Tristan Walker Tristan Walker
Walker & Company

Bevel CEO Tristan Walker Talks Growth, Regrets, And Combat Jack

With the launch of a new line of Bevel products, CEO Tristan Walker reflects on his company's career and shares memories with Combat Jack.

This writer had never used Bevel products before meeting the company’s founder and CEO Tristan Walker, but I still felt like a longtime user when he walked into the VIBE office in Times Square. Walker founded Walker & Company, which houses Bevel, a company that made shaving products specifically for black men, in 2013 – and I first heard about them via repeated ads on The Combat Jack Show and other podcasts in the Reggie Osse-founded Loud Speakers Network. He also scored an investment from rap legend Nas, who shouted out the brand on his song with DJ Khaled, “Nas Album Done,” with lyrics that referenced his own legacy while praising a new one: “signature fade with the Bevel blade, that’s a major key.” Walker continued to build the brand, getting products in Target stores and eventually selling the company to beauty powerhouse Procter & Gamble while remaining the CEO. Despite not using Bevel’s shaving system or trimmers, the company still had an unmistakable place in “the culture” with endorsements from some of its most prestigious figures, so it always felt like one of us was winning.

In 2020, the Queens native is spearheading his first launch since merging with Procter & Gamble and has elevated Bevel into a full-fledged beauty and skincare company for men: body wash, soap, hair products, beard care, face serum, deodorant, and more, all in sleek, tone on tone packaging. There’s also Form, a fledgling line of women’s hair care products. “I want my sons to be able to use this stuff exclusively,” Walker says, before breaking down each product one by one. “...We have exclusively Walker & Company products in my home now, which gives me hope, pride, and excitement to the culture.” In a conversation with VIBE, Walker shares how he maintains his company’s integrity while working with bigger brands, his entrepreneurial regrets, and how black men will continue to build capital in the beauty industry.

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In recent years, there has been a much larger willingness, if not pride, for men to take care of themselves and how they looked. When I was growing up, it was only products for women; men were called “metrosexual” if they had products. What do you think has led to this change with men being more comfortable sharing what they use?

Time. Truth waits for no one. It’s okay to be yourself. I think we were unfortunately early on that; unfortunate because the world wasn’t caught up to that. The fact that you can look however you want to look, with whomever you want to look in that way with. I think it’s just taken some time to have people catch up to it. The wonderful thing about Bevel is that women celebrate us, men celebrate us, LGBTQ celebrates us. Bevel is a brand that respects a culture that is colorless, genderless, and stands for something. It took Bevel to have to realize it now, a brand to help them feel better about sharing what they believe.

The metrosexual thing, you speak to any other company, “men are redefining what masculinity was.” But we always wanted to look good, we just didn’t have the products to serve us. I kind of challenge your sentiment a little bit. We’ve always cared how we look. People wearing du-rags, wave caps and sh*t. We just didn’t have the products and brands that we could evangelize confidently. I used my wife’s stuff for a while, but I can’t say that I was confidently ready to evangelize those things. Bevel gives us confidence to do it. It gave Nas confidence to talk about it; Magic Johnson, John Legend, all these folks. They shop in the same aisles we shop in, and everybody who needs products for the same type of hair that I have, shop in the same shops I shop in, and need products to celebrate that. The combination of time, and having something to celebrate, are two things that over the past six years, have given us something with some type of permanence to it.

Do you think that the increased usage of social media has contributed to it?

There’s no ashy knuckle filter. [laughs] But we need to take care of ourselves before those filters come on. Whether or not Instagram exists, you don’t want bumps on your face. When I started Bevel – I always talk about this story about working on Wall Street, and they would require us to shave, and I didn’t have anything to shave with. You’re walking around the world with razor bumps on your face? That’s not humanity. It’s just healthy to provide people with things that they need.

Social media just creates this new world of people requiring their own upkeep. Whether it’s superficial or not doesn’t matter to me; I just care that our products work for them. [laughs] This also goes back that people should be able to live however they want, share whatever they want, when they want.

You’ve had big moves over the past couple of years: selling your products in Target, and then being acquired by Procter & Gamble. What did those two deals do for Bevel, and how have you been able to keep the company’s integrity through those situations?

The only reason those things happened is that I required our ability to keep our integrity for them to happen. The company didn’t just come and buy us; we had to accept that offer. And the acceptance of that offer was a function of us requiring some things. I’m still the CEO of Walker & Company; I don’t have a P&G title. I’m still the CEO of Walker & Company, that is what I do every single day. I told them – and they’ve respected this – we need to be able to do what we do well, and you do whatever you do well. When there’s a way to merge the minds, we’ll do it, as evidenced by some of the technology that we have. We’re not in a world anymore where we have to keep raising money in order to deliver some of these innovations. We delivered 11 new products in nine months, which is unheard of in the industry, but that’s because we took the best of we do...and what they do. You put those things together and develop something pretty special.

