By: Gerald Stewart
The Black-Owned Businesses Abroad series is a recurring installment of interviews, photos, videos, promotions, and/or article contributions covering black entrepreneurs making their way in a society away from home. This article is spotlighting Foreign Cutz, a barber shop in Yokosuka Japan.
I went to Cordell’s shop, Foreign Cutz, for a haircut and beard trim. I’m happy with the result and the quality of his work is immediately recognizable. After my haircut, I chatted with Cordell and another customer while he cut the next person in line. This is a bit of his story from the talk we had:
What do you miss most after being in Japan for over ten years?
“Being from Memphis I would definitely have to say fried pork chops.”
Cordell reflected fondly on spending time in the kitchen back home. Also being from the South, I asked a bit more about my favorite food: southern BBQ. Cordell said he can actually barbecue a bit and also feels comfortable in a kitchen.
So what made you decide to open a barber shop, rather than a restaurant or anything else?
“Well I got into cooking later on, and cooking for myself is one thing but it’s different to sell it to other people.”
How did you get into cutting hair?
“I got one haircut a long time ago and it was awful. I got it fixed by my cousin and became really curious about how to do everything.”
You have a picture with Nelly on facebook, are there any other celebrities or notable people you’ve cut?
Cordell has cut Nelly, Fabo of D4L, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray from Empire, and Joey BadA$$.
What was it like working on them?
Cordell cut Nelly and members of his team in 2016. Nelly was personable and down-to-Earth.
Who was the most interesting person you cut?
Joey BadA$$ was the most interesting because he was “natural, real, and entertaining”.
Given your experience and clientele, what do you say to people who think the price is too high?
That picture really says it all- “Look at the equipment. All that stuff, it factors in, and as a barber, you have to value yourself.”
Another customer there, also from the US, agreed that the price is not unreasonable. “Quality is a big factor. For many people, hair is your safety net, and if your hair gets messed up, it changes your whole image.”
Cordell agreed and shared stories of people he had known personally still trying to get a discount for a first time or a list of other reasons. “What I don’t understand is- people won’t go to Walmart or the corner store asking for a discount, so why would you come to my shop and ask me?”
The value Cordell places on his eye for style and experience is justified in his work. Having lived in six different cities in Asia, including three in Japan, I can say going to Cordell gave me the best and easiest haircut I’ve gotten abroad. A big part of that is my own lack of command of the local language. However, even with solid translation and multiple example images, it can take other experienced barbers three or four visits to get my hair cut and styled to my liking. This is probably due to simple differences in style and trends, but the result is that it can take me a solid two months to get what I might otherwise call my ‘usual’. The day I went to see Cordell I wanted to see what he could do with little suggestion. So I told him that I usually like a relatively short fade but I was open to letting him work. When the chair turned around, I knew that was a good choice. One feature I didn’t expect was that Cordell saw something I didn’t know about: He shaved just a bit of the top of my moustache which resulted in a visible separation between my nose and my facial hair which actually made the hair look fuller than when it follows its own lines.
Can you share your top tips for healthy, stylish hair?
“In this environment, depending on who you are and your hair type, keep moisturized. For example with newly locked hair, it’s pretty easy to maintain but you have to keep it moisturized. For black people, wash about three times a week, not every day, and depending on style wrap it up at night.”
Cordell also said he liked the pomade he recently started using, that he used to style my hair. It gave my hair a finished look, but without being so hard that I couldn’t still run my hands through it. Cordell used the “White Lightning” product by Mason’s Pomade.
How often should people be getting their hair cut?
“Every two weeks.”
Are there any do’s and don’ts for haircut day?
“Please, wash your hair. And don’t come in with product in it. It can mess up the clippers and make the haircut take longer.”
For those people that don’t have the time or money to get cut that often, do you have any tips to make a haircut last?
Shorter cuts are obviously going to last longer, and be easier to style. On top of that, Cordell recommends steering away from ‘hard parts’ and designs if you’re on a budget or can’t come in for a fresh haircut regularly.
On the other hand, if someone has some spare time and money to spend on their appearance, are there any style choices you like to work with?
“I’m really into fades, drop fades, high n’ tight, I just think something about it looks good.” Cordell mentioned he also likes to do designs, especially those that are unique or have some personal interest to the customer. “I had a guy in here the other day that wanted an ‘A’ in a circle cut in like the name of the performer, Anarchy. Designs really let me work on technique and I’m always on youtube thinking about what I can try next.”
What has it been like running a business here?
Cordell arrived in 2007. He got out of the Navy in 2014 and said he felt unsure of what to do next. While considering his options of using his GI bill for further education and also considering different jobs, Cordell was having a hard time.
“I was working contract jobs and it was actually my wife’s idea to open a shop. I was mobile before opening this shop in November of 2017 and I was constantly running around to different places. I just remember one day I passed out. I guess I was dehydrated and I woke up in the hospital and the first thing I thought of was ‘Where’s my equipment? What time is it? I have to get to my next client.’ And the nurse looked at me and was like ‘you’re not going anywhere.’ My wife did a bunch of stuff for me preparing for this and I was just so grateful. The one thing I was worried about going from mobile to having a shop was ‘are my clients going to follow me?’”
Cordell said all but one or two of his clients did decide to come to his shop, and at least one of those exceptions started mentioning booking an appointment soon.
Have you noticed any big differences between your experiences and those of non-black expat business owners?
Cordell said that he hasn’t had any bad experiences in the shop or while he’s actually working.
“But outside of the shop I do have stuff that’s said get back to me, but I don’t let it bother me. For example a customer had someone ask who cut her hair and when she told the guy about me he said something like ‘oh I’m going to take all of his customers.’ But she just said ‘Yeah, good luck with that.’ And that’s what I think about it too.”
On the topic of entrepreneurship in general, Cordell said he has a contact who isn’t a Person of Color that is something of a mentor to him.
“He owns a chicken spot and some apartment buildings and other things. He gets cut here and he encourages me to diversify. Our businesses are different so there’s not a direct comparison. But one thing I remember he told me was to be like a spider -if one leg gets cut off, you should have other things going on so you still have more to rely on.”
Can you recommend any other resources, sites, or contacts for black expats?
Cordell mentioned that he is actually going to be participating in an episode of Raw Urban Mobile, a podcast about life in Japan.
Check out the show and look out for his episode at https://rump.podbean.com/
If you’d like to be a part of the BOBA series, leave a message in the contact section of the blog.
Follow Cordell on Facebook @Foreigncutz
Address:2 Chome−43 Yokosuka, Kanagawa,Japan