Among the many, many things upended by the pandemic, self-care has become a much-appreciated luxury in the midst of uncertainty. As Los Angeles hair, nail, and grooming salons are reopening (albeit with fewer open chairs), many Angelenos are booking long-awaited chops (or getting their unfortunate at-home cuts fixed) in droves.
One L.A. spot that's offering much more than a quick buzz or a cool fade is Saints, a Venice barbershop, men's boutique, and art gallery owned by L.A. designer Daniel Ordoñez. "I think a lot of folks fail to realize how much grooming impacts your mood and self-esteem," the Saints founder and creative director tells UncoverLA. Since the end of August, "we've been back inside giving our community the full quality experience we're known for."
For L.A.'s grooming service providers, it's been a roller coaster of shuttering, reopening, closing again, and re-reopening outdoors — but for Ordoñez, closing up IRL temporarily actually helped accelerate Saints' goal of becoming a global lifestyle brand: "During the first three months of full closure we were able to shift all our resources and energy to our e-commerce platform."
The online shop stocks Saints' spring/summer 2020 collection of vintage band and sports tees and hats, sweaters, and outerwear — think upcycled Van Halen and Guns 'N' Roses shirts from the '90s, tie-dyed Grateful Dead shirts and Carhartt jackets, and L.A.-inspired snapbacks, to name a few. Also on offer is original art, hair and beard grooming products by Mason's, and Cult Classic mags.
The pivot to online has given Saints a way to link up with new and existing clients and provide them with fresh merch when they can't physically visit his store. Ordoñez adds: "We doubled down on ad spends and made sure we were doing everything in our power to drive our clients to shop online. This strategy has actually helped us grow and maintain a stronger online presence, which we're continuing still."
Ordoñez opened Saints in June of 2018 on a low-key stretch of Washington Boulevard on the outskirts of Venice (technically, it's part of Culver City). A designer and brand marketing and strategy expert in his own right (he's worked with the likes of Adidas, Apple, Beats, Google, Nike, and Pepsi, to name a few), the L.A. native envisioned a brick-and-mortar space that would host community events for like-minded creatives, especially for people of color like himself.
"We have an endless amount of ideas for events, shows, and experiences, but what I care about the most is to continue to foster this amazing community of 'good people' we sought to bring together," he says. "I truly believe Saints will be a global brand amplifying this message of living in our purpose throughout the world. I've always been a big believer that your vibe attracts your tribe, I'm confident there are a lot more people in the world with this mentality."
We recently sat down with Ordoñez to learn more about his career journey, how the coronavirus affected his business, how L.A. inspires Saints, and his favorite neighborhood recs — read on below, and shop online (or book your next cut) here.
How have you pivoted Saints' business after the recent state-mandated closings (and reopenings)?
After we received the approval to operate inside, we did so for a month and a half before being asked to close again. At the end of July, we were allowed to open up again under the condition of serving our clients outdoors. In a matter of a week, we turned our back parking lot into an outdoor barbershop.
This was not the most convenient scenario for our team — the heat, wind, and lack of light under our canopy made it challenging but we did our best. Our clients were all extremely grateful we were able to serve them during these times.
Let's chat about your career. You've worked with some incredible brands — Nike, Beats, Apple, and Google, to name a few. What have been some of your other proudest "pinch me" career moments?
I'm very grateful for working with some of the biggest brands in the world but one of my favorite moments in my career was definitely working as a creative director for an artist that had just signed with Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music label. I went from working at a scrappy tech startup one year after UCLA to being in rooms with famous producers and writers.
I worked closely with the talent on the album art, social and branding strategies, music videos, and an array of creative projects. Although there was no money involved, I truly felt like a kid in a candy store being able to execute with almost no limitations. We parted ways after a few months but I'm still extremely grateful for the experience and confidence it gave me to tackle bigger clients and projects in the future.
Tell us more about where you were in life and your career when you decided to open Saints. What were the conversations and experiences that inspired the concept?
I got into the grooming business through an old acquaintance. He was a barber and I worked on his first shop as an art director, designing and creating the creative blueprint for his business. From the logo to interior design, I led that entire front.
After a few years, he was planning on opening a second business. After some critical thinking, I came to the conclusion that there is a big void in the minority community for a premium barbershop brand. You have your Floyd's, Supercuts, and Fantastic Sams, but none of those shops can cut my curly coarse hair. This is when I came up with the idea of creating "the Nike of Barbershops."
A few months later, we were opening up as business partners. A couple of months into being open, I marketed heavily to high school kids. Given our hip aesthetic and lower price point, this was our target demographic. The kids began to come. Soon after, they invited their old brother or cousin. Then they invited their uncle or dad. Before we knew it, we had two to three generations of family members coming into the shop.
I then realized we all ended up having very similar tastes in music, fashion, and ultimately lifestyle — giving the idea to focus on creating a brand that catered to a lifestyle rather than just a small, one-dimensional business.
My business partner wanted to stay local and small in the suburbs where we were. I had a grander vision and knew this brand had the potential to be global. After about a year and a half, I left and prepared to open Saints in my back yard of Venice. Surrounded by Silicon Beach and young professionals like myself, I knew guys would pay a premium to look good. This is where I planted my flag. This is where I would build my community.
From getting put onto Nirvana and 2Pac to nerding out to computer games, I've always surrounded myself by things I enjoyed and never felt that it had to be "one or the other."
How has L.A. inspired the aesthetic and approach of Saints?
When you think about it, L.A. is arguably one of the most diverse places in the world. This eclectic melting pot of a community has inspired me in so many ways: From getting put onto Nirvana and 2Pac as a kid, to skateboarding, playing basketball, and nerding out to computer games all in the same day. I've always surrounded myself by things I enjoyed and never felt that it had to be "one or the other."
This city breeds such a multi-hyphenated community through all its unique subcultures, I've always gravitated to this rebellious and free-spirited way of thinking. It's honestly no surprise my business is thriving through this unique proposition I've created for the city I'm proud to call home.
What's coming down the pipeline for Saints, eg any new launches/exclusives? And where do you hope to see Saints in the future?
Our fall and winter collection is coming up soon. We're really excited to share that with our folks. We're also working on some community events around Black Lives Matter and local artists that will be uplifting. Being a Black-owned business, I really have tried my best to make an impact where I can and we're definitely working on something to encourage people to vote and get our voices heard.
When you're not busy running Saints, where are some of your favorite L.A. spots to eat, play, and shop?
Growing up in L.A., I've got a really good grip on the lay of the land. Locally some of my favorite restaurants are Scopa, Hatchet Hall, and Wabi on Rose — great dining, good vibes, and delicious food across the board. Going back to my old stomping grounds and more hole in the wall, Don Felix has some of my favorite Peruvian near Silverlake.
My favorite El Salvadorean restaurant recently closed, but its sister location, Jaragua, is also just as delicious in K-town. If you're into seafood, highly recommend Mariscos Jalisco near East LA. Some of my favorite stores to shop at definitely include Union on La Brea, John Elliott in WeHo, and Kith and Fred Segal on Sunset — they're all very well-curated shops with their own unique sensibilities.
On a weeknight you'll definitely find me training at "The Mecca," Gold's Gym in Venice — I love the rough-around-the-edges energy that place breeds, perfect for working out. On the weekend, I'll most likely be at the beach riding my bike or hanging near the marina. I think a lot of folks take for granted how much this city has to offer, I know I'm definitely not.
Saints, 12796 Washington Blvd., Venice, 90066