Words by Cassidy Blackwell
Photography by David McDowell
His peers call him Yoda, for all of the barbering wisdom he passes down. Top brands call on him to travel all around the country teaching and training other barbers on their products. His clients simply call when they’re in need of a consistently excellent cut and fresh shave. We call him Kenny Duncan, Master Barber, educator and entrepreneur.
We caught up with Kenny Duncan one fall afternoon where you can find him most often: behind the chair giving a cut in his Main Attractions Unisex shop in Philly.
“So what do you want to know about?” He asks. “Where should I begin?”
“Well, how about from the beginning,” Bevel Code suggests, “from where you got your start.”
“I got my start honestly because growing up we were poor. Cuts used to be $10, but I had a lot of facial hair so they charged me an extra $2. But when I came home with only $8 in change, my mom thought I had taken the extra $2. She marched down to the barber, who told her the truth, that he had charged me $2 extra. She immediately went and bought me my own clippers and said you’ll never be charged extra again because now you’re doing it yourself,” Kenny explains.
From there, Kenny started to master the craft of trimming his own mustache and redoing his own front line. Friends started to ask for the same and eventually he realized not only could he give the entire cut, but that he could also charge for it.
“I turned my grandma’s house into a shop. Her desk became my barber station. I slid the mouse pad over for a little hooded dryer because color was a big fad then. A lot of people wanted it so I learned how to do it,” Kenny reminisces.
Kenny apprenticed under one of the top barbers in the area while he was still in high school. By the time he was in 11th grade, his work was so highly in demand that he was able to work part time and go to class part time through a special arrangement he had made with his school.
“I made sure everyone knew that I cut hair,” Kenny explains. “So I developed myself and my business pretty quickly.”
When someone suggested that he drop out and become a full-time barber, Kenny balked. “I looked down on the profession. I wanted to be an engineer, an accountant, I was interested in computer science. But when I really thought about what I wanted to do with my life, I wasn’t satisfied with doing any of those things day in and day out. Someone told me ‘think about what you want to do 8 hours a day. Don’t think about the money, don’t think about the title, think about what you love doing and focus on THAT.’”
While Kenny kept thinking about other careers and opportunities, his barbering business continued to grow. “I really liked what I was doing, I was improving the self esteem of each individual with each cut,” he says.
In 2001 Kenny became a full time barber and the rest they say is history.
Since then Kenny has worked with top musical names such as Musiq Soulchild as well as the musical director of John Legend, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalif, Irving Washington, Pharrell and Erykah Badu. He is also an educator for Andis, traveling around the country teaching other barbers about professional styling and techniques on behalf of the brand.
Despite his growth and accomplishments, Kenny still hopes to continue to expand his role in the barbering community beyond just behind the chair. He is also working on developing an app, building out his website Clipper Education, co-producing a local barber reality show about the Philadelphia barber community and working with “Barbers Who Care” a non-profit that supports a group of barbers to help them positively impact their community through service.
“While at one point I looked down at being a barber, but now I am able to experience things that a lot of people would have to pay a lot of money for,” Kenny reflects. “It’s all because of how my passion lead to better skills that now separate me from other individuals pursuing my same path.”