During the course of our interview with Martin “Bug” Warren and Paulo Canivel, the owners of Felipe and Sons, a popular barberdashery (it’s a portmanteau of “barbershop” and “haberdashery”) with five branches scattered around Metro Manila, the words “elevate” and “values” seemed to seep their way into many of the sentences uttered by the two business owners.
Felipe and Sons owners Bug Warren and Paulo Canivel
It’s understandable, because anyone who visits their establishment will instantly feel how different the place is from your garden variety barbershop. There’s dark wood everywhere—as counters, as coffee tables, and in the details of fixtures. The music blares at a moderate volume, anything from the Dire Straits to Notorious B.I.G. might be playing, filling the space with ear-soothing lyrics from the greats. Suits and shirts of the finest fabrics line the walls, a sea of colors seducing the eyes of interested customers. Various hair products, that look to cool to fit into your regular bathroom arsenal of essentials, litter their shelves. Based on the aesthetics alone, it’s already apparent that they indeed provide an elevated experience, one rooted in bygone yet still palpably familiar values from an era that put a premium on specific, tailored tastes.
The barbers handling the cuts are distinguished, an air of assuredness surrounding most. Some of them are heavily tattooed, ink that speaks of their past revealing themselves through rolled-up sleeves as they give you a snip or a close shave or a relaxing shoulder massage. There’s an indubitable swagger in the manner with which they present themselves. And the haircuts—they’re always excellent, customized for the gentleman sitting on the throne.
Some might think that the prices they charge are ridiculous—a number of their services could be acquired for much cheaper elsewhere. But if the current milieu is to be believed, the Filipino man is now unafraid to outwardly express himself through grooming and fashion. No longer is he ashamed to take an hour or two off to escape reality and pamper himself from the stresses of the daily grind. Because, you know what, after a difficult day at work or even before prepping for a big day, he might just tell himself that he actually deserves it.
Where does the name “Felipe and Sons” come from and what’s the meaning behind it?
Paulo: When we first opened in December of 2013, we originally just wanted to have a barbershop. Originally, there were three founders—Bug, myself, and Marco [Katigbak]. We actually based the name on a barbershop from the movie Coming to America. One of our partners is a very keen historian. History is his passion. He runs this blog called “Finding Felipe”—Felipe being derived, of course, from the Philippines. We thought that if we were to build something, we wanted it to be grounded on Filipino values. Plus, the whole concept of fathers and sons is very strong in our culture and our dynamics as a group.
So, in a way, the name pays homage to our country?
P: Yes. We thought what better to way to pay homage to the Philippines than through the barbershop, serving as the sons of our country. Our goal, our responsibility to the country, is to be good sons. We all strive to be good sons to our parents. We believe that Felipe and Sons is a place where we can share that value. As the sons of the Philippines, it’s our obligation to make our country proud.
Was Felipe and Sons a passion project or did you guys see a practical need for the business?
Bug: I think it was a bit of both. When Marco and I were playing around with the barbershop’s concept, we had this idea of bringing back that old-school barbershop feel. We were thinking of doing it as a passion project as well. Then when we talked to Paulo, he joined us and we put it all together. Then we realized there was nothing like that right here. So that’s where it stemmed from.
Aside from the obvious, how would you say Felipe is different from your friendly neighborhood barber?
B: I think it’s really the experience that we’re trying to elevate. Of course, your barbershops on the corners of every street are very good. These barbers are trained. We want to make the visit more comfortable by mixing the old-school with the contemporary and by stepping it up.
How do you guys curate the experience? What are the elements in play that help that idea come to fruition?
P: Let’s start with the barber shop experience. First of all, it starts with the culture of how we espouse the brand to the barbers themselves. Number one, part of the training is that they take a pride in the craft. The customer feels like there’s an extra effort from the barber because the barbers themselves are given that extra respect. That extra attention na hindi ka lang barber. You’re not just here para gumupit ng buhok. You’re not just supposed to follow everything your customer demands. You’re here because you have a role to play in making a customer feel good.
