The Barbershop Buff: Sam Buffa

How Fellow’s Sam Buffa Gave the Barbershop Biz a Modern Makeover
The Barbershop Buff: Sam Buffa
Before Fellow’s Sam Buffa got into the barbershop biz he was whipping around a track on his motorcycle. Segueing from helmet hair to grooming aficionado, however, isn’t exactly a straight shot. After racing professionally in Italy, he stopped off in New York where he fell in love with the city’s energy. Buffa then “bounced between different things,” including fashion retail and marketing, before finding his way into the grooming industry. “With any sort of sport, especially motorcycle racing, it's a very individualized journey. It's you against everyone else at all times,” he explains of pivoting careers. “I think it trained me very well for being an entrepreneur because there's always some sort of problem that's going to pop up that you can't anticipate and need to be able to handle on the fly.”

In fact, when he first started Fellow Barber in 2006, he wasn’t even thinking about hair. “At the time, my goal was actually to open a small restaurant or bar,” says Buffa, a dream he achieved later when he opened Vinegar Hill House and designed the interiors for Frenchette. “I always knew I wanted to open a space that could be an experience and something that people could go to on a daily basis, kind of a neighborhood-type spot.” While asking his inner circle about everything from their favorite burgers to bars, he also inquired about where they got their hair cut. “There wasn’t any place that guys gravitated to, so I initially made a space for myself and my friends,” he explains. “The idea was pretty simple: create a great environment. Back then, Americana was just resurfacing, so I decided to build something with the classic look and feel of a barbershop from the early 1900s but offer updated services.”

The first location—which has since expanded to ten barbershops in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and San Francisco—was in tucked in the back of Freemans Sporting Club. The synergy between handmade suits and haircuts made sense, making it a one-stop-shop for suave and sophisticated men. “It was a haven for guys and we were busy right from day one because it was obvious that a lot of men were looking for the same thing,” says Buffa. “They just didn’t know it until they saw it.” Hiring both barbers and cosmetologists who could work together under one roof helped him create “a superior product compared to what you’d get at a standard barbershop.”

We're not a shop that's too cool and is going to make you feel like you don't belong

Buffa’s goal as a company is to “give guys tools” and an “create environment that is receptive and helps men let their guards down” when it comes to grooming. “We're not a shop that's too cool and is going to make you feel like you don't belong,” explains Buffa. “We have a sense of authority in the industry, so I think a lot of guys come to us and want to talk about their grooming needs.” Fellow products follow the same credo in that every formula is “interesting and inventive” enough for pros, but “not too esoteric for your average guy.” Buffa’s business is essentially built for a new generation of male consumers who aren’t afraid or ashamed to spend more time in front of the mirror. In fact, his five-year-old son is already a prime example. “He has very long hair and everyone thinks he’s a girl, but it’s great to watch because he doesn’t care,” he says. “His hair is a big part of his look.”

Here, Buffa reveals his secret for perfectly imperfect second-day hair and explains why you shouldn’t shampoo every time you get in the shower.

His best business advice: “Just keep moving forward. There are times, especially with a small business, where things come up that are pretty dramatic, scary, and hard to wrap your head around. If you just put one foot in front of the other, you will get through it and things do get better.”

His future predictions: “Over the years, men have become more educated on different types of hair products. Now, for the first time, we're really seeing that guys are also interested in the products that they put on their skin. They want formulas that are cleaner and more natural…For us, the next phase will be face. We're working on a lot of interesting clean products that will be great for face and body.”

His less-is-more approach: “One of the big things that we’re always talking about [at Fellow Barber] is the idea of shampooing less, which is why we created Summer Wash and Winter Wash. We're really trying to educate guys that they've been trained to over-wash their hair. If you talk to most men, they shampoo their hair every day or sometimes multiple times a day because they take multiple showers. They're really doing a disservice to their general hair health. They're stripping all the good oils out of their hair and basically putting in too much product to build it back up. We really believe that less is more. Summer Wash is what I use the most because I have thicker, oilier hair. I just need something that keeps the natural oils [intact] but also gives my hair a nice, clean feeling and smell without overdoing it. I wash my hair maybe once a week at the most. I'm pretty simple. The only other thing that I do is use Everyday Oil all over, which my friend Emma created. I use that in the shower and come out fully moisturized.”

His hair hero: “I always use our Styling Cream. It's my everyday product. It’s definitely one I selfishly created for myself. I have longer hair, so I'm not a pomade guy. It gives you that two-day dirty look and adds just enough moisture and a teensy bit of hold. It also really takes the frizz out.”

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His go-to pros: “I go to anyone in our company. I sort of float around from shop to shop! I'm a classic guy in that I can't really plan my haircut or anything else in advance. There’s always a moment when I wake up and I'm just like, ‘Whoa, I need to get a haircut.’”

His best beauty souvenir: “I actually love getting a haircut when I'm traveling, I think it's a fun to go to other barbershops when I'm in different countries or different states. My favorites are old-school barbershops in Paris and Portugal.”

His ultimate indulgence: “Going to a bathhouse for a good steam or a soak. I like the Russian bathhouses [on the East Side] or a place [in Tribeca] called Aire.”

His biggest beauty mistake: “I generally have a beard or some sort of scruff. Every once in a while, I love getting a straight razor shave. That said, I don't like being completely naked and not having some sort of something on my face because I look really young. Too babyface.”

His beauty icon: “I love the way Al Pacino looks because he's always a little rough.”

His favorite escape: “I like to surf, so I go to a beach called Smith Point, which is out in the middle of Long Island near Fire Island. That's really my escape. The one product that I always bring is Salt & Stone sunscreen.”

His dream bathroom raid: “Keanu Reeves because he looks great. I know people who've hung out with him and they say he's very chill.”

His beauty mantra: “Don’t overthink it. I feel like it's always on the days where I feel like I look my worst and feel self-conscious that someone says something to the opposite effect. You can't be overly concerned because there's someone out there that likes the thing that you hate about yourself.”

Written by Amber Kallor

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