The Cultural Connection series will highlight the success of cultural entrepreneurs in Curaçao. According to Helmut K. Anheier and Yudhishthir Raj Isar (2008), “Cultural Entrepreneurs are cultural change agents and resourceful visionaries who organize cultural, financial, social and human capital, to generate revenue from a cultural activity. Their innovative solutions result in economically sustainable cultural enterprises that enhance livelihoods and create cultural value and wealth for both creative producers and consumers of cultural services and products.
TEXT TAHNEE M. BRUIN
Living in Curaçao in the era of globalization, it is inspiring to see young professionals exploring the roots of their cultural heritage, and pairing this with innovation to build a new business. These unique business endeavors are so refreshing when comparing these with the copy pastes of global brands that are popping up everywhere.
Curaçao is blessed with quite a few savvy entrepreneurs that are enhancing the link to Curaçao’s cultural heritage, creating space for a new hybrid culture – linking the past to the present in creative ways. CBM hopes to connect you to the unique cultures of Curaçao – through profiling different businesses in every edition.
Bar.ber, a three-in-one concept store located in Pietermaai, a renewed area of downtown Willemstad, opened its doors in June 2016. It’s a retro barbershop, men’s apparel store, and a coffee shop, with a workspace with free WiFi. In a short time however, they have already carved out a special place for their company, ensuring their presence through a strong client base, for many years to come.
While roaming the streets of Amsterdam, inspiration struck creative director and mastermind behind Bar.ber, Chiarra Lo-A-Njoe. While she was looking for a new challenge professionally, Bar.ber was a thought in the spur of the moment that eventually turned in to a concept where Lo-A-Njoe could combine her passion with business in Curaçao. Eventually, Lo-A-Njoe wrote her business plan and approached Andy Pinnafort and Giovanni Giribaldie, and asked them if they would like to be part of this venture.
The result was Bar.ber: a partnership between three forward thinking Curaçaoans, who wanted to transform the idea of a barber shop into a place where people go, not just to get their hair done, but to have a great time and appreciate life. The three partners are part of an equal partnership where everyone is equally responsible for the success of the business, reporting solely to themselves and each other.
To Pinnafort and Giribaldie, their craft, namely cutting hair, is their calling and second nature; making money is something they do just because it’s necessary. Both are well known barbers on the island with many years of experience and many loyal clients.
According to Giribaldie, “Bar.ber was only possible because we were all equally driven by the concept of the venture. It wasn’t just about cutting hair and creating masterpieces. It was about creating an experience.” The idea of a retro barbershop was their way of taking their years of talent and skills to the next level, creating a place that felt like home, not just for them, but for all of their clients as well; A place where getting your haircut is just as much of an experience for the client, as it is for the barbers. Giribaldie says, “We want to create a personal experience and build a personal relationship with each of our clients, so that they want to come back. It’s so much more than just a haircut or a shave.”
From beginning to end, Bar.ber is all about the experience. From its location in a renovated 18th century building, in an alley of the Pietermaai District, to the retro barbershop and sleek coffee shop and bar complete with black and white photos of R&B, Soul, Jazz and Hip Hop artists, there is no place like Bar.ber on the island. The two-story venue is complete with old tiles and fixtures, vintage barber chairs, and a retro-art rooftop terrace. According to Lo-A-Njoe, “It’s like you’re traveling through time, starting in the 1800’s and ending in 2016.“
The Cultural Connection
Cultural entrepreneurship means adding value to the community, not just economically, but through your craft and the experience that you offer. Many men make a regular trip to the barbershop – sometimes once a week. In some cultures, men stop by their neighborhood barbershop not only for a haircut or a shave, but to meet friends- have a drink and chew the fat. Old traditions die hard. Today, this trip to the barbershop is still engrained in Curaçao’s culture, as so many young professional men consider their trip to Bar.ber an almost religious experience. According to Lo-A-Njoe, “We tried to make Bar. ber a place for not just men, but for all. Come have a drink, relax, get your hair cut or don’t. Everyone’s always welcome. We want it to be a place where people can let loose, have fun and relax.”