Aside from getting a haircut, do you think men visit their barber for other reasons?
P: Customers come to the barbershop looking for that escape from the world. Whatever the barbers are able to put into that experience, it helps in making the customer feel good, face the world, and do the best that they can after leaving. Making the barbers understand their value, that they’re more than just people who cut hair, it starts there.
How does this approach affect your barbers?
P: Sila mismo they come up with creative ways to deliver their service. Our head barbers, every month, they’ll call meetings where they discuss what we can do to better our services. In terms of technique, they go on YouTube and they read magazines to help enhance their knowledge. It starts with the culture. We encourage them to be the best version of themselves.
Do you think the grooming game of the Pinoy man has evolved in recent years? How does Felipe and Sons fit into this equation?
B: I think guys were just waiting for a place like ours. Our goal is to help these guys bring out their personality. Our tagline is “Revive Manila Swagger.” Swagger isn’t about being boastful, it’s about wanting to express yourself. You don’t have to be dressed in a suit all the time either. It’s our job to help them discover and express their personal style.
Is the Filipino man ready for this kind of grooming experience? In your opinion, are Filipinos more stylish and particular when it comes to personal grooming?
P: If you’re asking if the has market grown, well, to be honest, I don’t think we ever really lost it. We take inspiration from our forefathers. Our inspiration is the old pictures nung mga panahon ng lolo natin. I’ve never seen a picture of my grandfather na hindi siya nakabihis. Intrinsic yun sa culture natin. We’re just trying to bring back that natural inclination. There was a time when Manila was the most cosmopolitan city in all of Asia, and that’s where we take our inspiration from. We’re just kind of reminding people that we were once there and we have the opportunity to bring ourselves back. We are a forward-thinking nation. Giving the male Filipino the opportunity to do that is a good thing. And with that movement now of all these other barbershops popping up, we feel that it’s a sign. It’s indicative of how the market is starting to understand that this is something we should be doing.
If you were to describe the Felipe and Sons man, what would be his persona?
B: We actually get asked that a lot. There are different pegs. There’s a phrase in Tagalog: “maangas pero hindi mayabang.” We’d like to think that the word “swagger” is not negative. It’s a quiet confidence. The Felipe man is confident in himself, whether it’s in jeans and a t-shirt or in a full suit. He has respect for his elders and he’s proud of his Filipino values.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as business owners?
B: For me, it’s always dealing with the personalities involved. Keeping everyone in line with the culture that we want in the stores. When we first started, we’d have customers trickling in. But then as customers came and they referred their friends, that’s when the business started to grow. Word of mouth was really helpful and key for us.
P: Scaling the business from one branch to six [they also manage a barbershop/speakeasy called Thirsty Barber] was definitely a challenge, especially on the backend. We really had to spend a lot of time and effort building the systems and growing the team. Our team has grown from me, Bug, and our other founder Marco to now, where we need to bring in more experts in things we don’t necessarily know how to do. You have to also acknowledge what your own shortcomings are as a business owner. There are a lot of things you don’t know. There are a lot of challenges that require different skills and know-how.
What’s rewarding about having a business like Felipe and Sons?
B: I think, for me, it’s being to elevate the profession of a barber. I’m confident to say that some of these barbers make more money than the people that sit in their chairs. And they’ve seen that if they pay attention to their craft and take care of their customers, they can make a living and be proud of who they are and their profession.
P: The biggest reward, for me, is not just being able to elevate the industry, but to continuously have a channel to impart the values we built the brand on. The fact that we have more people coming to us and listening to what we have to say gives us more opportunities to share the whole point of view of Felipe and Sons. It was never just about the barbershop or the clothes or the tailoring—it was always about being Felipe’s sons, being part of a larger movement to make our country a better place in any way we can.
To learn more about Felipe and Sons, you can visit their website by clicking here.