clients who will appreciate your talent?
McFlair: Yes, definitely. Another challenge is finding the right clientele. When I was coming up anybody could have been my client but now that I am where I am, everybody ain’t my client. I want to find the right people. Everybody looks at it and wants to experience it, but maybe our energies aren’t compatible or maybe they don’t understand my prices, but I just keep pushing forward and keep doing me. I just work on myself so I can attract the right people. As a client when you are searching for a Barber you have to be careful who you let cut your hair. Not just for their skillset but their energy too. You're allowing this person to touch the crown on your head, so whoever he/she is, their energy is going straight down your body.
LaTesa Lins: What do you look for as far as the right clientele? McFlair: Well, I cater to everyone. I don’t just cater to my black LGBT people. Honestly, when anyone labels me as a gay barber, I feel it over-sexualizes my profession. I’m just a barber. Who I am attracted to sexually shouldn’t matter in a professional setting. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m confident in who I am but I also like when I have straight clients too, male and female clients. But If we’re not compatible I can’t do it. I love this too much to let anyone come in and adjust the energy that I’ve set up and made for what I love to do.
LaTesa Lins: With such a broad clientele has it ever been difficult as a gay Barber? McFlair: I remember this one time I offered my service to this group of guys where the groom was getting married. I was like well if yawl need a haircut for the wedding I got yawl. They knew my best friend and I was her assistant. But their reaction was so unexpected. They looked me up and down and bust out laughing at me in my face, except for the groom. I thought to myself…wow they really just laughed in my face…That’s OK they going to see me again soon.
LaTesa Lins: They might not have wanted to work with you but guess who did…Lil Nas X! How was it cutting him?
McFlair: It was an amazing experience! I got to go to states I’ve never beento before. It was like a rockstar lifestyle. The first time I cut his hair, it was for a funeral a while back, and then I cut his hair two or three times before the actual tour.
LaTesa Lins: So how did he contact you, was it him personally?
McFlair: Honestly, I didn’t know who he was until the day of. I got a text from his agency four days before the tour and they were like, “hey are you available for a celebrity client?”, and I was like when? They actually accidentally called Terrance Terry a celebrity nail tech to help them look for barbers, and Terrance referred me. The agency gathered the list of Barbers and sent us to Lil Nas X Team where they looked us all over and they chose me. It was really God‘s plan.
LaTesa Lins: Wow you definitely deserved it! What was going through your mind the entire time? McFlair: I was like 'OK I got this,' and I even looked up Lil Nas X sign before I saw him. Haha…When I found out he was an Aries, I’m like 'oh okay, this gonna be a piece of cake!' I first met Lil Nas X and his team on tour, and I thought I had to code switch to be professional, but Lil Nas X's best friend was like no be yourself….I was really sad when I had to leave after the tour.
LaTesa Lins: And to top it off, you’ve also cut hair for Ray J and Kellon Deryck. Who else would you like to sit in your chair?
McFlair: Ha! I already have my top 5. I gotta touch Steve Harvey, he’s like my media dad. I gotta cut my best friend's hair Chris Brown, and then P Diddy...I feel like the service I provide is what he wants for real. Plus, Will Smith, I gotta cut my libra brothers' hair, and also T.I. we’re going to have a great debate, I can see it now!
LaTesa Lins: Oh, so you’re providing a service-service with a list like that!?
McFlair: Absolutely! My business is like a Barber spa-type thing. It’s an experience where you don’t just come on the bus and get your haircut, you’re going to get a facial and I’ll exfoliate your skin with facial cleanser. I’ll then do the hot towel treatment over your face. After that, I’ll give you a facial moisturizer so you can come out singing, 'shine bright like a diamond.' You’ll feel healthy and fresh and rejuvenated. I like to look at it as shedding skin and washing all of your problems away. You might feel some type of away when you first come on my bus but by the time you get off you are a brand-new person.
LaTesa Lins: I love your confidence! What would you tell your younger self that use to sweep the shop at 11? McFlair: Hmmm…that’s a good question. I think I would tell my younger self that it’s OK to be different because I was always different from my cousins and my siblings. I didn’t do sports and I wasn’t super masculine. So, it made me feel out of place. I would tell myself keep finding yourself…keep going.
LaTesa Lins: Your younger self is definitely proud of you. I’m proud of you and thank you so much for speaking with me. McFlair: Yes, I loved t. Thanks for having me!
LaTesa Lins: Absolutely, You’re welcome! I’m coming to Atlanta, so you’ll definitely see me soon!