It’s no different in retail; we’d love to work with you, but we aren’t going to be in the “ethnic” aisle. Target was the first to say, “you know what? You’re right.” We were, and they are too. And starting next month, we’re going to be in CVS, Sally’s, Target, nationwide, because people understand the power in this. Every trend report you read, it’s like “people of color, black men, black hair.” We were on this six, seven years ago.

Was there any hesitation with having your company acquired, as opposed to making it public with an IPO and maintaining ownership?

Everything starts with your goal, and I just wanted the company to be around in 150 years. I don’t care if it was standalone, I don't care if it was with another company. I just cared that Walker & Company existed as we wanted it to for the next 150 years. Procter & Gamble is the best solution for us to do that. This is a company that makes tens of billions of dollars a year, spends billions of dollars in research and development, that has a respect for its consumer, and knows that we’re the only brand that’s authentically connected to it in the way that we are. They respected our point of view. They believe that we can exist 150 years from now. Which other company in our space has been around for over 50 years? 100? 150? There’s only one: Procter & Gamble. And I’m still the CEO of Walker & Company. I wasn’t fearful of that, because again, they didn’t just come to acquire us. We said, “this needs to be true,” and they fulfilled their side of the bargain.

You’ve also started Form, a women’s line of products. Have you met the goals you’ve had with Form so far?

Form started out as a dream to do something for women with textured hair. It was really ambitious. We thought there was a world we could personalize and experience a product offering for them. It was a test to learn. Bevel is our motherload business, where we need to make sure that we get this right. Doing one brand alone is a lot of work. We have 15 people on our team, and it’s a lot of work. Form is about to go through something that Bevel has over the past year. We don’t have the stuff to share now, but within the next six to seven months, people will be reintroduced to the brand in the way that Bevel was introduced. Form achieved what we hoped for it to, where we got all the testing and learning required to understand where we really need to be, and what women want, but more to come.

As I said when you walked in, I haven’t used Bevel products, but I’ve always felt familiar with the brand. A big reason of that is because I heard about you on podcast ads – Combat Jack Show, Taxstone, Loud Speakers. What made you take that approach so early?

It was us, Mailchimp and Squarespace, I remember; nobody wanted used to f**k with podcasts. I got on the phone with Reggie, rest in peace. This was 2014, when he started podcasting. Combat was like, “yo, I’ve got a bald head. Give me the product, if I like it, I’ll talk about it.” Podcasting at the time was interesting, because it was starting to take off. The Loud Speakers guys were the guys. You’ve got Charlamagne, Tax, Combat. But no one wanted to advertise for them. They’d advertise on other types of podcasts, but to the brands, they were too risky – cursing all the time, chopping it up, that sort of thing. I was like, this is our audience. You had all the radio guys building their podcasts, so it was only a matter of time before those listeners were going to come listen to their podcasts. These podcasts live forever. You go to Soundcloud, you see podcasts from four years ago with a Bevel ad in it. With the evergreen nature, this is an interesting platform.

The first time I knew it was going to take off, Combat used the product. He was like “I love it, I didn’t get razor bumps anymore.” He did a podcast, and we paid him, I think we were the first people to start funding those guys. Figured, we’ll see what happens. I didn’t give him a script. Now with podcasts, you get the preroll when it first starts, and midway through you do another one that’s usually scripted. That first episode, he spent the first five minutes talking about his Bevel experience. It wasn’t an ad, he was just talking. Halfway through, he does the same exact thing. We got ten minutes of authentic promotion. At that point, I was like, this is it. I’m just going to give them the products, in order to talk about it they have to say that they like it authentically, and you can say whatever the f**k you want. We never policed them. This is crazy suicide to big brands, they’d never do that. But I want you to speak about it as if I was speaking about it. They became able to talk about it in a way – anybody, the first thing they say is, “I heard about you on Combat, I heard about you on Tax.” That’s when I realized Bevel had a cultural influence I didn’t expect.

You’ve said that since you guys have started, no one has tried to do what you’ve done with your level of ambition. But it does seem like companies are trying – Rihanna with Fenty, for example. Companies want to cash in on the black customer, but I’m guessing there aren’t many black CEOs or execs in the space. Does it surprise you that no one has taken your level of ambition yet?

No. I think for one, you said companies are trying to cash in. I don’t give a sh*t about cashing in. I want my sons to be able to use this stuff exclusively. They deserve to not have that Wall Street experience I had. Then we can talk about cash. And it takes time to get there. We haven’t even scratched the surface. I’m the first black CEO in P&G’s 180-year history. And this is P&G. They know that too, so some of this is dynamics and demographic shifts happening and changing. We’re on these trends of necessity that have gotten us to this point. Rihanna is doing Fenty, and it’s wonderful. There’s a lot more on the woman’s side.

