SCOTTSDALE – What started as an unwanted Christmas gift led to an untapped passion for Dre Brown, but the Scottsdale barber couldn’t see past the gift-wrapped box on that December morning.
Rather than buy Brown a gift from his Christmas list in 2007, his mother gave him something he needed – the tools for a haircut.
“I had one present under the tree and it was a pair of (hair) clippers,” Brown said.
Over 15 years later, the Mug and Mane Barber Lounge owner helps others look and feel their best with haircuts and community service. Mug and Mane, which opened in 2018, is the go-to barbershop for many out-of-town professional athletes, including Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf and former Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges.
His career vision was not always clear, despite the signs sitting right in front of him in the form of clippers at a younger age.
“I was hot. I was mad. She could have given me $10, but some clippers?” Brown said with a laugh.
Raised in a single-parent household in Seattle, Washington, Brown and his mother struggled financially. In an effort to save money, Brown got short haircuts at the beginning of the year and went months, or sometimes a year, without another haircut.
“I didn’t have a hairline,” Brown said jokingly. “My mama (would) find somebody to at least cut me bald … so it can grow back and we have time (until my next haircut).”
As a kid, haircuts were not in the budget due to his mother living on welfare. The experience of living check to check at an early age exposed Brown to the value of a haircut. He was teased by classmates and peers about his hairstyles, from a bald head to an afro, but understood the sacrifices to make ends meet.
“Being around other Black kids and individuals that were getting their haircuts, how do you think you’re going to feel?” Brown said. “You’re going to be down. You’re going to think you don’t got as much and you’re going to think you (are) less than. A haircut makes you feel like you are everything.”
Clippers not only kept Brown groomed but also his spirit. However, that wasn’t always the case. He initially put the clippers in the back of his bathroom cabinet for the first year.
“Slowly but surely, I started using them,” Brown said. “I started just messing around once I hit college. I started cutting all my teammates for basketball and that’s when it really started … that whole time I was terrible. Just being honest. I was just terrible.”
Through trial and error, which included many mistakes, Brown gradually improved his barber skills. Then his life changed forever.
In 2009, two years after giving him the gift that sparked his career, Brown’s mom passed away. After losing his mother at 19, Brown knew change was needed for him to build the life he wanted. He transferred to Arizona State University (ASU) following two years at Seattle University to be closer to his childhood friend and the family that cared for him as a child.
“I was like, ‘I got to get up out of here,’ and boom that’s what made me transfer,” Brown said. “I’ve never left (Arizona) since … I think it was just God. You follow that call and you follow what you think is right.”
While attending ASU, Brown began working at 24K Hair Spa to make money. Through 24K, he developed new barber techniques, built his credibility as a barber and learned how to run a business.
“The owner (of 24K) was cutting all the Phoenix Suns players at the time. So after school, I just went there and he gave me an opportunity,” Brown said. “I worked there for about a year and a half … then it was like, ‘Man, I need my own space.’”
Shortly after completing his sports management degree at ASU, Brown enrolled into barber school to earn his barber license with the aspiration to open his own barbershop. While in barber school, Brown’s confidence as a barber was put to the test.
“I had a friend who was playing for the (San Francisco) 49ers at the time. They came to (Phoenix) to work out and train. I was in barber school, but no one knew that. He needed a cut, so I cut him,” Brown said. “(Days later), players started hitting me up saying they needed a cut. But I wasn’t that good yet. I was nervous and was (messing up) all their heads.”
Despite the bad haircuts, Brown’s positive vibes and determination kept clients coming back. Over time, his skills and confidence caught up with his ambitions toward becoming one of Phoenix’s go-to barbers.
As his name grew, so did his vision. He wanted an upscale barbershop that offered a premium experience. Brown aimed for a big and classy location when searching for the perfect place to start his business despite people telling him to start where business would have been easier for him.
For Brown, Scottsdale was the premier location.
“I wanted something that made people think it’s a coffee shop or they think it’s a law office,” Brown said. “Yeah, Scottsdale is a predominantly white area, but it’s where a lot of Black people go in Arizona too.”
Brown sold all his jewelry, secured loans and saved money to open his barbershop. In July 2018, Brown opened Mug and Mane with one chair, one mirror from his apartment and clippers. Five years later, Mug and Mane is one of the few Black-owned businesses in Scottsdale and one of Arizona’s top barbershops with multiple barbers on staff.
“We create a sense of community in Mug and Mane. People want to come support us,” Mug and Mane barber Kelvin Cutwell said. “They want to come support the shop and what we all built and what Dre built from the jump.”
The thought of owning anything once seemed impossible for the 34-year-old Brown. Now with business continuing to grow, he is in the process of opening another Mug and Mane barbershop in Mesa and also plans to create a barber school for kids and offer training for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The sole focus is to build a legacy inspired by his mother’s gift. Through his talents, he’s able to provide backpacks, cleats, and free haircuts for children in need, and there’s more planned on the horizon.
“Just showing (kids that) there’s a better way (to live life),” Brown said. “The more shops I can put out eventually over time, I think that message is going to get out there … I’m just waiting for that moment when it’s a school, I can (work with to) relay that message. Then it’ll spread like wildfire.”
Patrons never leave Mug and Mane the same way they came in, whether they got a haircut or came for the endless conversations. Helping people be the best versions of themselves is what motivates Brown.
“You could see a grown man coming (in the barbershop) looking (sad). When you get that cut, his confidence is through the roof. He is ready to go attack this world,” Brown said. “When you get that fresh cut, you feel handsome now. You feel like you’re on top of your game. You can go make this money for your family (and) go be that provider.”
From not being able to afford a haircut to cutting hair for a living, Brown reflects on how he almost let the gift that started it all collect dust in a bathroom cabinet. Through Mug and Mane, Brown hopes people leave with confidence and be refreshed to take on life’s obstacles.
He looks to inspire everyone that walks through his doors, no matter who they are or where they come from.
“When mom (gave me) some clippers under the Christmas tree man, I would have never thought I would be where I am today,” Brown said. “I’m a professional barber and guess who seeks me out for haircuts? The professionals, athletes, and actors. It’s literally God’s honest truth. You put your mind to it, you can do whatever you want to do.”