Giribaldie explains, “There are many places on the island where you can get your hair cut, but as a barber I consider my job to be an art form, something that has all but disappeared on the island in the last years. At Bar.ber, Andy and I want to re-introduce our customers, or should I say canvases, to that incredible experience.”
The passion for preserving the experience of a barbershop, while catering to a larger market through the café and bar, and men’s apparel store, is certainly what sets them aside from anything else in Curaçao. They organize events so that they really become part of the neighborhood – a place people go to just relax. Pinnafort summed it up best: “Bar.ber brings quality and artistry together to create a place where one can experience something different unlike any other in Curaçao.”
Curaçao is a crossroads for cultures – Europe meets USA meets Latin America and the Caribbean. The most impressive part about Bar. ber is their ability to reflect Curaçao’s diversity in one place. That diversity is the essence of the local community, and that will continue to be an inspiration for the establishment.
Cultural entrepreneurship has significance in the social development of communities. The co-owners of Bar.ber are focused, more than anything, on bringing people across the community together and connecting people to each other. This barbershop is so unique that for some it is a nostalgic reminder of their past, with a twist, while for others, it is a completely new experience. What’s most unique about Bar.ber, is its large target group – welcoming anyone who wants to explore their world, and be part of the experience. According to Pinnafort, “Bar.ber is flexible in the ways that it caters to its customers; the staff brings the past to the present and the present to the past. It’s something we really try to do.”
Lo-A-Njoe explains, “While we want Bar.ber to be a place where young people come hang out, be themselves, and be better people and islanders, we hope to host social events to give back to the community, in ways that they haven’t done already – creating awareness for certain social issues affecting the local community.”
According to Giribaldie, “While Bar.ber is a concept store the barbershop will remain a barbershop and people come not only to get a haircut or their beard shaved. Everyone comes in to discuss current events and there is always conversation about politics, cars, sports, and family. In between the banter, jokes are told and laughs are had. And everyone is involved: the barbers, the customers getting their haircut, and the customers waiting to get their haircut.” Andy really loves this as well – ever since his beginnings, Giribaldie explains that as a principle no one ever leaves his chair after a cut or shave without learning something new.
Bar.ber is as any other business always looking for innovative ways to attract new customers and thus generating more revenue but according to Giribaldie, “We don’t really need to invest much else into the culture of our establishment – that’s the intrinsic nature of how we operate. We won’t be putting much energy in shifting our focus, or changing our style. We’d rather go with the flow, and let the communities that we’re part of decide. Barbershops are places of continuity; which is what we aim to be.”
Hip Hop at its Soul
Hip Hop is a big part of the Bar.ber’s culture – in fact, it’s the glue that brought the entrepreneurs and artists together in the first place – their passion for culture and music, and the idea that people can express their opinions through music. The partners all have different interests individually but Hip-hop culture is what they chose as the paradigm for their project. Lo-A-Njoe explains, “Even though our personal preferences differ, Hip Hop culture gave us the room we needed to be ourselves.”
A Message to Others
According to Lo-A-Njoe, “Start something you love and are passionate about, but make sure you get enough sleep before you start your journey. Be prepared for all the things that can go wrong because they probably will. Always stay humble but take all the help you can get.” Her co-creators nodded in agreement.
Hip-hop culture redefined cultural norms and practices worldwide by establishing new modes of expression and creation. Bar.ber strives to do the same – build something new in an old district of our city that is coming back to life, embracing the culture while creating their own. Barbershops are places of cultural practice where the confluence of personal care and small talk creates the room for cultural exchange. Bar.ber embodies all of these qualities not only with the interior setting of their concept store but also the creative minds behind this establishment.
It’s All About Their “Why”
Giribaldie explains, “Every time a customer walks in, it is like we get a new canvas to work on. Every time they leave happy, we are even happier than they are. This challenge – to reach and exceed their expectations and our own, that challenge – that’s very important to us.” According to Lo-A-Njoe, “It’s not about the money; if we wanted to be rich we would not be in this business. We wanted to give back to the community in a bigger way. We hope to pass along our passion to other people.”