There’s a really great book written by Professor Quincy Mills on the history of black barbering. It talks about the difference between women entrepreneurs and men [men] entrepreneurs. The history of black barbering, slaves were cutting their masters’ hair, shaving them. So it started the service model. But women, early 20th century and late 19th, were starting their own salons and product companies. They started as entrepreneurs. But black men, who were barbers, had been in service for the past century. There are very few, until you get to the Scotch Porters and things like that, who are serving black men. I think some of it is endemic to the history up until this point. But now we have a history where in 20 years, there are going to be more people who look like us than the folks who don’t. Time matters with this stuff. But that’s why you’ve seen the Fentys, you’ve seen the Tracy Ellis Ross’, you see all these folks thriving on the women’s side of the equation, because there’s some history there. Now, we want to do that on the men’s side.

 

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Words from the legendary, @blackthought (2018). This year, we take it even higher... #BevelUp ☝🏾

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Having an idea for a business is one thing. Getting to the point of being able to talk about your business is another. You’re really adept at not only what you want to do, but at articulating it to people. Is that a skill you’ve always had, or is it something you’ve had to develop?

That’s good, no one has ever asked me that question. I like making things very simple. I choose my words very deliberately. There’s an economy for words, and sometimes people spend too much money. [laughs] I think words matter, especially for black men. So I believe very much in simplifying things: let’s develop a brand to eliminate razor bumps for black men. That’s a really simple thing for people to understand, especially if you’re black. If you’re white, 30 percent of you still understand it because 30 percent of you have it, but for black men, 80-plus percent of us have it, so let’s start there. If you solve people’s problems, the fame will come later. And then, I’ve been better able to articulate the vision. I wouldn’t have been able to talk about this stuff because it didn’t exist yet six years ago. We did the hardest thing in the world, convincing black men to put razors on their faces. They’re definitely going to believe me if I can do this other stuff like all-day lotion. That simplicity really did help.

A lesson that I learned: whatever I say the brand is, doesn’t matter. It’s what they say the brand is that matters. It got to a point where Combat’s consumers, and everybody else were articulating what Bevel was, and they were all consistent. I didn’t do anything. It’s a feel to it, a tone to it, a vibe to it, a color to it. It all comes together. People make up their own language. Now, our campaigns are tied to what we’re hearing other people say about the brand. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say, “Bevel Up;” that’s going to be a campaign we launch soon. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say, “hey, you got those Bevels?” Where’d you get that from? How’d you even butcher our name like that? [laughs] But it’s random people from all over. There’s something happening. Some of it is my deliberate nature of simplifying things, but some of it is letting them articulate what they believe it should be, and editing it to make sure that it’s consistent.

You’ve had superstar investors: Nas, Magic Johnson, John Legend. How have you raised money, and what advice would you give to a young entrepreneur to get in the same room as some of these guys?

For the folks you mentioned, I just met them and asked and they got it right away. Nas was the first guy I spoke to, and in five minutes, he said “I’m in.” I spent the last 55 minutes talking about what this could become. And these guys shop in the same aisles. So convincing the individual black investor was pretty easy. “This doesn’t exist, I get razor bumps.” Nas is like, “you going to make a trimmer?” I’m like, “yes I will.” The big investors, where we raised most of our money – that’s hard. We raised tens of millions of dollars trying to convince people that this need existed. Again, I was uniquely qualified to do it because they trusted me with other things that they did. I don’t think anybody else would have been able to raise money at that time for this.

That said, I tell people when they ask me how to get in front of them, raising money was the most regretful thing that I did. I raised $39 million of money, and I wish I didn’t raise a cent of it. With raising money comes things: you have to return it, you have to take in other opinions that might not be meaningful, you lose ownership. I have 39 million reasons I can talk about as to why I wouldn’t do it that way again. Having gone through this, of course I needed to get it off of the ground, but now I know what I didn’t need, either. If I were to do it again, I probably wouldn’t raise a thing. There’s a density of genius in the black community that other people will have to respect with time. I think we just need to believe in ourselves. All too often we forget, sometimes we need to narrow our scope in order to not require having to raise the money. Once you narrow the scope – razor bumps – it opens up opportunities for the lotions, the body washes, and all that stuff. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

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Kamaiyah/GRND.WRK/EMPIRE

Kamaiyah Talks Long-Awaited Debut 'Got It Made' And Independent Status

On a cloudy afternoon in New York City, rapper Kamaiyah is dressed for comfort, wearing a purple sweatsuit, and the purple beads adorning her signature box braids match her fit. She’s made a stop at the VIBE office during a day of interviews, accompanied by a crew of three women, including her newly appointed A&R Justice Davis. Kamaiyah is observing more than speaking, preserving her voice since she is recovering from a nuisance cold. But the East Oakland native’s energy switches from laidback to zealous as we discuss her lead single “Still I Am” for Got It Made, her long-delayed forthcoming project dropping February 21.

