Words by Cassidy Blackwell
Photography by Nolis Anderson
On a snowy winter’s day, the Bevel Code team connected with Darren Roca, owner of popular Chicago shop Urbane Blades. From what began as a casual hobby during his time in the military, Urbane Blades has become a true destination in Chi-City.
Darren spent eight years in the military, but didn’t have an idea of what he wanted to do once he got out. Rather than taking the time to aimlessly search for his next opportunity, he decided to deploy on a third tour and really focus on his next step. “The one thing I did know was that I wanted to be independent, I wanted to be my own boss,” Darren said. Right before heading out on this third tour, he picked up a set of clippers and figured he’d learn how to cut his own hair. The rest, Darren notes, is history: “Within six months, I had people lined up to get a cut.”
Darren went to barber school for several months in between deployments to see if his natural skills could be matched with professional interest. Like many of the best barbers do, he found himself a mentor, an older, wiser barber to learn from. “He taught me how to really cut. Plus I noticed he had money and a couple shops. I just figured that this line of work might be for me.”
Keep it simple. Keep it clean. Keep it poised
Despite being born in Belize and growing up in Brooklyn, Darren immediately went to Chicago to finish barber school, receiving his license just after a year. He spent eight months working at Hyde Park Hair Salon (better known as the President’s barber shop before he was President), watching, learning and observing. “I was diligently preparing for the day when it was time to do it on my own. I learned the complete ins and outs of what it would take to open up my own shop,” Darren explains.
As luck would have it, a space fell into his lap and City Hall quickly approved his permits. At first Darren didn’t know what to do since everything had aligned just-so. “I asked my wife ‘what are we going to do’ and she simply responded ‘You know everything you need to get this thing off the ground.'”, Darren said. With this encouragement and support, Darren quickly moved forward in building Urbane Blades and opened the doors within three months.
Today the shop holds eight barbers and one stylist. “My favorite part about this job is the people I meet and the rapport that I’ve been able to build with clients,” Darren says of what keeps him on his grind day to day. “The hardest part is all the hats I have to wear. You have to market, you have to do HR, maintain the janitorial side, accounting and bookkeeping. It’s a lot.”
Despite needing to multi-task, Darren has been able to retain and maintain an excellent level of service and barbering precision. Clients now flock to the shop not only from the local Near North Side neighborhood, but from all around Chicagoland.
When it comes to grooming, Darren believes that less is more. “Keep it simple. Keep it clean. Keep it poised,” he encourages.
With such success coming his way in just a short amount of time, Darren’s eyes are not just sent on his current location. “I want Urbane Blades to be a national name. Chicago is just the beginning.”