Hidden a few blocks from Tijuana’s main thoroughfare, an old warehouse has become a cultural landmark for the city’s fashion-conscious men.
Wings painted outside the building are the only indication that something is different about the space, which had been used most recently as a gym.
Inside, a Drake song blasts over stand-up speakers, the smell of aftershave fills the air, and scissors snap over men in antique barber chairs.
The space is home to one of Tijuana’s rising social-media stars, 30-year-old barber Edgar Buena, better known as Don Edgar.
Using Facebook, he has cultivated a following with instructional videos on men’s grooming aimed at a new generation of Mexican men who want well-maintained beards and fade cuts, where hair on the sides and back is very short and tapers to a longer length at the top.
Edgar, who dresses intentionally like an old-time barber — handlebar mustache, gray-rimmed glasses, bow tie and suspenders — said his customers no longer scoff at spending money on their looks.
“Men enjoy how they look and take better care of themselves now,” he said.
Don Edgar Barberia is one of more than 100 barbershops that have opened in Tijuana in the past three years, mirroring growth in the men’s grooming industry in the United States and Europe.
Tijuana had roughly 50 to 80 barbershops in 2013 but now has more than 150, said the city’s economic-development office. Baja California now has the second-most barber shops — roughly 220 — of any Mexican state (Sonora has around 270).
Retail experts say that barbershop can sell masculinity, but other factors also attract clients: nostalgia, bargain prices, access to beard products and increased amenities offered by barbers.
The process at Tijuana’s new barbershops isn’t all that different from a classic shop, with a few notable differences. Barbers tend to trim and style facial hair first, then use a mix of clippers and scissors for the head, and finish with a hair wash and styling. Other services include a hot towel for the face (with or without a shave) or a face mask during the haircut. A few shops offer manicures.
Barbers also use a vibrating hand massager on a man’s head, neck and face after a cut. The device, which straps to the back of a barber’s hand while a blender-looking engine sends vibrations through fingers, was first used by barbers in the 1940s and has become a staple of the Tijuana barber scene.
Ruben Chavarria, 40, a machinist in San Diego who lives in Tijuana, used to get his hair cut in San Diego now but goes to Don Edgar Barberia once a week.
Chavarria’s girlfriend, 30-year-old Nallely Preciado, sat at a cafe in the same space rented by Don Edgar, sipping coffee and surfing Instagram. She goes to a salon every two months but doesn’t mind her boyfriend getting groomed weekly. “It’s the trend right now,” she said. “And it (the haircut) looks good on him.”
The big rage in all of Tijuana, though, are beards, and that has led to another trend: beard tinting. Cali Cuts, which has four locations in the city and another in Mexicali, uses a black wax that stains the skin to make a beard look more full for about $11.
It sounds crazy, but the results work so well that it seems like magic and is offered at most Tijuana barbershops — even though most treatments last only a day.
Miguel “Robo” Angel Gomez, 39, is a master barber at Cali Cuts with more than 10 years of experience tinting beards. He loves his job because he says tinting and trimming beards brings joy to his clients.
“That look on your face,” he said after trimming a reporter’s beard. “That’s why I do this.”