 

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After almost 4 years I present to you my project “ Got It Made “ 2•21•20 the wait is over we going up and this mutha fucka slap 💁🏾‍♀️ flood my comments with 500 ☂️’s and I’ll drop a song tonight 👀 (Presave link in my bio)

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On the CT Beats track, the go-to producer for her hypnotic g-funk sound, she earnestly raps, “I done took plenty losses/ That's why I feel like I deserve to keep flossin'/ This shit is exhausting/ When you boss up and run your own office.” The verses point to her departure from Interscope Records and YG’s 4 Hunnid Records and the launch of her new label GRND.WRK (pronounced groundwork), in partnership with Empire last August. She decided to dip after the release date for her project Something To Ride To was pushed back multiple times. This makes Kamaiyah one of few women in hip-hop, and perhaps the first from the West Coast, to run her own shop.

“It's very important and vital because a lot of people feel you need a man to make you an artist,” Kamaiyah said. “You need a man to mold you into what you need to be.” But Kamaiyah — who has been rapping since she was 9, recording in the studio since she was 11, and dropped a critically acclaimed mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto (2016) before she was signed to a major deal — already knew what kind of artist she wanted to be before she signed on the dotted line.

In the months since she left the label, she began building her office in the upstairs area of her loft; finished recording, mixing and mastering Got It Made, a project she was planning before she parted from Interscope; and her manager Brandon Moore became her partner on her new venture. 2020 will be the first year Kamaiyah has full control of her career since breaking into the mainstream hip-hop world in 2016. This was always part of her master plan and why the previous arrangement did not fit her.

“I signed too fast, but I never wanted to sign,” she reflects. “I was always the artist that was like, 'I don't want no deal.' I wanted to hustle because I knew where I come from. Everybody does it independently. But at that time it was the best decision for everybody. I took that L for the team and we learned a lot. It was like four years of music business school.”

Kamaiyah wants to carry on in the spirit of Bay Area hip-hop legends like E-40, known for their independent spirit of hustling their CDs out of their car trunks. But she also wants the pop accolades of hip-hop superstars like Drake, Missy Elliot, and Oakland’s original hip-hop icon MC Hammer. Her biggest hit to date is YG’s "Why You Always Hatin?” also featuring Drake, which charted at no. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100. But she wants more. Success for Kamaiyah means Grammys, Billboard No. 1's, and gold and platinum plaques. Partnering with Empire, a digital-first independent distributor, and a label launched by San Francisco native Ghazi Shami in 2010, could be her winning ticket. In the past decade, Empire’s launched several successful hip-hop projects such as Kendrick Lamar's Section.80 album and Anderson .Paak’s album Malibu. This partnership can give Kamaiyah the independence and support toward the mass appeal she’s seeking. Having dealt with project release delays in the past, her strategy going forward is consistency.

“Great quality music at a rapid rate...People just want to see you [working]. And if they know you consistent, they gon’ consume the music.” Kamaiyah also wants to use her platform to sign new talent, especially in the Bay Area, where she said artists can benefit from music business education when their records go viral. “Once they get the traction and the record, it becomes this egotistical thing and it's like ‘I made it cause I'm cracking out here.’ But they don't realize it's a whole world to build towards.”

Her first project Got It Made will be the blueprint for GRND.WRK. The project is feel-good music her fans “can shake their asses to and vibe out to and ride out to,” she said. For instance, she teamed up with veteran Trina for the f**k boy revenge track “Set It Up.” They role-play as two women who have been cheated on by the same man. “We get together and we go against the ni**a instead of us going against each other,” Kamaiyah says. On “Get Ratchet,” which she calls a “modern bounce” record, she taps DJ Espinosa, a San Francisco native known for winning Red Bull Music’s 3Style DJ competition, to spin at the end of the track. For “Digits,” a song about getting someone’s number, she brings on fellow Oakland rapper Capolow, a newcomer she’s excited to give a bigger platform to. She describes the track as “magical gangsta sh*t.” On past projects, Kamaiyah sampled '80s and '90s R&B (i.e. “I’m On” and “Leave Em”) but says the only track on Got It Made that has a sample is “1-800-IM-HORNY.” She intentionally avoided the high cost of clearances, an obstacle contributing to past project delays. She won’t mention names but says she enlisted “legends who created those records that we’re sampling” to shape the project's sound. Fans can expect Kamaiyah to begin touring the project in April.

Although she’s finally releasing her project, her fans might be curious about the status of her other promised records such as Woke and Don’t Ever Get It Twisted. Will they see the light of day? “Anything I did at that part of my life I have PTSD from,” Kamaiyah said frankly. “It was done with good intentions, but then it became something negative and when you put that out, the world is going to feel that. And energy is transferable so I'm not putting out that shit.”

