Owner of His and Hers Barber School Jose Gardea stands next to floor manager, Don Sappington inside of the establishment located at 5355 W. Madison St. | Shanel Romain

Jose Gardea, the 43-year-old owner of His and Hers Barber School, 5355 W. Madison St. in Austin, has big dreams for the institution.

“I really take pride in this school,” Gardea said. “I want to breathe breath and life back into Austin.”

Gardea’s goal is to make His and Hers into the Harvard of barber schools. He plans on expanding the school and building on the institution’s rich history. One of his ideas is to create a pilot program for high school students to obtain a barbering certificate by the time they graduate.

His and Hers barber instructor, Wave Byers teaching students Mel Burns and Jordan McCloud how to taper a haircut. | Shanel Romain

“College is not for everyone,” Gardea said. “I wish people promoted trade schools as much as they do college.”

His and Hers has graduated more than 10,000 students since 2001, Gardea said. The school began as Gollies Hair Palace, a popular West Side barbershop that entrepreneur Elaine Sappington transformed into a full-time school in 1999.

“Ms. Elaine, she’s a tough cookie,” said Don Sappington, her brother-in-law and floor manager. “She doesn’t take any mess, but she’d give you the world. She gave out scholarships and helped out a lot of people.” 

Gardea said the school prides itself on instilling age-old values and providing community members with affordable haircuts. Visitors can sense the pride in the atmosphere, as tunes like Smokey Robinson’s 1979 hit, “Cruisin,” play in the background.

His and Hers barber student, Ednor Flores, middle, learning cutting techniques from Jeremy Rivera. | Shanel Romain

“We want to teach [students]  how to be gentlemen,” Gardea said. “Like my mom said, ‘Class never runs out of style.’ If you look at back in the day and see old pictures of [people like] Martin Luther King, they were dressed up every day.”

Charles Holiday, 63, said he’s been coming to His and Hers for a decade

“Having this in the community is very needed because the cost of everything is going up and you can come and get a cut for $10 and a line for $4,” Holiday said. “You’re not going to get that in barber shops so it’s good for the community.”

His and Hers barber students Joe Powledge, 23, gets his hair cut from classmate, Lance Harris. | Shanel Romain

Joe Powledge, 23, received a scholarship to attend His and Hers.

“My goal here is to open up my own shop in the next five years,” he said. “As a Black man, it will feel good to know I will have my license and will be registered with the state as a barber.”

Najee Scott, 22, is a student at Loyola University seeking to obtain a degree in Social Sciences. He said his dad’s passion for barbering made him want to get into it.

Najee Scott, 22, is a part time student at His and Hers Barber school while also attending Loyola University. | Shanel Romain

“My father is a barber and he always pushed me to do it,” Scott said. “I used to cut his hair when I was about 7 years old. I also cut my brothers and cousins hair. When I got out of high school, I knew I could make money from this.”

Gardea said his students keep coming back to His and Hers because of the structure and love they receive. For example, they’re greeted with a hug when walking in for the day. It’s a family atmosphere that some don’t receive at home, said Gardea.

“We’re looking to teach them something different from the stuff they’re learning out there,” Don Sappington said. “This has taken them out of the streets from things that they used to do. I get teary-eyed when I hear their stories. Many guys admit that this place had them going in a straight direction.”