When I met Jeremy Wann to talk about GEO Hair Lab, his new project set for 300 West Fifth Avenue, I had to make a confession. I told him that when I saw the topic of a hair salon on the most recent program at Pecha Kucha, I wasn’t particularly excited. I’m not much on Salons, though a good bit of my family’s money seems to go there. But when he began his presentation that night, I was completely taken with both him and his project. His story is compelling.
The son of a Southern Baptist minister in Paducah, Kentucky, the family wasn’t particularly excited about having a son who wanted to be a hair stylist. Though he says they were actually pretty supportive, he’d sneak into his mother’s doll collection and give the dolls a new “bob.” Sure they were mad, but the doll looked fabulous, so it was worth it in his mind.
Despite the fact that he’d always dreamed of leaving Paducah for New York City, his life didn’t quite sort out that way. He got a retail job with Goodie’s in Paducah and was transferred to Knoxville to work as a graphic designer in the corporate office. Knoxville wasn’t necessarily New York City, but he found it comforting and friendly.
After he’d lived here about two years, he found himself lost downtown and turned onto Gay Street and was dazzled. This was ten years ago – he’s been here twelve years, now – and Gay Street wasn’t then what it is today, but it was enough. He knew he would stay and he knew he wanted to be downtown. He now lives in the Old City and will work just a few blocks away when his studio is completed.
The intervening ten years, however, held some drama he had to work through. After leaving design, he became a hair-dresser, training with some of the very best in the business. Some of you may remember him working in the Salon Visage Studio on Market Square. He studied at the Sassoon Academies, became an educator for L’Oreal’s luxury Kerastase line as well as recently studying under Brent Borresson, who attended that night’s Pecha Kucha. He traveled the country winning competitions across North America and was booked three months in advance.
But after about eight years he said it felt empty. More specifically, he said, “. . . for the most part I was empowering duck face!” He felt he was primarily promoting vanity while applying cancer-causing chemicals to his clients and filling numerous trash cans, thus polluting the earth. He’d come to a cross-road and thought he might quit it all.
It was at Max Patch in the Smokies that he had an epiphany. His mood was cloudy, as was the sky, when suddenly the clouds parted and he felt a new sense of purpose. He knew that nothing was wrong with his occupation, but his methods and goals would change. Instead of promoting a narcissistic cult of personality, he would promote helping people feel confident to go into the world and focus on making it a better place. He would work to show their inner character.
He’d already been thinking of opening his own place. He wanted it to be a place that emphasized confidence and character, a place to feel good as well as look good with a focus on the inner person. He feels media takes looking good to a sick level and he wants to make it a positive force for his clients. This will be emphasized in message on his website and in the new salon.
There will also be a focus on giving back, with a percentage of earnings going back into the community. Everything will be, as he says, “intentional.” He specifically wanted to locate the salon in downtown north in order to partner with some of the nearby agencies, such as women who have been through trauma. He’s not only unconcerned about the clash of cultures – women who can afford an expensive haircut, paired with homeless people in the area, he loves the idea of bringing different cultures in close contact.
He says he has clients from all over the county and outside it who will come to where he is, so he isn’t worried about the edgy neighborhood. Also, he will have stylists and colorists of varying experience levels offering cuts at a range of price-points. The place they will come is 300 W. Fifth Avenue on the southeastern corner of Gay Street. It is directly across from the First Christian Church, currently owned by David Dewhirst and a half-block from Emory Place. The UT Fab Lab is across Gay Street and Paulk and Company, Fork Design, Tennessee Valley Bikes and the Public House are just a block or two away.
The building is just what he was looking for, 2700 sq. feet, with street parking on three sides and a dedicated lot with sixteen spaces. Construction is now well under way on the inside, with renovations to the outside to follow. The building is leased from Hatcher/Hill and David Johnson is the contractor. The rendering shown here has been altered since, but this is close. The business will be departmentalized with hair stylists/cutters, colorists, makeup artists and facial waxing. Though he’ll have room for sixteen workers, he’ll start with five and work upward.
The interior, designed by John Thurman of McCarty Holsaple McCarty, will have an industrial look with concrete and up-cycled wood, open rafters and lots of black and white. Plants will add splashes of color. The products you’ll find inside will all be all natural, paraben-free, sulfate-free and cruelty-free. The color (by Kevin Murphy) will be ammonia and PPD free. The salon will be paperless and all products will be recyclable or biodegradable – including the packaging.
He also envisions the space being used in off hours for a meeting space for organizations which address human and environmental concerns. He would love to see it become a hub for green-living and would also like to see self-esteem classes meeting there. In other words, he wants to realize the vision he had on Max Patch of helping people be the best they can be. And he doesn’t want to make something beautiful by using products that are anything but beautiful.