While Kamaiyah was facing career obstacles in recent years, she witnessed the impact of tragedies close to her community. The death of Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old Black woman who was murdered at a train station in the Bay Area Rapid Transit in 2018, hit close to home as Kamaiyah has family close to Wilson’s family. (John Lee Cowell, who is accused of stabbing Wilson to death, is currently on trial.) “Do I feel like he should be convicted? Absolutely. To the furthest extent. You took this woman's life. She barely got to live.” Then there was Nipsey Hussle’s murder in 2019. Kamaiyah said she had a long talk with Nip a month before he was killed last March. He wanted to see her reach her full potential, especially as a woman representing the Bay Area. “He’s telling me, ‘What you mean to our culture we never had’,” Kamaiyah said. That last conversation put the battery in her back when she was on the fence about her music. “I'm frustrated career-wise and that's a person that was like, ‘Don't stop because we need you in this culture.’ So I gotta hustle 10 times harder ‘cause other people see the long end of the vision.”

Justice Davis, Kamaiyah’s A&R, is ready for Kamaiyah’s vision to come to life. Davis began working as Moore’s assistant and after giving input, moved up the ranks. As a Los Angeles native, Davis said she brings the knowledge of her city’s culture together with Kamaiyah’s Oakland hustle. She wants to see Kamaiyah grow as a businesswoman, artist, and for their team to prosper. “[I hope] for people to see her talent and know she really is the queen of the West coast."

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Jack Dempsey for Crown Royal Apple

Joe Freshgoods Put On For Chicago With Royal Apple Goods Collection & Pop-Up

The Windy City's chilly air seeps into the building as the main door cracks wide open. Busy crew members scurry between rooms, ensuring every fixture and branded display is arranged perfectly before the clock strikes 3 o'clock. A group of focused workers huddles nearby to go over loose ends and delegated tasks. Throwback hip-hop jams float throughout the warehouse, teasing the chill vibes to come. Time is of the essence and it's almost showtime; Confirmed guests will soon start trickling into Moonlight Studios in the next hour or so. It's the calm before the storm at The Royal Pop-Up, a two-day event curated by Crown Royal Regal Apple and its creative director, streetwear designer extraordinaire Joe "Freshgoods" Robinson.

In the first room to the right, a crew of black, swagged-out mannequins stands tall in the middle of the room, rocking yellow hoodies, black and white tees, pants and bandanas etched in J-F-G, Crown Royal, and red apples. With the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend serving as the backdrop, fashion and basketball enthusiasts alike are set to get an exclusive glimpse of the limited-edition capsule collection, Royal APPLE GOODS, designed by Chicago native Freshgoods in collaboration with the Canadian whiskey brand.

Not too far away stands the DJ of the night, fellow creative and entrepreneur, Vic Lloyd, setting up his station as he prepares to set the musical energy for part of the day. To the left of him, a pair of workers in all-black prep the tote bags they'll be pressing with APPLE GOODS' design and logos. In another room to the far left, nail artists Tacarra "Spifster" Sutton and Slay Lewis are settling into their stations where they'll be taking manicure appointments to deck out the nails of anyone looking to add an extra flair to their fit. Two barber chairs are about 20 feet away for attendees down for a fresh cut or a quick line-up by the South Side's own Roger “Rodge” Williams of Raw Cutting Room.

Staying true to his hometown has always been Freshgoods' wave. While getting his feet wet as an intern at Leaders 1354 and working at Fashion Geek, he started his own apparel brand Don't Be Mad, eventually co-founded Fat Tiger Workshop with Lloyd and others, and caught the eye of major brands like adidas, McDonald's, New Era, and more. So it's no surprise that Freshgoods hand-selected some of his home city's top creators and makers to help make the pop-up experience that much more authentic and true to Chicago.

In the last room, friendly bartenders are preparing the Regal Apple Bar where specialty cocktails will be served in golden cups. On the opposite side, a sneaker cleaning station is ready to keep guests' kicks crispy, while two framed, Crown Royal Regal Apple-themed backdrops are perched in front of a brick wall, perfect for those looking to capture the moment in the form of a picture.

In an unused room in the back of the studio space sits Joe Freshgoods, relaxing on a black, plush couch, rocking the hoodie from the Royal APPLE GOODS collection, a pair of loose-fitted, tie-dye pants and his latest, sold-out New Balance 992 collaborative shoe. Despite the craziness that is All-Star Weekend and a jam-packed schedule of appearances and connecting with friends, Freshgoods is chill, present, and ready to chat about working with Crown Royal, Chicago’s underestimated fashion scene, his favorite '90s fashion trend and more.

