Consistently ranked on Elle Magazine’s list of the 100 best salons in America, Birds Barbershop is THE place to visit if you find yourself in Austin, TX (where it originated and now has 8 locations). Every Birds location focuses on creating a laid-back, fun and friendly atmosphere, which means you are likely to find beer, arcade games and great music to go along with a great haircut. The first shop was opened in 2006 by Jayson Rapaport and Michael Portman (neither of whom are hairstylists) and together they have since founded VERB Haircare, a no-frills line of affordable high-quality products. To learn a little bit more about Birds and Verb, Mane Addicts chatted with to co-founder Michael Portman.
MA: Why hair? Did either of you have any prior industry experience? If not, how did you educate yourselves?
MP: Jayson and I came from high-stress industries on opposite coasts, so we returned home wanting the good life in Austin. Until Birds, nothing seemed to fill that Alamo Drafthouse-like niche for haircuts. We were our own customers, too cheap for the high end and too proud for the low. Barbershop felt like a surmountable challenge given that neither of us wanted to go back to working the grind. Of all the strategies we used to get insider knowledge on how the salon machine worked, the best came from getting lots and lots of haircuts. We learned from employees what made them happy, what wasn’t working, all of it. It was evident early on that having an employee-minded culture would make us stand out to talent.
MA: What did you learn about hair (that you didn’t know already) when you developed your first line of VERB products?
MP: Our competitive advantage in launching Verb Products was that we had six barbershops where we could test our formulas. Birds Barbershop was Verb’s test lab, and we heard it all. Our stylists have known us a long time and don’t hold back, so we got the products up to professional strength quicker.
MA: Where do you and your team hunt for inspiration (for hair and for shop culture/design)?
MP: When it comes to shop design, we let the neighborhood decide mostly. Wheat paste for East Sixth. School Spirit for Hyde Park. Tech for 183. We’re always looking to let the natural surroundings serve as our design guide. Hair design: that’s all our stylists.
MA: Do your shops have a signature look or style?
MP: Over time, we’ve recognized constants in Birds Barbershops. Big mural. An old arcade game or two. Mixtape. Hopefully you’re sitting in an old fiberglass Eames chair we scoured off Craigslist drinking a Shiner Bock. The only thing we consistently design the same are the barber chairs themselves.
If you’re in Austin, do yourself a favor and stop by a Birds location, even if it’s just to check out the awesome decor, meet a cool stylist and grab a beer – I know I will. In the meantime, try one of my favorite products from VERB (either their Ghost Oil or their Dry Shampoo), you’ll be glad you did.
Are you a Birds loyalist? Share your experience below!