As the first in a series of features on beauty brands that give back, we take a look at the Seattle-born barbershop, Rudy’s.
by Nora Maloney
Just over 20 years ago, a trio of twentysomethings teamed up to create a whole new take on the traditional barbershop. Today, that barbershop uses its reach to help L.G.B.T.Q. youth across the country. Wade Weigel, David Petersen, and the late Alex Calderwood co-founded Rudy’s at the center of Seattle’s cultural revolution in 1993—a time when rock icons such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana were at the forefront of the city’s grunge scene and, ultimately, in the chairs of Rudy’s Capitol Hill salon.
Rudy’s story may sound like the result of your classic culmination of creative frustration and, in many ways, maybe it was. But it was also the exploration of a new kind of community—a gathering place for art and music to be appreciated. Rudy’s was, and still is at its core, a business for the people and a place for the neighborhood to come together and have a good time.
The first Rudy’s opened on Pine Street in the Capitol Hill district of Seattle—an area that was, in the early 90s, considered pioneer territory. Today, nearly 25 years later, Rudy's has 27 shop locations across the United States, over 500 employees, and a new-to-the-market line of unisex hair products– the 1-2-3 Showering System– that launches today online, in stores, and in Ace Hotels nationwide.
Backtracking a bit, we should probably mention that two of the founding members, Weigel and Calderwood, didn’t stop with Rudy’s. In 1999, the same year that André Balazs called upon them to house their barbershop concept at The Standard Hotel in Los Angeles, the two men purchased a Seattle halfway house and flipped it into what would become the first Ace Hotel. Today, the Ace Hotel has nine locations total—seven across the U.S., one in London, and another in Panama—and a tenth opening in Chicago, this fall.
With Rudy’s founding members’ “If we build it, they will come” mentality still intact, it was important for Brendon Lynch, the C.E.O. of Rudy’s since 2014, to launch a whole new venture by developing a product line synonymous with the brand. “Over the past 25 years, Rudy's has learned a lot about hair through washing, cutting, and styling the heads of hundreds of thousands of customers,” says Lynch. “We’ve become experts in what makes a great product, and in that time, we realized there was nothing on the market that works for a wide array of hair types that's also rooted in hands-on experience.”
Something else that carried over from the original founders is the brand’s deep-rooted involvement in the L.G.B.T.Q. community. In his time as C.E.O., Lynch has continued to vigorously pursue relationships with different charities and has maintained a longtime partnership with the It Gets Better Project, working to provide product for showers to L.G.B.Q.T. and homeless youth. "Homelessness disproportionately affects the L.G.B.T.Q. community, with almost 40 percent of homeless youth identifying as L.G.B.T.Q.,” says Brian Wenke, executive director of the It Gets Better Project. “When considering the complexity of the issue, it is easy to lose sight of the small day-to-day essentials that can have a big impact on someone’s life—like access to personal-care products.”
This is where their latest product launch comes to life. In collaboration with the It Gets Better Project, every purchase in the first 90 days following the launch of the 1-2-3 Showering System, Rudy’s will donate a week’s worth of the same product to a shelter that serves L.G.B.T.Q. youth. “We knew we wanted to do something for the L.G.B.T.Q. community with this launch. In our work with various L.G.B.T.Q. organizations, we were made aware that with our products and services we could make an impact for an extremely at-risk segment of this population, homeless youth,” says Lynch. "[The] It Gets Better Project‘s charity organization was a natural partner given their scale and our previous partnerships with them.”
Though the original founders are no longer involved in Rudy’s day to day business—Calderwood passed away in 2013, Weigel now sits on Rudy’s board of advisors, and Petersen has left the business altogether—the heart of the company is still very much intact under Lynch’s leadership. “Over the past 25 years, Rudy’s has established an experience and aesthetic that has not only spread to other barbershops, but much of the lifestyle brands we see across the world,” says Lynch. “Since the day we opened our doors, Rudy’s has been an ally and supporter of the L.G.B.T.Q. community. We’re proud of that legacy and continually try to find new ways we can build upon that.”
After all, it wasn’t just a barbershop that the original trio started, but a community where all walks of life are welcome.