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Tell us about the Royal Apple Goods capsule collection. What inspired the designs?

Royal Apple Goods was pretty much inspired by basketball, my love of lettering and a bit of my colorway. I wanted to make cool basketball merch. Just stuff that you can go to the gym in and rock. I just wanted to make it a dope basketball-themed collection.

We noticed that you decided to work with some fellow Chicagoans for different parts of this pop-up. Why was that important to you?

Oftentimes, when these big activations pop up in different cities, they never really tap into the community. It was pretty dope to be able to have my people around town who I collaborate with —a lot of the barbers, DJs, artists, nail techs, people that are moving and shaking in Chicago. Everybody that's working in each booth [at this event] is someone that people respect. I think if we're doing a project in a city as big as Chicago, you want guests and people to recognize, "Oh, that's [Spifster] the nail tech." Because a lot of these people are really booked. You don't often get to see these artists in one room at one time. Like Rodge, you’ve got to book him two weeks in advance. I know with Spif, she's booked six months in advance. It's rare to be in an area where you can just go from station to station, get merch from me, get your nails done by the hottest nail person, get your hair done, and listen to good tunes. It was just important to just tap in with the local community. It just made sense.

With your style mantra being "Clothes is art defined by the times," how do you define today's time in fashion?

I think for me, you hear that streetwear is dying and that it's always like a thing where I still thrive on the art of, "Oh, wow." I love merch related to a time, you know? Everybody that gets my merch today and tomorrow, it's going to be dope to say, "Yo, I went to this event that Joe helped put on, and he had merch."

I love making clothing like concert merch. That's my whole vibe. If I was a rapper that did a show in Chicago, this would be my merch for that show, you know? That's how I approach a lot of my products with different brands. This is what I wanted to do with Crown that made sense for the community. Right now, I've got the hottest shoes dropping today, but I'm doing something different with Crown Royal. I like to give some stuff away, so this feels good.

If you were to create say a retro '90s fit, what would that look like? What's Joe wearing from that decade?

I was always a fan of the Naughty By Nature overall. I don't know. I like that rugged Timberland...I just like that real rugged, man-man, streetwear look, you know? Obviously, I love to dress colorfully, but I've always been a fan of that construction worker wave of the early '90s. That was with all the sweatsuits and all. That's always been my wave. Yeah, real Treach, Naughty By Nature vibes.

In a recent interview, you mentioned how Chicago kind of plays the little sister to other cities and is often overlooked or left out in different ways. What do you think this week means for your home city when it comes to fashion, the culture, and everything?

I think this week is very important. When Chicago first got the news that there was going to be a very big basketball week, it was pretty dope. This is one of the first times since being a kid to have all these people from out of town here. Since I've been an adult, there hasn't been a Super Bowl here or anything. I don't know, and we had this big thing about Chicago where it's like, "Am I safe here?" But it's a beautiful city.

The Royal Pop Up was a vibe during #NBAAllStar weekend. Here's what you missed: https://t.co/etxoU0pPnp pic.twitter.com/gVS4nmmUHt

— Vibe Magazine (@VibeMagazine) February 20, 2020

I think it's one of the top food cities to me, in my opinion. Yes, it's a cold city, but it's pretty awesome to see all these events going on. All this positivity. Complex Con was here. That was big, but this is bigger. It's so cool to see all my peers doing their projects, and everybody supporting each other. There's no beef. Everybody's about community. It feels good. With this big basketball weekend, I'm glad so many people are getting to experience Chicago for the first time like this.

It's insane and to imagine the last time All-Star Weekend was here a little over 30 years ago? It's a sigh of relief for Chicago to be a city of attraction where people are comfortably out and about versus being in Cali or Los Angeles.

Exactly.

With the NBA All-Star game set to honor the late Kobe Bryant, what’s one of your favorite memories of Kobe?

Kobe was so serious on the court. He performed to the highest level. Every time he stepped off the court, and you saw Kobe in commercials, it was like whoa. I was always a big fan of his commercials, especially the one with Kanye. When he was dancing with Tony Hawk...it was always dope to see that, "Oh, he’s human," even though he was a shark on the court.

Every time Kobe would just make people laugh. In certain in-game moments, he would dance a little bit. He was so stern on the court, but every time Kobe showed personality, every time he was a comedian, it was just funny because it was coming from Kobe.

As a man of many talents, can we expect you to indulge in any other endeavors? What's next? Joe Freshgoods: The Movie? 

Not yet (laughs). I'm really just trying to expand the brand. Right now, I'm building a really great team. I think teamwork is so key to movement. For so long, I was so used to doing things myself, but within the last three, four years of just having a team, it's felt like there are endless possibilities. I'm just kind of expanding. I'm really big on pop-up shops. It's something that I've honed in on as my thing, being able to connect with different communities across the world. I kind of want to get bigger at that. That's the goal for the next few years is to just kind of expand on these pop-up moments, and make them live a little longer in different cities.

