In 1993, mohawks, buzz cuts, and tattoos spurred a humble beginning for a unisex salon and hangout that became a trailblazer for the modern barbershop movement after it opened in Seattle. When friends Wade Weigel, David Petersen, and the late Alex Calderwood co-founded Rudy's, they weren't sure the stylists could trim enough heads to keep the doors open for a month. Today the brand is celebrating 25 years.
The trio’s can-do mentality sparked their success in 1990s Seattle, a city roused by the broody music and unkempt style of grunge subculture as bands like Alice in Chains and Nirvana stood at the forefront of the burgeoning music scene. The Capitol Hill neighborhood lacked a place for friends to meet, mingle, get a cool, affordable haircut —and feel better when they left than when they had walked in.
“Rudy’s has always been about the experience of place and creating a comfortable spot for people from all walks of life to hang out,” says Brendon Lynch, CEO of Rudy's Barbershop today.
WHO IS RUDY?
From its inception, Rudy's was also about making a mark and defying the norm. And the retro-chic storefront landed its name unconventionally. The partners turned to a graffiti crew for ideas. The artists enthusiastically responded “Rudy’s,” then tagged the name in the middle of their just-painted mural on the shop's wall. Their Rudy was Rudy Davis, the carefree Fat Albert character who sported purple pants and a magenta vest, and was never seen without his bright orange cap. The name stuck.
The site of the first location on East Pine in Capitol Hill was an edgy area in the late 1980s and early 90's, but soon the barbershop caught on and queues stretched down the block. The partners went on to open another Seattle location and then another, and it became an empire. With shops now scattered in six states and a line of hair and body products, Rudy’s has shaped its own unique subculture.
HAIRCUTS FOR EVERYONE
Enter any Rudy’s, and the chairs hold suit-clad businesspeople, tattooed punk rockers, and anxious little kids. People from all walks of life—different ages, backgrounds, and genders—flock to the barbershops daily for trendy haircuts, classic blowouts, and a zippy energy.
“Since our early days in 1993, we’ve worked hard to find interesting neighborhoods where we can integrate into the local culture and community,” Lynch says.
The company has continued to launch shops in neighborhoods akin to that first spot: Silver Lake in Los Angeles, East Nashville, NoMad in New York, and Ponce City Market in Atlanta.
Rudy’s now employs more than 600 people at its 27 outposts. While Calderwood passed away in 2013 and Peterson is no longer involved in operations, Weigel serves on the board. Lynch took the company wheel in 2014, kicking off Rudy’s hair and body line. The shampoo, conditioner, and body wash are sulfatefree, paraben-free, non-irritating and naturally derived. Ace Hotels in New York, Palm Springs, London, downtown L.A., Pittsburgh, and New Orleans feature the products in guest rooms.
Rudy’s Barbershop has always prided itself on being a place for all. The company has long collaborated with the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit that empowers and connects LGBTQ youth. And for every 1-2-3-shower- product bundle sold, Rudy’s donates a week’s worth of that same product to one of more than a dozen shelters in the U.S .—including My Friend's Place in Los Angeles—that provide showers to LGBTQ homeless youth.
The catchphrase, “It’s never just been about the hair,” resonates. Rudy’s was always meant to be about inclusivity and community. At eight million cuts and counting, it still is.