Words by Marcia Howard
Photography by Allen Cooley
In the fluctuating orbit of fame, where careers can be fickle, a lot of celebrities are diversifying. But where many have clothing lines or own bars and restaurants, not a lot own barbershops and there are probably even fewer that have the same mission as Killer Mike and his wife Shay Render. Their barbershop, Graffiti’s SWAG (which stands for Shaves, Washes and Grooming), strives to be both a positive influence in the community and offer the dopest cuts.
“I wanted to open a barbershop as soon as I got my record deal, but I had a financial advisor who advised me against it,” he told us. “He was a white guy and didn’t get his haircut that often. Black guys have to get their hair cut every week to two weeks. So in my community, the money was there. He didn’t understand and I didn’t have a proper business plan to bring him. Over the years I waited and around the time I recorded R.A.P. music, I saw a barbershop for sale online and I bought it. I went in with some thoughts and ideas. Overspent on the build out but managed to build a breathtaking shop.”
SWAG is located in the Red Oak shopping center off Roosevelt highway in ATL (about ten minutes from the airport if you happen to just be passing through), with a nondescript uniform brown façade. But the interior of the space is brilliantly painted by the artist Chris Hobe in tones of red, yellow and black. His portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King over looks the waiting area and communicates the spirit of the space to clientele.
It hadn’t always been that way. The shop had a very different vibe before he and his wife took over. “When I bought the shop, the shop that was in there before didn’t have the best reputation,” Mike explains, “so it was about gaining public trust again.” Instead of giving out lollipops to little boys getting their first haircuts, SWAG gave out Hot Wheels. The strategy worked but only because the Renders had the skilled barbers to back it up. “I knew I had a talented staff, it was just about getting the public to trust that space again.”
The barbershop was also created to be a gathering place for the community. “We host events there. Boondocks did their season premier there in conjunction with Complex magazine. Goose Island gives us beer to give to our customers. Pabst does also,” Mike said.
If you live in Atlanta and haven’t made it out to the Roosevelt Highway location, expect another shop in the near future. “I’m looking forward to us opening the second one in the upcoming months in the West End and in the Dekalb County,” hints Mike. “It’s a piece of the community; it’s a meeting point. It’s a great place. We’re even looking to build a mentor program.”