Brand Masters is a new series that explores what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur in the contemporary landscape of culture. Whether you’re building a name for yourself or your label/store, these individuals have gone through the process and drop dimes.
Last week, we brought you inside the hustling mind of Willis the Barber for the second episode in our Brand Masters series. This week, we head to Jacksonville, Florida and chop it up with Angel Villegas, or simply Angel Raws. The owner of Raw Cuts, The SMP Factory and co-founder of Barber Verzuz has words of wisdom for investing in yourself. After enrolling in barber school, Angel attended trade shows and competed in some of the biggest competitions. He saw that there was more than one way to excel in the game, as long as you took the time to learn what you needed and hone your craft. After all, you don’t just become an Andis brand ambassador overnight.
Like many barbers, Angel got his start in the industry thanks to a burning passion within himself. He started cutting at the age of 14 in his mom’s garage because he loved to do it. He had the fork in the road of choosing whether to go to school and make his mom happy or find some kind of hustle and way to support himself. Angel chose to go to college and was cutting hair in a barbershop without a license to pay for tuition. He decided around the age of 19/20 that the school thing wasn’t going to work out and decided to drop out, enrolling full time in barber school instead. The teachers at barber school introduced him to barber cutting competitions and shows and from there, the rest is history.
With social media these days, it’s easy to find any piece of information you want. Back when Angel started out, social media was still in its infant phase, if that. He knew that to grow and get recognition, showing up at shows and competing in the competitions was the best way to get his name out there. In order to do so, he shelled out a lot of money on himself to travel and make it out to events in order to network.
Winning competitions definitely helped boost his image and brand and he’s become one of the most well-known barbers in the industry when it comes to doing intricate designs on people’s heads. He used to practice on model’s at least 3 times before bringing a cut into a competition and would use the same model for 2 months on end to practice. This kind of discipline and training also translates into his personal life, where he uses the gym and working out to meditate and unwind – Angel even competed on The Rock’s hardcore gladiator-style TV show Titan Games.
“I think just the relentlessness to not stop makes me different. There’s been times where I’ve even been kicked down by my own people, you know, locally. Through work and grinding and you know, envy, and just not stopping is what makes me a different beast, you know?”
It takes one to know one and with his experience in competitive barbering and with the global pandemic of last year, Angel was able to further expand his own skill base as well as push the industry forward along with fellow barber Ramon Zavala aka Papito as they created Barber Verzuz. Built on the same model as VERZUZ, the head-to-head barber battle really energized viewers during lockdown and also let the top barbers get off some creative energy and that raw attitude missing since barbershops were closed. Hear how the popular platform came to be below.
With an unsure timeline of when the pandemic would end, Angel and Papito once again invested in themselves and their business and looked forward to the day that life might get back to normal while also having a plan b.
Like many others during lockdown, Angel was able to build a new skill during COVID and turn a negative global pandemic into a personal positive.
And of course we had to find out which battle was Angel’s favorite.
Advice for first time barbers and entrepreneurs
If you put in the work, the success follows. Not only did Barber Verzuz take off, but Angel’s own Raw Cuts Barbershop brand is also killin’ it down in Florida – helped him reach celebrity barber status. Like everyone else, when Angel saw someone at a show that he previously saw on TV or a magazine, he had the immediate “Oh, that’s them!” reaction that’s natural. “And it’s not like a starstruck thing, it’s more like a, I look up to this dude, and I finally get to meet him, shake his hand, and that’s cool. It’s just people sometimes forget that we all start from the same place,” he says in response to working hard and reaching a point where his brand is successful and he’s on the receiving end of influence and fame.
“You’re an artist – you gotta figure out who you are, what you like, and if you’re not in love with something, it’s not gonna work.”
So what kind of advice does someone who co-founded Barber Verzuz – a head-to-head barber battle – that’s built on the same model as VERZUZ, have for budding brands and entrepreneurs?
A clean brand that is easy to identify with is just the start. You also have to be relentless like Angel says above and below.
Finally, you can’t be scared to try new things. You never know what will happen if you try other creative avenues. Angel found success picking up a camera and also giving advice on YouTube – you just have to be open to constantly working.
Nothing beats networking in person
In a client-facing industry like barbering, networking and events and having someone in the chair is key to business. Whether or not you work in something client facing, you are your own brand and you need to invest in yourself. Angel can’t wait to be in the same room as other like-minded individuals and every creative should strive to be the same. Only you know how much work you put in and how much you invest in yourself.
To keep up with Angel, Raw Cuts and Barber Verzuz, check out the social media accounts below and drop a comment on who you want to see go head-to-head.
This series was made possible by Squire, the premier barbershop POS software. To learn more, hit up getsquire.com.
If you’re a first time barber or even someone established, look out for more episodes of Brand Masters each week.
Written by Matt Peng
Interview conducted by Curvel Baptiste
Transcription by Olivia Hawkins
Produced by Madeline Carpentiere
Photos via Angel Villegas/Raw Cuts Barbershop