I set out on a trip to Vancouver expecting to do a guest spot with a team of talented barbers and what I encountered was welcoming into a family, the culture of the Vancouver Art Community, and the highest vibration of love and passion.
Feeling anxious about everything unjust and messed up going on in the world today, I turned off comments on my Instagram stories, with the intention of being tuned in and present on my trip. At 8pm, after a 10-hour day of work, my friend and coworker Alyssa Strassolic and I set up the camera stand on the dashboard and set out on our 23-hour drive. I posted a snippet from our vlogging adventures saying “Welcome to our road trip”, as we drove into the night.
My phone only works on WiFi #thugginitout and not to shit on anyone in my life, but after checking my phone just before the first stop in Calgary (12 hours into the drive) the only message I had received checking in that we were traveling safely was from Reign Cruz of WSDM Club. I updated him, asked how he was doing, and we continued on the drive. We left our first destination at 4am the following day so we could watch the sunrise as we drove through Canada’s breathtaking mountains. When I checked my messages at our first coffee pit stop, I had a reply from Reign that he lost a friend and it was big news there, but that he was excited to see us and needed the energy.
“Wisdom comes from knowledge, knowledge comes from experience.”
The friend, brother, and mentor to many that had passed unexpectedly was Shahin Shakur aka Shapapi/Snackie Chan. Shahin was the co-owner of THC Dispensary and Dank Mart in South Vancouver. Dank Mart opened in early March during quarantine and quickly received wide recognition – not your typical bodega, but rather a place for the rarest coveted snacks. From exotic flavours of Fanta and Faygo, to red velvet Chips Ahoy and birthday cake Oreos, all and only dank items.
I saw that there was a vigil being held for Shahin that evening, so after grabbing a quick bite to eat we arrived at King George Park in Richmond, BC. I was amazed at the number of people gathered, followed by a slight feeling of overwhelm as it was getting dark, I had no service, and no one knew we would be there. We hung back from the crowd observing for a few minutes when I spotted Reign, who later shared with me that he felt something different in the crowd and had taken a step out. I walked over, tapped him, and he turned around greeting me with a large smile and open arms. We were introduced to more members of the team and spoke for a few minutes before he pointed me in the direction of Marvin Soriano, owner of WSDM Club. Although I had never met any of the guys, every one of them greeted me warmly and familiarly. During my discussion with Marv, he told me many people in the creative community were there in support, which I quickly realized as I saw other artist friends and made new ones.
That evening was a true celebration of life. I found myself laughing along with everyone to memories that were shared by various family and friends, and throughout the shedding of tears there wasn’t a sense of sadness, but rather love and peace. Without having met Shahin, I could feel his contagious energy.
As people said their goodbyes, Marv told me he was heading on a family trip that weekend but he’d see us on Monday and the boys would hold it down over the weekend. And that they did – from showing us the best vintage shops to both barbershops, WSDM Club and Knowledge Barbers. WSDM Club is located on East Hastings, a street with a large stigma attached to it, but one that I always feel the need to walk down, a reminder of where I was in my life the first time I visited Vancouver five years ago and where anyone could find themselves in life when they are faced with hardships and take a wrong turn. After telling my thoughts to Reign, he shared with me that he used to tell people he worked in Strathcona due to the stigma surrounding East Hastings until he realized screw that, the people you find there are souls too and have even built their own little community. They won’t bother you and occasionally you can find gems being bartered on the street.
WSDM Club is blocks away from the perceived chaos and while that’s still their block, I couldn’t help but notice a feeling of balance as I hung out for an afternoon in the shop. Long and rectangular but certainly not fitting inside any box, plants hang from the ceiling and the walls are decorated with photos from events and sports teams (some of which they sponsor), shelves holding books, trophies, and other prized mementos. To the left of the front desk, written largely on the wall is “What’s Mine is Hours” as Marv explained to me you have to put in the time to get what you want in life and what’s yours is what you work for. Throughout the weekend I noticed everyone casually drops words of WSDM in conversations, that really sparks your mind. When I commented that everything they do is with love and passion, Mike Aranzaso said how you do anything is how you should do everything.
Another one of their commonly used mottos, “Wisdom comes from knowledge, knowledge comes from experience” and Knowledge Barbers was built from wisdom and experience with the younger generation in mind. With floor to ceiling glass front windows that shower the space with sunlight and a view of bustling Kingsway St, it’s only fitting that the painted gym flooring and basketball racks adorning products make you want to bust out the basketball and shoot your shot at the net hanging above the front desk. Being unable to keep giving apprenticeship positions at WSDM Club, Knowledge Barbers was opened as a space for up-and-coming barbers to work in a real barbershop while still being able to learn. Christian Jason, Knowledge’s youngest barber of 17 years old, shared with me that he went to the same high school as Marv in the South Side and remembered being 10 years old messaging him for a haircut. He was inspired by Marv and shared his gratitude for now being a part of the team and the ability to soak up so much knowledge, as he sees every one of the guys as mentors. When Marv and I spoke about how he got his start he shared with me that he never looked at himself as an artist barber but wanted to keep growing and provide opportunities for others. And that when you’re feeling gains you need to share that with other people and start chopping bread.
More than just a team, these guys are family, which means much like Marv said, everybody eats. When I shared with Reign that I wasn’t having a great food experience so far on my trip, his dad invited us to their family home for dinner – where the cherry cola ribs and large spread was infused with love as we all gathered around the warm fire with our homemade sorbet and chill vibes.
Then came the day of our hair jam. What began as a chance for all of us to share knowledge turned into a 10-hour event, cutting and colouring hair, modelling, photographing and shooting video – friends and family aligning and supporting one another. Everyone in the building was involved. I don’t think I saw Pat Ramos sit down once, banging out precision cuts and perfect portraits, friends helping with the small details; straightening jacket collars and holding fans when models started to sweat.
From humble beginnings, growing at a rate they began knocking down walls in Marv’s parents house, to breaking barriers for young barbers and creating an environment for individuals to pursue their passions, WSDM Club has cultivated an ever growing and impactful community. Proving that love and laughter heal in uncertain and trying times in the collective and people’s personal lives. WSDM Club operates on a higher frequency and in true West Coast fashion, Reign Cruz gets you so high all you can do is cruise happily in the good vibes.
Photos via Thugwife and Pat Ramos
Video via Reign Cruz