What inspired you to take the pop-up shop route with your brand?

It's pretty simple. It's like the Master P formula when it comes to going from state to state selling your mixtape as opposed to having your mixtape in Target, or Best Buy, or in Sam Goody. For example, I could make more money going to New Orleans. No brand ever goes to New Orleans to show love. But with me, I pull up with my team, we do a pop-up in NOLA and actually get to touch the community.

Traditional retail is kind of dying in the sense of going to New York and opening up a big store. That whole model is changing to the point where now I can go to a certain area and pop-up for five days, and do well, go to L.A. and then go to Houston, you know? With that formula, a lot of brands can't do that, but I can and I'm going to keep doing it.

Lastly, if the Royal APPLE GOODS collection had an accompanying playlist, what three songs would be on it?

Ooh, that's a really good one. Aw, man. The Bulls theme song (“Sirius” by the Alan Parson's Project). That's one, that's just a vibe right there. Man, I need a toxic Future song (laughs) Okay, "March Madness" and Hall & Oates' "Sara Smile." Yeah, I like that.

Additional reporting by Obehi Imarenezor

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Scotch Porter

Scotch Porter Founder Calvin Quallis Talks New Haircare Line, Self Care Beyond Products

Calvin Quallis worked multiple jobs that he hated before founding Scotch Porter, but between childhood memories at his mom’s beauty parlor and his own trips to the barbershop, one thing stuck out. “On some of those worst days, I’d go get a haircut and come out thinking I could take on the world,” Quallis said. “So I’ve always known that grooming and self care had the chance to make you feel better about yourself.” After founding a barbershop called Center Stage Cuts  in New Jersey and seeing so many customers with dry, damaged hair in their beards, he began to research ingredients and start making products in his home. In the first 12 months of Scotch Porter – named after his favorite drink (scotch) and his favorite musician (Gregory Porter) – he made more than a million dollars in sales. Since then, Scotch Porter has become one of the most known names for black men’s beard and skin care products.

This year, Scotch Porter is seeing changes. February has seen the launch of a new hair care line, and a new set of ingredients to the beard and skin care products that were already so popular. Plus, the signature brown tubes that hold their products has been changed to new, streamlined blue packaging. Quallis visited the VIBE office to talk about the foundation of the company, 2020’s new leaf, and Scotch Porter’s emphasis on community and lifestyle beyond what their customers put in their dopp kits.

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VIBE: Black men have always cared about how we look, but in recent years, we’ve been more comfortable using products for our faces and beards. Where do you think that comfort comes from?

Calvin Quallis: I think it’s a couple of things. One, access to social media. We’re always in front of a camera, always visible. When you’re always visible, you want to look your best. Two, folks are just much more comfortable that were in the past considered female-oriented. So, always being in front of a camera, with selfies and the gist, and wanting to look your best and becoming comfortable using products that were originally toward women.

VIBE: I’m not sure that you were the first black beard company that I heard of, but you were definitely one of the first that I had seen that didn’t just seem like a homemade thing. You were very professional. What kind of strategy went into how you presented the product?

I did work at a design firm. So just seeing designers put together beautiful buildings and different projects, and also in my own personal life, I like nice things. So in terms of the overall aesthetic for the brand, I think it comes somewhat naturally, and then also working at a design firm and seeing how they put together projects, and how they start from scratch, and how they think about design. I think that lended a hand as well.

VIBE: When you were selling this early on, was there any convincing you had to do for the customers?

At that time, I didn’t see many folks talking to black men about beard care or hair care. I didn’t see ads on Instagram or Facebook. So when we launched, it was easy to break through the noise. I noticed at the shop that guys were growing out their beards more, and there weren’t products on the market meant specifically for coily, curly, dry hair. So I seen that as an opportunity, and folks weren’t advertising products like that. It kind of made it slightly easier than it is now, because every other day there’s some new product that’s popped up that someone has created. At that time, it was easier to cut through the clutter because there wasn’t much available for guys with hair textures like us, and they weren’t advertising it if it did exist.

 

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All the hair care you need is right here. Try the Scotch Porter Superior Hair Collection, to clean, nourish, hydrate and style your hair from start to finish. ⁠With key ingredients Kale Protein and Biotin, achieving the healthy hair & scalp you need is waiting for you. 👀 no further... add this collection to your cart. #MensGrooming #ScotchPorter

A post shared by Scotch Porter (@scotchporter) on Feb 11, 2020 at 10:01am PST

VIBE: Tell me about the new hair products you’re launching. 

We’re launching new reformulated hair care products, along with reformulated beard and skincare products. Our new hair care line includes five products: our Hydrating Hair Wash, Nourish And Repair Hair Conditioner, Smoothing Hair Balm, Smooth & Shine Hair Serum, and our Leave-In Conditioner. All of these hair care products, including our beard and skincare products, are multifunctional, so they do more than just one thing. Our hair balm and hair wash don’t only cleanse and condition, but also include some flake reduction actives, and healthy hair and scalp botanicals that help with things like dandruff, and it also helps prevent hair thinning.

VIBE: I’ve been using Scotch Porter for so long that I always associate the image of the brown containers. What made you decide to change up the look?

I’ve noticed for a while, the space is just becoming increasingly competitive. I’ve known for about a year that we needed to reinvent ourselves, and to reup. Make better products, make them more affordable – we’ve been able to reduce the price point on all our products by about 25 percent. Also, pull out things from our products. There’s no BHTs, there’s no parabins, no formaldehyde donors. We’ve gotten rid of phenoxyethanol, and we’ve included really interesting ingredient stories. This, again, is all based on seeing how the landscape has gotten increasingly competitive.

VIBE: I wanted to dig into that a little bit. You were one of the first in the space. What do you think is the balance between sticking with what you know, vs. knowing when you need to change?

Part of it is insight. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on around you, with a focus on the consumer. Understand what’s going on in the marketplace, but also thinking how we can better serve the customer by delivering even better products. The products that we’ve reformulated are even better than we’ve had before. Thinking of price points and making products more accessible. Then, just giving folks more value and pulling out interesting ingredients that help with some of the issues that men have as it relates to grooming.

VIBE: One of my favorite parts of Scotch Porter is the emphasis on lifestyle and community. Last year, I went to the pop up shop you had, and I was impressed – not only did you have the products at a discount, but you also had the panel for black men to congregate. You also have the email newsletter, and the print manual; in the former, you recently told customers to go to the doctor. Also, each purchase comes with the NakedWines voucher. It just feels like there’s an intention to make black men enjoy each other and love themselves.

It stems from our mission. Our mission from day one has always been to help men feel their best and to live their most fulfilled lives. These touchpoints are just expressions of that. Even as I think about wellness – over the last 14 months or so, I’ve lost 60 pounds. I’ve been getting better at looking at what I’m putting in my body, and what’s important, and these are the things I need to do if I want to be around longer. I’m still on my journey; I ain’t there yet. But we’ve always been talking about how internal and external wellness are a big part of helping guys to feel their best. Some of the articles you see, or the pop-up shop where we have a discussion around mental health, and even the articles on going to the doctor. It’s a holistic approach to helping men feel their best. For us, it’s never been about just giving you the next goop to put in your beard, and that’s all that you need to look and feel your best. It’s internal and external.

VIBE: The manual and the newsletter have these important messages, but it doesn’t feel like they’re talking down to you. It just feels like one of my homies emailing me about it.

Because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to digest it. And again, I’m on my own journey. I’m not there yet. I’m not rocking a six-pack. And it’s not necessarily about that. Each and every day, what can you be doing to make your life better? For us, that’s what it’s about, and that’s the conversation that we have with guys. It’s not about us being on a soapbox pretending we have it all figured out.

 

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It’s official! We’re proud to share that #ScotchPorter is now available at select @Target retail locations across the nation. (CLICK LINK IN BIO FOR STORE LOCATOR) • • We’re pumped about our retail expansion as it provides us with the opportunity to bring our #MULTIPurpose better-for-you Beard and Face care products straight to your local #Target store. • • When it comes to accessing products that are non-toxic and healthier for you, you deserve options that won’t break the bank. With key ingredients in our Beard and Face collections including Biotin and Pomegranate Enzymes, our products have you covered. • • Thanks for riding with us, we’re just getting started!☄️ #MensGrooming #TellAFriend

A post shared by Scotch Porter (@scotchporter) on Feb 17, 2020 at 1:55pm PST

VIBE: Within the past couple of years, Bevel sold their products in Target and they were later acquired by Procter & Gamble. Do you have any plans to expand in terms of selling products outside of the website?

On February 9, we launch in about a third of the Target doors with our beard care and skin care products. We’re super excited about that. Target has launched a campaign, and I’m included in the launch for their black history month Black Beyond Measure campaign, where they’re highlighting black founders and their success stories. Excited to be a part of that and share my journey, both with potential entrepreneurs and regular customers.

VIBE: Anything else about Scotch Porter that people should know?

One of the things that’s always been important to me is providing access, opportunity and employment to people that look like us. It’s really intentional. I’d say about 95 to 98 percent of the folks that work with us look like me and you. We provide opportunity, and we provide what I consider great pay. I remember when I was working for somebody else, feeling like I had to fight to climb the career ladder, the limitations that were put on me had nothing to do with my skill set. When I was starting Scotch Porter, I made it very important to hire people who look like us and give them an opportunity to climb up.

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